The Disabled Drivers & Disabled Passengers Scheme provides relief from Vehicle Registration Tax and VAT on the purchase and use of an adapted car, as well as an exemption from motor tax and an annual fuel grant. The cost of the scheme in 2020, excluding motor tax, was €67m.
The Scheme is open to severely and permanently disabled persons as a driver or as a passenger and also to certain charitable organisations. In order to qualify for relief, the applicant must hold a Primary Medical Certificate issued by the relevant Senior Area Medical Officer (SAMO) or a Board Medical Certificate issued by the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal. Certain other qualifying criteria apply in relation to the vehicle, in particular that it must be specially constructed or adapted for use by the applicant.
To qualify for a Primary Medical Certificate an applicant must be permanently and severely disabled. The terms of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 set out six medical criteria, at least one of which is required to be satisfied in order to obtain a Primary Medical Certificate.
A Supreme Court decision of 18th June 2020 found in favour of two appellants against the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal's refusal to grant them a Primary Medical Certificate. The judgement found that the medical criteria set out in the Regulations did not align with the regulation making mandate given in the primary legislation to further define criteria for ‘severely and permanently disabled’ persons.
On foot of the legal advice received, it became clear that it was appropriate to revisit the six medical criteria set out in Regulation 3 of Statutory Instrument 353 of 1994 for these assessments. In such circumstances, PMC assessments were discontinued until a revised basis for such assessments could be established. The medical officers who are responsible for conducting PMC assessments need to have assurance that the decisions they make are based on clear criteria set out in legislation. While Regulation 3 of Statutory Instrument No. 353 of 1994 was not deemed to be invalid, nevertheless it was found to be inconsistent with the mandate provided in Section 92 of the Finance Act 1989.
In order to allow for the PMC assessments to recommence I brought forward an amendment to the Finance Bill to provide for the existing medical criteria in primary legislation. Following approval of the Finance Act 2020, medical assessments recommenced from 1st January 2021.
I consider this to be an interim solution only. While I am very aware of the importance of this scheme to those who benefit from it, I am also aware of the disquiet expressed by members of this house and others in respect of the difficulties around access to the scheme. With this in mind I have asked my officials to undertake a comprehensive review of the scheme, to include a broader review of mobility supports for persons with disabilities, and on foot of that review to bring forward proposals for consideration.
Department officials have been carrying out preliminary work, including an examination of the main issues which will frame the scope of the review. Officials have also been engaging with other Departments in the context of other ongoing work in mobility supports. In particular, the Department has engaged with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in the context of a working group established early last year by the Minister for Justice before the work was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The group, under the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, was tasked with a review of transport supports encompassing all Government funded transport and mobility schemes for people with disabilities, to enhance the options for transport to work or employment supports for people with disabilities and to develop proposals for development of a coordinated plan for such provision.
It is envisaged that the review group will be established shortly and will include stakeholders from other Departments, the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal and other representative groups.
Finally, I would like to clarify that the Scheme itself is still operating. All persons or charitable organisations that can currently access the Scheme will continue to be able to do so and make claims for tax reliefs and the fuel grant in the normal manner.