I propose to take Questions Nos. 112 to 115, inclusive, and 119 together.
The Disabled Drivers & Disabled Passengers Scheme provides relief from VRT 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 2019, excluding motor tax, was €72m.
The Scheme is open to severely and permanently disabled persons as a driver or as a passenger and also to certain organisations. In order to qualify for relief an organisation must be entered in the register of charitable organisations under Part 3 of the Charities Act 2009, be engaged in the transport of disabled persons and whose purpose is to provide services to persons with disabilities.
In order to qualify for relief the applicant must hold a Primary Medical Certificate (PMC) issued by the relevant Senior Area Medical Officer (SAMO) or a Board Medical Certificate (BMC) issued by the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal. Certain other criteria apply in relation to the vehicle and its use, including that the vehicle must be specially constructed or adapted for use by the applicant.
The terms of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 set out the following medical criteria, and that one or more of these criteria is required to be satisfied in order to obtain a PMC:
- be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs;
- be wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs;
- be without both hands or without both arms;
- be without one or both legs;
- be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg;
- have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.
A Supreme Court decision of 18 June found in favour of two appellants against the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal's refusal to grant them a PMC. 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.
In the first instance, I acknowledge that the persons who successfully challenged a decision by the Medical Board of Appeal to refuse them a PMC are, on the basis of that Supreme Court decision, entitled to seek access to the Scheme. The Supreme Court decision raised complex issues, including the manner in which the persons concerned can access the Scheme, given that the Regulation which set out the medical eligibility criteria was not found to be invalid and given that the persons concerned were not assessed for a PMC on the single criterion of being permanently and severely disabled.
However, in the particular circumstances, I consider that both persons merit access to this Scheme and I instructed my officials to liaise with the Medical Board of Appeal to request that Board Medical Certificates are issued to them in light of the Supreme Court decision. In this regard I understand that the Board are amenable to this course of action and that Board Medical Certificates will be issued to the persons concerned shortly.
More generally, the Deputies will appreciate that the complex legal and policy issues raised by the Supreme Court decision will require careful consideration. In parallel to that consideration there is a need to examine how best the Scheme can target resources to those persons who most need them. My officials are currently examining the judgement, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, and will bring forward any policy and/or legislative proposals, as necessary, for my consideration in due course.
In the interim, 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, it is not proposed to continue with PMC assessments until a revised basis for such assessments is 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.
My officials were in contact with the Medical Board of Appeal and with officials in the Department of Health and will continue to liaise with them, as required, going forward. I have also written to the Minister for Health to request that there are no further PMC assessments until a sound legal basis for such assessments is re-established.
While it is regrettable that PMC assessments are currently not taking place and I acknowledge that this will result in a growing waiting list, I anticipate that the work that is currently ongoing in relation to this matter will provide a proper basis for me to make a decision on the best pathway forward and to address the current legal uncertainty surrounding the Scheme. I can give a commitment that I will seek to bring clarity to this situation as soon as possible such that PMC assessments can re-continue based on a firm legal basis.