Sunday 19 June 2011

Benefits and BMWs

The Sunday Times has decided to be outraged about people on benefits getting BMW cars. The headline they ran with was State hands out BMWs to 'disabled' (Paywall link) and it was plastered across the front page.

Unfortunately there are so many errors in the article that even the headline is plain wrong. To start with, the state does not "hand out" any cars to "the disabled". Disabled people or the long term sick may get the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance to provide for their travel needs, and it can be spent as the recipient chooses but usually goes towards cars, wheelchairs, scooters, trains, buses, taxis and more. There is a charity scheme called Motability, and if a person wishes, they can pay the mobility component of their DLA to the Motability scheme in return for a car.

The state has not handed anyone a car, people have received the benefits to which they are entitled, and chosen to spend their money on a car.

The Motobility scheme works on the basis of leasing a new car out, and then selling it at the end of three years. (This works out cheaper than buying second hand cars and paying for their maintenance, and is more reliable and safer.) Motability has a set budget and any extra cost over the standard amount has to be covered by the user of the car - for example if the car has been driven more than the expected distance, there will be a mileage fee when the car is handed back. If someone wants a more expensive car to start with then they can pay the difference in cost so that Motability does not lose money. Some people pay a few hundred pounds extra to get a car more suitable for their medical condition, such as a car with a higher seat for people that struggle getting in and out of the car, or find low seating painful. These people often borrow at their own expense to pay the difference in cost. A BMW can be had through Motability for an extra fee in the same way that a slightly higher model Citroen could be. It's just that there is a big difference in the size of that extra fee.

To get a BMW on Motability costs the end user at least £1,399 extra, and it is a fee, not a deposit.

It should be noted that DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is paid to everyone that has a qualifying disability, regardless of their work status or income. People that are still in work, especially if in a high powered job, or that have savings, might be able to afford the extra fee. Whether that is right or wrong is a different argument, but no fraud has been committed as DLA was intended to cover the extra cost of disability when working as much as when not.

The Sunday Times also talked about people using the car without the owner present. Some of the the points they made were true, but they missed that the car may be used on behalf of the sick or disabled person or for their benefit. That means that a carer could drive the car to go shopping to buy food for the owner of the car, completely within the rules. Of course they can't use the owner's blue badge or park in a disabled parking space, since they can walk across the car park.

Someone else can use a Motability car on behalf of the owner without them present.

The Sunday Times highlighted two cases of fraud in an attempt to back up their argument. One was someone whose health had improved but who had not informed the DWP and had gone back to work as a boxer, and the other was someone that was using his wife's car to make deliveries as a courier. Benefit fraud levels are incredibly low, but with millions of people involved, even 0.5% means that a few people committing fraud can be found. Highlighting two cases without telling the reader how small a minority commit fraud is highly misleading. It should also be noted that while the boxer who didn't inform anyone of his improvement was committing benefit fraud, the person driving his wife's car was not. He was breaking the rules of the motability scheme and driving a car without paying the vehicle excise duty. (Which is waived for people receiving higher rate mobility component of DLA.) He had not defrauded the government out of any DLA benefit money.

The whole article has the same tone that we are becoming used to from mainstream newspapers. The implication that everyone on benefits is a scrounger. The article mentions that 123,000 people receive DLA for back pain, as though back pain is a simple thing or is somehow less worthy of support. (It covers scoliosis, degenerative spinal conditions, botched surgery resulting in nerve damage or paralysis.) Even the use of quotes around the word disabled in the headline is used to imply quite strongly that these people are not really disabled. I refuse to believe that the 'journalists' (see what I did there?) are that ignorant or don't understand DLA and Motability. There is a clear agenda in this article to smear these people and create outrage. It is not acceptable and an apology must be given. I urge you to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the factual innacuracies in their article, as I will be doing.

Cross posted at Tentacles of Doom


  1. Unfortunately I think you're singing to the choir here.

    Thanks for the link to the PCC though - that's very helpful, and a complaint will be made. Would Full Fact be interested in this, too?

  2. Thanks for this. Read it this morning and have been fuming ever since. Me and my husband want to send off various letters of complaint and this will be of great help. Also had a ten minute rant to my poor mother on the phone about why it is so wrong.

  3. I have been asked how much I get toward PETROL. There is no petrol allowance for people on DLA. Though we pay no VAT on equipment and services, we still pay it on petrol- every spoonful.
    After they have taken ALL od DLA mobility (for the car rental) and 97% of disposable income toward care to help the councils afford us and cut down expense for you. So what makes us so rich, then? Winter fuel allowance......No! we don't get that. Not unless we're old enough.
    I got £495 toward my £1700 wheelchair from the NHS (including 5yrs maintenance). The shop put up the price when they knew I had a voucher. (by £495) I kept the voucher as a donation to NHS (which I can't afford).

  4. A few additional thoughts to add to a good article:

    For a basic BMW 1 Series, Motability want a £1400 up-front payment, plus sacrificing all £50-odd of HRM per week. Over three years that comes to £9000 near enough, but with nothing, and certainly not a car, to show for it. The old one will have to go back to Motability, the new one will need another up-front payment to be made and the HRM sacrifice to start all over again.

    The cheapest car on Motability (Kia Picanto 1.0) doesn't have an up-front payment, but does cost £40/week, or £6,240 over three years lease, again with nothing to show for it at the end of three years, yet the list price of a Picanto is only just over £1000 more.

    Motability is neither free, nor much of a bargain, but for some people it is the only alternative that will allow them to afford to put a car on the road that can meet their mobility needs. Yet still it draws jealousy and hatred.

    And the Belfast Telegraph's version of the story (wonderful how these papers suddenly all spontaneously decide to do the same story...) quoted a 'Whitehall source', thereby revealing the story as just the latest round in the relentless government demonisation of disabled people.

  5. Abolishing the welfare state means people will always be better off working, and those who cannot work can beg from passing cars, like they do in India.

  6. I have seen only briefly the article so I am not sure if I remember it correctly. It was sadi the scheme costs the goverment 1.5 bilion pounds a year. If this is a blatant lie as everyone suggest then shoudn't The Sunday Times be taken to a court?

  7. If I wanted a BMW for example.. The basic model available to me is BMW 1 Series 2.0TD 118d ES 5dr (which is automatic as this is only type I can drive due to my disability)...

    I would need to pay a deposit of £1,999 and then approx £3827 per year for the 3 years I would lease it for (yes I have to give it back)...

    I still have to pay for petrol and if I drive over 15,000 miles in a year I have to then pay mileage costs...

    Not exactly being handed a BMW am I?

  8. I have submitted a complaint to the PCC. But they're saying I need to provide a copy of the article I am complaining about. Does anyone have a copy?

    I shall try and look from work which may well have a subscription tomorrow and if I find one people can contact me for a copy for their complaints.

  9. I have a BMW. I make not apology for this, I have worked all my life (with my disability) I am still working now. I need a car to enable me to live some sembelance of a normal life. Yes I could make do with a Ford or a Vauxhall, indeed I have had them in the past. I pay a handsome premium to have the use of a BMW for 3 years, "The State is NOT giving me anything!"

    As I say I have worked and saved for many years, so now I feel entitled to something a little different.

    It's about time that the Blue Badge was only made available to people who really need one, and a crackdown is needed on the (thousands) people who abuse the system.

  10. @barakta:

    Someone pasted the article on a messageboard here.

  11. >> It's about time that the Blue Badge was only made available to people who really need one, and a crackdown is needed on the (thousands) people who abuse the system. <<

    The problem is every time someone says this they turn out not to recognize the legitimate needs of people with invisible disabilites.

  12. And let's not forget that the more severely disabled (such as those having a drive-from-wheelchair vehicle) are typically on a five year, not a three year contract, often paying more than the list price of the vehicle! Add to that the fact that most of the adaptions companies (as is typical with all aspects of disability) are profiteering, and things look even less charitable. Those who are severely disabled enough for the higher rate element of mobility DLA cannot simply nip down to Arthur Daley and pick up a specially adapted vehicle!

    The only thing that might need tightening up is the eleigibility for the higher-rate mobility component. I know one person who drove their Motability car to the start line of the 'Race for Life', conversely I know others who struggle to stand and who were refused.

    DavidG - I think the poster was referring to those using their granny's blue badge, which she often doesn't even realise she has....