Dáil debates

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Disabilities Assessments

9:55 pm

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. He has outlined some difficult cases he is aware of and there are many such cases throughout the country.

The disabled drivers and 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 €67 million. The scheme is open to severely and permanently disabled persons, as drivers or passengers, 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 medical officer 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 specifically constructed or adapted for use by the applicant.

To qualify for a primary medical certificate, an applicant must be permanently and severely disabled with a physical disability. The terms of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 set out the following medical criteria, at least one of which is required to be satisfied in order to obtain a primary medical certificate: 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; 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; or have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs. I think everyone would agree that is language from a different era. None of us would write medical criteria like that in this day and age but that was in the legislation, which is now subject to the recent Supreme Court decision.

The medical criteria for the tax concessions available under the scheme have changed over time. When the scheme was first introduced in 1968, the legislation only allowed for one medical ground. In 1989, four medical grounds were added. In 1994, one additional medical ground was added. The Supreme Court decision of 18 June 2020 found in favour of two appellants against the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal's refusal to grant them a primary medical certificate. The judgment 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 legal advice, it became clear that it was appropriate to revisit the six medical criteria set out in regulation No. 3 of SI 353 of 1994. In such circumstances, primary medical certificate assessments were discontinued until a revised basis for such assessments could be established. The medical officers who are responsible for conducting the assessments need to have assurance that the decisions they make are based on clear criteria set out in legislation.

In order to allow for assessments to recommence, the Minister for Finance 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, the HSE has been informed that medical assessments can recommence from 1 January 2021.

The scheme is still in operation. All persons or charitable organisations can currently access the scheme. While some assessments have taken place this year, some of the key medical officers involved are tied up with the roll-out of Covid vaccines and that has led to a delay. The HSE has confirmed that the community medical doctors and their teams are predominantly deployed on Covid at the moment.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.