Seanad debates

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Primary Medical Certificates

10:30 am

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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Thank you very much, a Chathaoirligh, for selecting this all-important Commencement debate. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, very much for coming here today to represent the Minister for Finance. I have been working with a number of individuals who have applied for a primary medical certificate. This is a very important certificate for people, especially if they have an accident or they are impeded from driving properly and they want to get an automatic car, for example. I have a lady in her 80s who had an accident and has plates in her arm. She applied to the HSE for a primary medical certificate and was refused. That is fine, but then she appealed it and there is no appeals officer in place at present. She applied at the start of November 2021 and she was refused in mid-November 2021. She was sent a form to appeal the decision to the adjudicator if she so wished. It is now the month of May, and nobody has yet been appointed. I have spoken to somebody else who is in the same situation.This lady has had to spend money on taxis. If she could qualify, she might be able to get a car adjusted to her needs. The kernel of the problem is that she does not know whether she qualifies. A number of other people in similar situations have contacted me. It is really important that this assessor or adjudicator be appointed as soon as possible because it is putting extra strain on people, especially older people, in terms of whether they qualify for the primary medical certificate.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Maria Byrne for raising this issue. I hope I have the right answer to this question because we might have misinterpreted the question here. If I have the wrong understanding of the question, I would be happy to come back with another answer. We took it from the question that the Senator was asking about the appeals board and the appeals adjudicator. If that is not the case, I can certainly come back to her with an updated position. We worked with both the Department of Health and the Department of Finance to prepare a detailed answer on the matter.

The Senator mentioned a specific case, although I know she is raising the issue in general for all the people in her area of Limerick.

The disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme provides relief from VAT and vehicle registration tax up to certain limits, an exemption from motor tax and a grant in respect of fuel on the purchase of an adapted car for transport of a person with specific severe and permanent physical disabilities. The relief from value added tax and vehicle registration tax can in some cases be quite generous and rightly so because disabled people need additional assistance, amounting to up to €10,000, €16,000 or €22,000, depending on the level of adaptation required for the vehicle.

Members of the scheme may claim payment of a fuel grant based on a per litre rate in respect of the mineral oil taxes applying to these products. An annual maximum of 2,730 l applies in respect of a driver or passenger, and 4,100 l in respect of an organisation. The fuel grant covers the excise tax elements of petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas, LPG.

In order to qualify for relief, the applicant must hold a primary medical certificate issued by the relevant senior area medical officer in the HSE or a board medical certificate issued by the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal, DDMBA. To qualify for a primary medical certificate, an applicant must be permanently and severely disabled and satisfy one of the conditions as set out in the Finance Act 1989. I will not go through them all as I am sure the Senator is aware of them anyway.

A new Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal is being established following the resignation of all five members of the previous board. An expression of interest seeking suitable candidates for the board closed on 29 April. Applications have been received and an assessment process is under way. Suitable candidates will be recommended to the Minister of Health for nomination and the Minister for Finance will consider any nominees for appointment to the new board.

Requests for appeal hearings can be sent to the DDMBA secretary based in the National Rehabilitation Hospital. New appeal hearing dates will be issued once the new board is in place, which will be very soon.

Claimants already accessing the scheme can continue to do so and assessments for the primary medical certificate by the HSE are continuing to take place. The Minister for Finance has no role in the granting or refusal of primary medical certificates. The HSE and the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal must be independent in their clinical determinations.

In addition, the Minister for Finance gave a commitment that a comprehensive review of the scheme, to include a broader review of mobility supports for persons with disabilities, would be undertaken. The Minister is working on this matter with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman. They have agreed that review should be brought within a wider review under the auspices of the national disability inclusion strategy, NDIS, to examine transport supports encompassing all Government-funded transport and mobility schemes for people with disabilities. The Ministers believe that this is the most appropriate forum to meet mutual objectives in respect of transport solutions and mobility supports for those with a disability.

In this regard, it should be noted that the NDIS transport working group, chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte, had its first meeting on 26 January 2022. A stocktaking exercise of existing transport and mobility schemes currently supporting people with disabilities is ongoing ahead of the next meeting of the group. The issue was also discussed at the most recent meeting of the NDIS steering group on 13 April, which included input from stakeholders. The outcome of this review and any recommendations will be brought to the Government for its consideration. I hope that will happen soon and we can get some movement in the area.

With all that, I hope I have covered the answer the Senator was looking for.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his detailed response. I am delighted to hear that the assessment board, the adjudicating committee, will soon be in place. I understand that it is not the Minister's responsibility; it is the adjudication board's. The big problem was that no board was in place and it has taken so long. I understand that a process needs to be followed to fill these positions, but people have been waiting since last November. We are now in the month of May and there is still no decision. I am glad to see that the board is being put in place. I hope it will be put in place quickly because so many people are waiting for decisions.

I also welcome the full review of the criteria because they are very restrictive. People are literally required to have no arms or no legs to qualify. Many people may have had accidents resulting in debilitating injuries. If the criteria are relaxed somewhat, they might be able to qualify. A number of them need an adapted car. I welcome that a full review is going on and that the board will be in place shortly. I will be keeping an eye to see when the board is put in place.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I again thank the Senator for raising this issue, which is important to all of us in both Houses who represent people who need the extra assistance to be able to avail of these supports. We are all glad that the wider review is under way. Hopefully it will change the criteria and make it possible for someone to be able to be assessed not just on the criteria that we have all been used to in recent years. I also welcome the work on that in recent months. Hopefully that will be answered quite soon.

I am taking this issue on behalf of the Department of Finance. I cannot give an exact date for the appointment of the board, but we are very close to that. Applications closed on 29 April. Hopefully there will be movement on this very soon. I understand the urgency. It has taken a bit of time since last November, but as the Senator knows, the board resigned and needed to be replaced. We should be able to have that up and running pretty soon, allowing progress on some of the applications the Senator is concerned about and which she raised today.

The scheme works extremely well and provides relief from VAT, VRT as well as providing the fuel grant which is of great assistance to a number of families. It involves significant tax expenditure and it is important that we get that right. Between the vehicle registration tax and the VAT forgone, and the fuel grant, the scheme cost €50 million in 2015. It cost about €67 million in 2020, the year for which we have the most up-to-date figures. It is a significant amount of money. In most cases it is money well spent and of great assistance. All involved would like to see it progressed further