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Tabloid Motability story leads to fresh watchdog complaints

Disabled people and disability charities have complained to the press watchdog after a national newspaper suggested there was widespread abuse of the Motability car scheme. The Mail on Sunday (MoS) claimed that more than 3,000 families of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – which it called “naughty child syndrome” – were “abusing” the benefits system by receiving “free” cars through the scheme.

The Motability scheme allows disabled people claiming the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) to use that benefit to lease an accessible vehicle. The Mail on Sunday’s sister paper, The Daily Mail, has run a series of stories over the last year alleging widespread fraud and abuse of disability benefits, at least four of which have led to complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

The PCC has received at least 34 complaints about the new MoS story, including one from Disability Alliance (DA), which described the article as “misleading and inaccurate”. DA said the paper had exaggerated the number of people with ADHD using the Motability scheme, and accused it of a “potentially discriminatory” use of language.

DA said it was “very concerned that a leading national newspaper has used misleading and inaccurate figures on what, for many disabled people and their families, is essential support”. The charity added: “DLA does not cover the full, higher costs of living disabled people and their families experience but makes a significant contribution – often described as a ‘lifeline’ by recipients.”

The PCC said the article was now being assessed against clauses one and 12 of its code of practice, those relating to accuracy and discrimination. So far this year, the PCC has found that the Mail did not breach the code with three articles about disability benefits, while a fourth complaint – from Neil Coyle, director of policy for DA – was “resolved” when the paper published a letter from DA and other organisations detailing why the paper’s story was “misleading”.

The Full Fact website, which promotes “accuracy in public debate”, analysed the figures used by the Mail on Sunday and discovered that just 100 people for whom ADHD (or hyperkinetic syndrome) was their “main disabling condition” claimed the higher mobility rate of DLA. It believes that the MoS then added this to the 3,100 people whose main disabling condition was a “behavioural disorder”.

But Full Fact points out that even this total figure of 3,200 would be misleading, as only 30 per cent of those who are eligible actually lease a car from Motability. The MoS also claimed that disabled people who need “guidance or supervision most of the time from another person when walking out of doors in unfamiliar places” can obtain a Motability vehicle, when in fact this is the criteria for claiming DLA lower rate mobility.

The Mail on Sunday declined to comment.

Source: The Disability News Service

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