THE government has been asked to reform the Disabled Drivers Scheme to ensure vulnerable people are not charged VAT or VRT on essential modifications to vehicles that have to be imported from Britain.
Limerick Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan raised the issue in the Seanad last week when he was joined in the chamber by Pallaskenry-based equality campaigner Leigh Gath who had highlighted the unfairness of the current Disabled Drivers Scheme.
Highlighting the crux of the issue facing drivers with disabilities Senator Gavan asked “ Why are vehicles for people who have been approved through the disabled drivers scheme landed with VAT and VRT?
“As things stand, the greater the level of disability, the greater amount of punishment is dealt out by revenue. How on earth can this be justified?”
Senator Gavan went on to highlight the specific example of Leigh Gath who is a thalidomide survivor, born without arms or legs. She learned to drive at age 17 and has been driving since. Because of the significant disability arising from thalidomide Leigh has always had to have her vehicles modified in the UK as there is nobody in Ireland who has the expertise to install the modifications.
Addressing Minister of State Ann Rabbitte, Senator Gavan said “Minister, imagine her shock when she brought her new modified vehicle into Ireland at the end of October. Leigh was approved for the disabled driver allowance but then was told that she owed the Revenue a further €23,100 before she could register her van in Ireland.”
“Can you explain why your government continues to be happy to charge people with disabilities, arguably the most vulnerable in society, 23% on vehicles that allow them to be part of society? Doesn’t this go against all principles of equality and natural justice? Isn’t the current practice nothing more than a despicable rip off targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our society?”
Following the exchange in the Seanad, Senator Gavan and Ms Gath had what they described as a “positive and productive meeting” with Minister Rabbitte who the took the time to listen and respond to the concerns expressed over the current scheme.
“The Minister gave a positive commitment to address the issue in an upcoming report on the Disabled Drivers Scheme that will be published in the near future with a range of recommendations for reform. I was encouraged by the Ministers response and her willingness to engage with the issues we outlined.”
Ms Gath has also requested a follow up meeting with the Minister for Finance as he has ultimate responsibility for all rules relating to Revenue.