Transport Support Scheme – Topical Issues Debate

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Speech by Dr. James Reilly T.D. Minister for Health, I am pleased to take this opportunity to outline the current position in relation to a new Transport Support Scheme for people who face significant challenges in addressing their transport needs, arising from mobility issues.

As members of the House will be aware, in 2012 the then Ombudsman recommended that both the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Grant schemes be revised to make them compliant with the Equal Status Acts. The Ombudsman made particular reference to the definition of disability and the age cohort eligible to apply for support.

The mobility allowance was never designed or intended to cover the entire costs of an individual’s transport needs. This administrative scheme was designed to help eligible people to benefit from a change in surroundings from time to time – for example, by financing the occasional taxi journey.

It is important to emphasise that the Government accepts the position taken by the Ombudsman and acknowledges that schemes under the auspices of my Department must comply with the Equal Status Acts. However, the Ombudsman’s recommendations raised significant issues of a legal, financial and practical nature, particularly as regards extending eligibility to a wider cohort.

In February 2013 the Government decided to close both schemes. At that time the Mobility Allowance scheme involved some 4,700 recipients, at an annual cost of €9.3 million. The Government has committed to continued payment to these recipients, pending the establishment of a new scheme. Therefore the HSE has continued to pay these 4,700 individuals at the applicable rate in each case.

Since the schemes were closed, a considerable amount of work has been undertaken. A Review Group on Transport Supports for People with Disabilities was established, which involved a range of representatives of people with disabilities, along with relevant Government Departments and agencies.

The Government established an Inter-Departmental Group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach, to further consider the complex issues involved in developing an appropriate scheme, including how it should be administered.

In November 2013, the Government decided that the detailed preparatory work required for a new travel subsidy scheme and associated statutory provisions should be progressed by the Minister for Health, in consultation with other relevant Ministers as required.

In line with the Government Decision, my Department is working to develop policy proposals for a new scheme. When we have progressed these, in conjunction with other Departments as necessary, to the point where we are satisfied that they represent workable and appropriate solutions, proposals for legislation will be brought to Government.

Subject to the pre-legislative scrutiny process in relation to draft Heads of Bill, work will then take place on formal drafting of a Bill for publication, debate and enactment.

The Government’s objective is to develop an affordable solution which will contribute towards the transport or mobility needs of those who most need them. Issues to be considered include people’s ability to access and use public transport, the extent to which individual means might be taken into account and the cost implications of different options for a revised scheme.

This is a challenging task, given that the issues are complex and that there are serious cost pressures on the health system. We will continue the work of developing an alternative to the schemes which have been closed with a view to meeting people’s needs in the most appropriate way.