Benefits available

There are a number of benefits for which you may be eligible. If you receive the higher rate mobility allowance, you will be allowed to claim exemption from vehicle excise duty (road tax) on one vehicle. This exemption is given on condition that the vehicle is used ‘solely for the purposes of the disabled person’. Nevertheless, it is likely that some commonsense latitude will be given.
If you have the higher rate mobility allowance, you will be automatically eligible for the Blue Badge, which gives parking privileges, and also for access to the Motability Scheme (see below). You will also get VAT exemption on adaptations to make your car suitable, as well as exemption on the repair, maintenance or replacement of these adaptations.

Motability Scheme

The Department of Transport has set up a Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service (MAVIS) to help people choose an appropriate car for their needs, and they will be able to give advice and assistance. This advice will cover appropriate vehicles and adaptations, as well as issues concerned with your suitability to drive – an issue that may concern many people with MS, especially in so far as eyesight may be affected, as well as the arm and leg movements necessary to control the vehicle, for which additional technical assistance may be needed.
For people with MS who are receiving the higher rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the Motability Scheme can offer a good approach to the purchase of a new car, good used car or an electric wheelchair, through hire purchase. Alternatively, you can hire a car through the same scheme.

Getting into and out of a car – possible adaptations

One of the major problems for a disabled person is swinging round from outside the car into a passenger, or a driver’s seat, and of course getting out of the car in the same way. Depending on how much you want to spend, and exactly what your needs are, you could think either of a swivel cushion placed on the seat so that you can swing your legs into the car; or, more elaborately (and more expensively), replacing whole seats and their fittings so that the seat itself swivels; this allows you to back on to the seat from outside, or to rise from the seat to a standing position without having to manoeuvre in and out of the car.

Ability to drive

You do have to notify the DVLA (Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency) that you have MS, as it is one of the conditions that may affect your driving ability. If you contact them, you will receive a form PK1 (Application for Driving Licence/Notification of Driving Licence Holder’s State of Health) to complete and return. These forms may be available at your local Post Office. When it assesses your application, the DVLA will normally adopt a positive view, for it wishes to give drivers with a current or potential disability the best chance possible of keeping their licences – the key issue in this respect is public safety.
Especially if you have been recently diagnosed, you are unlikely to lose your licence. The DVLA will consider the information that you have given on the form (PK1) and, if it believes that your driving ability is not a hazard to other road users, it will normally issue a 3-year licence. Your situation will be reviewed at the end of these 3 years. If you answer positively to any of the questions concerning health problems on form PK1, then you should send a covering letter explaining your situation, and why you believe that you are fit to drive. Without such a letter or explanation, the DVLA might withdraw your licence. It would also be worth talking to your doctor – GP or neurologist – about your driving ability. If they disagree with you about your capacity to drive, or between themselves, or you yourself have concerns about your driving ability, then you should arrange for an assessment at one of the special driving and mobility assessment centres, which you can find via the Department of Transport’s Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service (MAVIS) (see Appendix 1).

Judging your ability to drive
Doctors consider driving ability in relation to problems with the use of your arms and legs, your eyesight or your reactions. It is clearly a matter of judgement by the GP or neurologist as to whether any of these or other consequences of MS do indeed affect your driving ability and, of course, one of the main problems with MS is its variability. One day you might be able to drive without any difficulty at all. On another day, through the onset of specific symptoms, it might be difficult, or unsafe, for you to do so. The problem both for you and your doctor is making a reasonable judgement.
Driving a car may well be a lifeline for you. The key issue will be safety for you and other road users. Some other adaptations mentioned earlier might help you to continue driving. So, discuss the issue with your family and friends, and with people in the MS Society (see Appendix 1), who will be able to offer both support and information. In the end, the formal and probably best way to deal with the problem has to be through a driving assessment through a mobility assessment centre. During this assessment, not only your driving ability but also any vehicle adaptations will be considered. The driving assessment centre will write a report – this could be of particular value if, for example, the DVLA decides to rescind your licence, and you decide to appeal against the decision. There is a charge for a driving assessment and this may vary depending on the type of assessment required, so it is important to find out the cost when you arrange it.

Appealing against a licence withdrawal
There is an appeals procedure, but it can be lengthy and complex, and you need to seek advice and consider the likelihood of success, as well as the consequences of not succeeding. In any case, if you feel that you want to appeal, it is important that you register your intent to appeal to the DVLA as soon as possible. In the case of England and Wales, this has to be done within 6 months from the date of notification of the withdrawal of the licence, and in Scotland within 1 month of that date. You can withdraw your intent to appeal at any time. Appeals are heard in the local Magistrates Court in England and Wales, and in the Sheriff ’s Court in Scotland.
You will almost certainly need some formal assistance to appeal, and you ought to bear in mind that it will be difficult to succeed without supporting evidence from your doctor and/or your formal driving assessment, which may not have been available to the DVLA at the time the original decision was made. It would be sensible to consult with someone who has experience of such cases, perhaps the Citizens Advice, your local DIAL (Disability Information and Advice Line) or your local branch of the MS Society who could refer you on to others, even a good lawyer, if necessary. Look in your local telephone book for their addresses. It is salutary to know that the DVLA has often in the past sought to recover its expenses from those who have appealed unsuccessfully, and this could amount to several hundred pounds. So you need to very sure of your grounds before appealing.

Telling the insurance company
Your insurance company cannot stop you holding a driving licence – only the DVLA or the Courts can do that. However, insurance companies do require that you disclose all material factors that may af fect your driving. MS is one of these factors. If you do not disclose the information, this may invalidate your insurance and, if you are not insured (at least on a third-party basis), you are not allowed to drive. So it is essential to tell your insurance company about your MS because, if you do not and then a legitimate claim arises which has nothing to do with the MS, you may find that you are in difficulty.
Generally, as long as you have a valid driving licence, the most significant problem that you may face is a slightly increased insurance premium. Ask for several quotations from a number of companies to make sure that you are getting the best value. You also ought to read the small print on any policy proposal because you may need to be wary of unacceptable or difficult endorsements to the policy.
You could also contact some of the insurance companies who are now specializing in insuring disabled drivers. A list is obtainable through RADAR (Mobility Fact Sheet No.6), which sets out these companies, and broadly what they offer (see Appendix 2). You might even lower your premium!

Other transport

We have already discussed the possibility of getting an outdoor electric wheelchair or an electric scooter (sometimes called pavement vehicles) which, depending on the terrain near where you live, could be of great help in giving you more independence and ability to travel reasonable distances for shopping or leisure activities.
There are other forms of transport that you may find helpful, but these tend to vary according to which area you are living in. You can get in touch with the Social Services Department of your local authority for advice.

• There are Dial-a-Ride minibus schemes, especially for people with mobility problems. Often you have to join the scheme first, and there might be a waiting list. However, when you have joined, you will be collected from your home and then dropped back again, often at a reasonable cost.
• Some areas have taxi voucher schemes that give a number of low or no-cost journeys. These are usually in operation where people cannot take advantage of free or concessionary bus fares. Although taxi fares generally can be expensive, sometimes people do not realize how expensive maintaining a car is, and you could find that using taxis for short journeys compares very favourably.
• For longer journeys outside your area, there are organizations such as Tripscope, which can help you plan such journeys, and from whom you may be able to obtain escorts if necessary.
• Sometimes, other organizations, such as St John Ambulance Brigade and the British Red Cross, and local organizations and clubs, such as Rotary, Lions, Round Table and the Soroptomists can also provide escorts. Have a look in your local telephone book for their addresses.
• Your local MS Society branch or region may be able to help.