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Ombudsman Decides DVLA Unfair to Disabled Drivers

In a landmark case last week, the Ombudsman responsible for overseeing DVLA policy – the PHSO (Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman) declared that the DVLA system for licensing and medical assessment is fundamentally flawed in how it handles disabled and vulnerable people. It made a number of observations and recommendations that the DVLA will now implement.

Disabled DriversHow Did The Case Come About?

The report featured eight separate cases of members of the public unduly facing sanctions. It came about as the result of complaints from members of the public and a referral to the PHSO. However, tighter restrictions were introduced in 2014 when Harry Clarke blacked out driving his bin lorry and killed six people; he had not declared his medical condition to DVLA. Some cases date back to 2009, so not all are down to changes introduced since then.

Complainants included:

  • A self-employed lorry driver who suffered a heart attack. He was banned from driving on medical grounds for 18 months. During that time, his business ceased trading due to his inability to work.
  • In another case, a piano teacher who had had a stroke was banned from driving for several years despite making a full recovery. She too lost work and became socially isolated due to the ban
  • In a third case, a man suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome who received a fit note for work to put him on light duties, explaining his inability to handle paperwork, was wrongly taken by the DVLA as confirmation that the man was a danger to other road users

In all but one cases featured in the report, the Ombudsman decided that the driver had unfairly had his or her license revoked and granted permission to drive back to the applicant.

What Were the Findings?

These were just three of the eight cases to feature in the report that came up against the same problem repeatedly. On publication, the report stated a number of findings, including:

  • That people with complex medical conditions are prevented from driving, often unfairly, for years at a time
  • Those who pose genuine risk to the public are being overlooked by the system in being permitted to continue to drive
  • These two conflicting problems are often caused by severe delays to decision, and flawed decisions when they are taken
  • There are critical flaws in the system designed to assess fitness to drive that do not reflect the modern driving experience
  • Poor complaint handling is at the core of DVLA leading to the delays mentioned in the report

Finally, that these measures were creating unnecessary levels of inconvenience and distress to those affected by the inadequate systems that DVLA presently has in place.

What Are The Likely Outcomes?

A number of charities came forward to express that they were happy with these findings and urging change. Diabetes UK in particular commented that too many people with diabetes were unnecessarily losing their licenses and losing their jobs. The DVLA has a dedicated medical group for people with diabetes and some 500,000 are in discussion every year about their condition and status on permission to drive. Disability charity Scope reiterated that transport for many disabled people in the 21st century was a necessity, that too many simply cannot get by without a car.

Accepting the report, the DVLA said it would take the recommendations on board and work with interest groups in making the requested changes. There is no official announcement yet. It is likely to involve consultation with driver’s groups and disability groups in devising a system that is relevant to the 21st century, respecting people’s rights while promoting public safety.