Multiple sclerosis sufferers in South Tyneside are being driven out of their cars and onto mobility scooters due to controversial changes to their benefits payments, experts have warned.
They claim several people with MS have been forced to give up a funded vehicle after their benefits were slashed under the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) system.
Some who previously qualified for a motor under the former Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefits system – replaced by PIP - now face having to buy their own, it is alleged.
Those who cannot afford to are having to rely on lifts from family or friends to get out an about - or switch to an electric scooter.
The South Tyneside branch of the MS Society say some sufferers who have the money for neither car nor scooter are unable to venture far from home due to the debilitating nature of their condition.
Les Greenwood, 67, admin and finance volunteer with the MS Society in South Tyneside, said: “Some people with MS here are losing their independence.
“Those being put on a lower rate of the mobility element of PIP do not qualify for a funded vehicle. It’s in no way an ideal situation.
Mr Greenwood spoke out after figures from the MS Society showed a dramatic drop in the number of people with the condition in South Tyneside being awarded higher rate PIP.
It claims that in February 2013, there were 164 people with MS claiming DLA in South Tyneside, of which 151 – or 92 per cent - were on the highest mobility payment.
By January this year, just 91 people – or 65 per cent of claimants with MS in South Tyneside - were receiving the highest rate of mobility benefits under PIP.
The MS Society says this is down to the “unfair and senseless” criteria for PIP, which takes the highest mobility rate away from people who can walk more than 20 metres.
Under DLA, the higher rate was awarded to people who could not walk 50 metres unaided.
Phillip Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, said: “More than 100,000 people live with MS in the UK, and we know it’s harder for them to get mobility support under PIP than DLA.
“This unfair and senseless criteria says if you can walk one step over 20 metres you don’t need the highest level of mobility support and are therefore ineligible for a Motability vehicle, which many rely on to get around.
In South Tyneside, one in five people with MS received the lower rate, and 16% were paid no mobility benefits at all, the MS Society said.
No comment was available from the Department of Work and Pensions.