Autistic man who faces losing his disability car ‘will be trapped in his home’

Autism sufferer Aaron Drain with his Mum Karen.

Autism sufferer Aaron Drain with his Mum Karen. - Credit: Archant

The mother of an autistic man has said he will be a prisoner in his own home when the government takes away the car he depends on to get around.

Autism sufferer Aaron Drain with his Mum Karen.

Autism sufferer Aaron Drain with his Mum Karen. - Credit: Archant

Aaron Drain, 22, lives in Holgate Gardens, Dagenham and is severely autistic - to such an extent that it is too distressing for him to use public transport or even walk in public.

Instead, for the last seven years he has relied on a motability car funded by the government.

Under the scheme his blue Ford Focus is also provided with its tax and insurance.

Now that's being taken away next Monday and the point system that the benefit is based on isn't clear on why.

Autism sufferer Aaron Drain with his Mum Karen.

Autism sufferer Aaron Drain with his Mum Karen. - Credit: Archant

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"It's going to take everything away from him," said Aaron's mum, Karen Drain. "He's going to go back to square one.

"He couldn't go out the door because he has a fear of going out."

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Over the course of five Personal Independence Payment (PIP) reviews in the last four years, Aaron has been assessed as needing no mobility payment at all to receiving the highest rate, which pays for the car.

A Department for Work and Pensions policy that "a decision maker is not bound by a decision on an earlier claim," means that there is no requirement for continuity between assessments, even for someone with a terminal and unchanging condition like Aaron.

Autism sufferer Aaron Drain with his Mum Karen.

Autism sufferer Aaron Drain with his Mum Karen. - Credit: Archant

"By them taking it away, they think he's going to get better and go out, but he won't. It never has," Ms Drain added.

"The point system is completely wrong. Missing out on two points or one point is ridiculous."

A score of 12 is needed to get the enhanced mobility benefits. Aaron has 10.

Doctors have diagnosed Aaron as high on the autistic spectrum. It means he has difficulty empathising and has heightened sensitivity to his surroundings.

This makes it impossible for Aaron to travel on public transport. The lights, noise and people that would surround him in London's buses and trains are too much.

And when he does become upset, the only person he can express that to is his mother. Karen loves her son, but because of his condition, this expression can be extreme.

It is to such an extent that a doctor described Aaron's behaviour as often: "what on the surface appears to be verbally abusive".

The car allows Aaron to have a life outside the family's home and also allows him to get the help he needs.

He currently gets support from the Osborne Partnership, which helps adults who have learning and physical disabilities and the autism charity The Sycamore Trust.

Both of these organisations are in Dagenham. The Osborne Partnership is only a 10 minute walk away, but Aaron cannot bear to walk even that far.

As the sole carer, Karen looks after him full-time, fitting in 16 hours a week as a cleaner on minimum wage while he is at a specialist day centre.

She uses the car to take her and Aaron on their annual holiday to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.

Karen said of the trip: "It's away, it's a break. God knows I need a break sometimes,"

Responding to Aaron's case, a DWP spokesman said: "Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the individual, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist."

Karen has filed an appeal to the tribunal. She is currently waiting for the department's response.

In 2016, when the car was under threat again, it was only when the MP Dame Margaret Hodge appealed on behalf of the family that Aaron was allowed to keep the car.

Over 70 per cent of PIP appeals made by people like Karen Drain rule in the favour of the person fighting the DWP's decision, according to the most recent tribunal data.

Tim Nicholls, head of policy at the National Autistic Society, said: "PIP is a lifeline for many autistic people, helping them with the extra costs that being autistic can bring in their everyday lives.

"Far too many autistic people tell us that PIP assessors simply don't recognise their difficulties.

"We have heard deeply concerning reports of assessors not understanding autism and how to adjust the assessment for autistic people."

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