An activist whose local authority warns disabled people that it could take up to 12 weeks to renew their blue parking badges is calling for disabled people in other parts of the country to pass on their experiences of problems and delays in the system.
It took Bob Williams-Findlay (pictured), a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, more than six weeks to receive his new badge from Wolverhampton council, although he had been warned that it could take even longer.
He believes such delays are “unacceptable” and are not restricted to his local authority, and that other applicants face even longer delays.
Now he wants to hear from disabled people in other areas who have had similar problems*.
Wolverhampton council admitted this week that it warns disabled people to expect it to take up to 12 weeks for their applications to be dealt with.
Williams-Findlay pointed to a Disability News Service news story written nearly four years ago which described delays of up to 12 weeks in dealing with applications, and he said this showed little had changed around the country since then.
The system was introduced by the coalition government in 2011 and saw councils told to carry out more independent mobility assessments, while the government introduced a national database of blue badges.
The new electronic badges are sent out by a private contractor, Northgate Public Services, part of the Japanese IT multinational NEC Corporation.
But councils kept responsibility for dealing with badge applications and had to source occupational therapists or other health professionals to carry out the assessments.
Williams-Findlay said the current system was “oppressive, stressful and discriminatory” and the weeks he had been left without a badge had made his life “more disabling” because he had been deprived of “being able to park and participate within society”.
He said the delays curtailed the rights of disabled people under article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Williams-Findlay said the Department for Transport (DfT) was guilty of institutional discrimination and that the centralised part of the system was “not fit for practice”, while the delays were “unacceptable”.
He left it too late to renew his badge and only applied to renew it a day or two before it expired, but he filled in the application form online on 28 September, taking written evidence to the council in person the same day.
On 25 October, he received a letter – dated 18 October – which said his application had been successful, and that once he paid the £10 fee the council would order a new badge, which would take up to 21 days to arrive. His badge eventually arrived on 8 November.
A DfT spokeswoman said the delays were “primarily a matter for local authorities, who are responsible for processing applications, and timescales do vary”.
She added: “The department has not been made aware of any significant problems.”
But she said the department was currently developing “an improved online application process”.
She said: “There have been no problems with the private contractor, whose performance is monitored regularly.”
A Wolverhampton council spokeswoman said: “Our advertised timescales are 12 weeks (from the time of receiving all relevant supporting documentation) for processing.”
And she said the council website advises applicants to apply 10 weeks before their badge is due to expire.
She said she understood that the badges were “very important” because “having a blue badge can significantly change a person’s independence, which motivates us to continue to improve our service by reviewing our processes and listening to feedback received from our customers”.
She said the council had “recently updated its webpage to be clearer on the process and pre-requisites”, and that the government was updating the blue badge application form after consulting with users.
Asked whether she believed delays were a national problem, she said: “Each council has a statutory duty to administer Blue Badges on behalf of the central government.
“We are unable to comment on other councils.”
Another disabled activist, Barbara Lisicki, a trainer and writer, has told Williams-Findlay that the renewal process in her London council area was “shoddy, unclear and utterly useless”.
She said the centralised online system was “not fit for purpose, especially as it is misleading and gives incomplete, poorly phrased instructions”.
If a local councillor had not intervened on her behalf to speed up the process, she would have been left unable to park in the accessible bay outside her house, she said.
A third disabled activist has told Williams-Findlay that she was told by her local authority in the south of England to expect a 12-week wait for her blue badge.
*Any disabled people with reports of problems or delays with renewing or applying for a blue badge can email Bob Williams-Findlay at [email protected]
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