A disabled artist is being forced to pay hundreds of pounds in clean air zone fines every month because of her council’s refusal to make reasonable adjustments for her fluctuating health conditions.
Shiva Page fears she will have to give up her part-time job as a support worker, and her self-employed creative work restoring and recycling furniture, because of what she says is Bath and North East Somerset Council’s discriminatory behaviour.
Although she has an exemption from Bath’s clean air zone (CAZ) scheme, which means she should not have to pay a fine every time she drives her van in the zone, she still has to log each journey within six days to avoid being fined.
Each time she forgets, it costs her £69, and if she fails to pay within 14 days, the fine is increased to £129.
But because one of the symptoms of one of her health conditions is “brain fog”, she often forgets to log her journeys. She is also often restricted to bed for days at a time with severe pain.
Her concerns emerged in the week that an ombudsman warned in a new report that local authorities were frequently failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled service-users, particularly those with invisible impairments, like Page.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, called on local councils in England to be “proactive” in asking every person who approaches one of their services if they need changes to be made in the way they are dealt with (see separate story).
Page has a van because she used to provide science and art workshops in schools and in community projects, which meant she needed to carry bulky resources, while she also works as an artist, restoring and recycling furniture from landfill.
Since the CAZ scheme (pictured) was introduced last year, she believes she has had to pay more than £800 in fines, and she is appealing another two fines of £129 each.
This is because the council refuses to waive the duty to log each visit online, or even text her a reminder each time she drives in the CAZ in her van.
She managed to get some of the fines reduced to £9 each when she took the council to a tribunal, but the local authority then used her ability to take the case to tribunal as proof that she could keep track of her journeys.
Page has a blue badge and receives both personal independence payment and employment and support allowance (ESA), but she can only work 16 hours a week under the permitted work scheme.
She has provided evidence about her health conditions, but the council refuses to stop fining her.
Because her impairments are fluctuating and invisible, she has even been accused by a council worker of lying about being disabled.
She said: “I work part-time with the deaf community, but if this continues, I fear it will cause me to become even more unwell and lose my job.
“It’s causing me so much anxiety and sleepless nights that I’ve been avoiding going to visit friends or going to town for leisure or shopping as I’m so worried about more fines.
“This is increasing my social isolation and worsening my mental health.
“As a blue badge holder, I shouldn’t be put in the position of worrying about going out in my van in case I forget to log the journey and get a fine.”
She added: “I wish I could afford a ‘compliant’ van and have been considering buying a car instead but that would mean emptying my workshop and giving up my creative self-employment which honestly keeps me going and is my sanctuary, both mentally and emotionally.
“It would limit my work choices in the future, too.”
Page has complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman about how the council has treated her, and she has sought advice from the Equality Advisory and Support Service.
Even though she provided the council with written permission to discuss her case with Disability News Service (DNS), it refused to do so.
Instead, it produced the following statement: “In Bath, we don’t charge cars, so charges only apply to higher emission taxis, vans (including some campers), coaches, buses and HGVs.
“So the majority of blue badge holders can drive freely in Bath, without having to pay or log an exempt journey.
“However, during our public consultation on introducing the zone we talked to a range of groups representing disabled people in Bath and took the decision not to charge blue badge holders driving higher emission chargeable vehicles, such as vans, in recognition of the challenges they face.
“Instead, they can log their journey within a period of 13 days (six days before the date of travel, the date of travel itself, and six days following the date of travel) to be equitable with those that need to pay an entry charge.
“Other local authorities have not taken this approach.
“Our team of advisors have worked very closely, by phone and email, with local businesses and individuals to help people manage exemptions and also to access funding to replace polluting vehicles.
“The requirement to register a trip in a clean air zone – by paying or logging an exemption – is a national requirement and will be common across all clean air zone schemes.
“To be issued with and use a driving licence, drivers must be able to undertake all requirements to use a vehicle on the highway, such as making payment for the London congestion charge or the Dartford crossing, understanding signage indicating restrictions, and even making a payment for parking.”
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