The government’s refusal to introduce a national system to administer applications for blue parking badges is to blame for lengthy delays and backlogs across the country, according to a leading disabled motoring expert.
Last month, retired Paralympian Steve Varden described the system as a “national problem, scandal and injustice”, after he was fined by a council for parking in an accessible space while waiting for his blue badge to be renewed.
The coalition’s blue badge reforms were introduced from 2012 and were intended to address what the government saw as widespread abuse of the scheme.
Councils were told to carry out more independent mobility assessments of applicants, while a national database of blue badges and a new electronic badge were introduced, with badges sent out through a single private contractor.
But councils kept responsibility for dealing with badge applications under the new system, and each local authority has had to source occupational therapists or other health professionals to carry out the assessments.
Some councils have reported delays of up to 12 weeks in dealing with applications.
Douglas Campbell, former executive director of the Disabled Drivers’ Association and now a disability consultant, said he believed the problems were due to the decision not to set up a single national system for applications.
He said: “It’s been going on ever since the new regulations came in. There is no need for local authorities to be involved [in issuing the badges] and it would cut costs if there was a central authority.”
Under the new system, applicants who are eligible automatically tend to receive their badges quickly, he said, but those who need to be assessed often face lengthy waits.,
Part of the problem was the “horribly muddly” system, because although the form can be filled in online, the supporting evidence has to be sent by post, and applicants cannot pay their fees online.
Campbell said: “In many cases, I suspect, the local authorities are not buying in enough capacity to keep up with the flow of applications.
“Nobody expected the economic pressure we now face when the review [of the blue badge scheme] was being done.”
There are numerous online references to blue badge delays across the country over the last three years, including reports from April 2012, June 2012, July 2012, October 2012, November 2012, August 2013, September 2013, December 2013, January 2014, March 2014, July 2014 and October 2014.
Some local authorities have had to issue letters outlining the badge-holder’s entitlement while they are waiting for their badge to be renewed, while others have told traffic enforcement officers not to fine drivers with badges that are up to five months out-of-date.
The Department for Transport has refused to comment on the problems caused by its reforms.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities, said it had “not undertaken any research on whether there are ongoing delays in the issuing of blue badges to residents”.
An LGA spokesman said that councils “have been working to make residents aware of the new rules and urging those with existing badges to re-apply six weeks prior to expiry to allow for new assessments” and that “not doing this is likely to lead to a delay if an assessment is needed”.
4 February 2015