Monday Musing: Thousands more benefit from the Blue Badge scheme in England

Sarah Greenslade the BPA's Public Affairs and Research Officer looks at the Blue Badge scheme 

For the first time, the government’s latest statistics on Blue Badge include the reaction to the expansion of the Blue Badge eligibility.  In August last year, it was changed to also include hidden disabilities such as dementia, epilepsy and Parkinsons disease. 

In the first three months 12,299 new badges, around 130 a day, were granted to people who cannot walk as part of a journey without considerable psychological distress or the risk of serious harm, as well as to people with a non-visible disability.

This in turn puts extra pressure on councils. They will need to better manage and enforce the scheme so that Blue Badge holders have access to disabled parking spaces when they need it.

Interestingly prosecutions for Blue Badge misuse in England rose 18% last year. Nearly all were people using another person’s badge, typically family members or carers. Most councils have a policy to enforce the Blue Badge scheme but not nearly so many actually do

We have urged Councils to review their on-street parking provision for Blue Badge holders. Increasing the number of spaces, both in terms of the availability of disabled parking, and the overall number of parking spaces if disabled spaces take up other existing parking spaces will be key over the coming year.

The government recently committed to making £1.7 million available to Councils in England, to manage the increasing applications in the first year. We will be holding the government to account on this commitment.  A Department of Transport spokesperson told Parking News (the BPA trade magazine) in November last year that they, are launching a review into Blue Badge fraud.  This will include how to tackle abuse and educate people about the impact this crime can have on vulnerable people. The review will primarily focus on working with councils to:

  • understand the challenges they face enforcing the scheme
  • share best practice, and
  • identify changes that may make enforcement easier, or more cost-effective.

Up until now, there has not been a national government campaign to educate the public and raise awareness of the importance of not abusing the Blue Badge scheme. It could take the approach of nudging people to use the Badge currently. Naming and shaming abusers of the scheme have been an approach some Councils rely on to deter people. Councils know when they prosecute for Blue Badge misuse, it’s important to publicise it and send a strong deterrent message to Blue Badge holders’ friends, family and carers to not abuse it.  It is clear, too many people are simply ignoring the warning message on the back of the badges to use the badge correctly.

Stephen Goodall, senior investigations officer at Portsmouth City Council is a Blue Badge enforcement expert. He even trains other local authorities on how to crack down on Blue Badge abuse. On a two-day operation recently in Bridgend, Wales a newly trained team checked hundreds of badges.  There were 68 interventions and 20 badges retained in all.  Of the retained badges, 12 needed to be investigated further for more serious issues – such as using, a dead person’s badge, or one being reported lost or stolen.  The other eight were returned to the badge holder with conditions of use and a warning that the consequences will be more serious next time.

Goodall was not surprised, he said ‘this level of abuse is in keeping with every other area I have ever been to.’ He finds there is an underlying fear from a lot of local authorities about what happens if they get it wrong. But he says, ‘if you have properly trained officers, then you’re unlikely to make a mistake.’

There are no doubt Councils will need to work harder to ensure the integrity of the scheme. It is important Councils that have not up until now done much enforcement receive extra support; like that from Portsmouth, to increase their confidence in tackling misuse and abuse. Sending out a strong deterrent message.

One idea that is being used in some states in America that may work here in the UK too, is using empathetic or humanising signage to protect disabled parking spaces from being abused. The signage combines an image of a person alongside the disability icon. This has the effect of touching peoples’ consciousness and nudging people to stay away from these spaces. People then think twice before taking these spaces. It has proved effective. Perhaps the solution is to use many approaches to tackling abuse. Using both nudge tactics like this, that tug at people’s heartstrings, as well as enforcing and prosecuting.

My 91-year-old grandmother has been a Blue Badge holder most of her life and I cannot remember her once suggesting anyone ‘borrow’ it. And I am sure you law-abiding readers are the same. Last month, she made the difficult decision to hand back her Motability car and is adjusting to needing to plan a bit more when she wants to get out. But thanks to the Blue Badge scheme she can still benefit from using her Badge when others offer to drive her.

People like my grandmother, whose life has been helped greatly by the scheme, as well as all the new badge-holders as a result of the eligibility expansion, are relying on it to continue to work well. More people being able to benefit from the scheme in England is a good thing; and we will support the government’s commitment to making available to Councils funding to tackle abuse and enforcement, as well as raising awareness of the impact the abuse of the scheme can have.