The government has announced major reforms of the blue badge parking scheme for disabled people – the first on such a scale since its launch 40 years ago.
Councils will be forced to use more independent mobility assessments – instead of asking GPs to assess applicants – of those who do not qualify automatically for a badge.
How this will work has not yet been finalised, with new guidance for councils expected in May or June.
Included in the reforms is a long-awaited plan for a national database of the 2.5 million badge-holders, which should make it easier for councils to enforce the scheme. The database could include badges issued in Wales and Scotland.
Councils will be given “tough” new enforcement powers, including the right to cancel badges that have been lost, stolen, have expired or been withdrawn due to misuse, and on-the-spot powers to confiscate such badges.
The government also plans to contract a company to design, print and supply all blue badges across England – with a new electronic badge that will be harder to forge and alter – although councils will still process applications.
The maximum fee a council can charge will rise from £2 to £10, the first increase in nearly 30 years.
It will also be possible to renew badges online through the government’s directgov website.
The government says faster renewals and less abuse could save £20 million a year.
The National Fraud Authority’s latest estimate is that blue badge fraud costs the UK about £46 million a year.
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, said at the launch of the new plans in Camden, north London, that they would ensure the badge was “fit for purpose” and that “people who need blue badges can get them and use them”.
He also promised to write to supermarkets to encourage them to tackle abuse of accessible parking bays in their own carparks.
Dai Powell, chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), said the plans were “a huge step forward” but it was vital that they delivered “integrity” to the scheme.
Helen Dolphin, a DPTAC member and director of policy and campaigns at the charity Mobilise, said: “I am pleased that at last we have some reforms that are hopefully going to make a difference to the tremendous abuse the scheme is still suffering from.”
She said too many local authorities were issuing badges to people who do not need them.
Eligibility for the badge will also be extended to more disabled children aged between two and three, with automatic entitlement given to disabled service personnel and veterans with high support needs.
Many of the changes announced will be introduced within a year.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com