A BBC investigation has found that people with non-visible disabilities - such as autism or Parkinson's disease - face a "shocking disparity" when applying for a blue badge parking permit compared to their counterparts with physical impairments.
Blue badge permits help disabled people to access goods and services, by allowing them to park close to their destination. The new rules, described as "the biggest change to the scheme in nearly 50 years" when introduced by the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in 2019, widened the eligibility criteria to ensure people with non-visible disabilities were not disadvantaged. The Blue Badge scheme was changed to include disabilities such as autism, dementia and anxiety.
However, according to research carried out by the BBC, 8 out of 10 councils in England have higher approval ratings for the issuing of Blue Badges for people with physical disabilities than those with hidden disabilities or invisible illnesses.
Of the 109 councils who provided full responses to the BBC, 10 revealed that that the difference was greater than 50 percentage points.
National brain injury charity Headway had previously welcomed the decision to extend the Blue Badge scheme, now however, the charity is concerned that further work needs to be done to properly recognise the impact of hidden disabilities.
Headway’s Public Affairs Manager, Sarah Russell, said: “It is worrying that there appears to be a lack of understanding about how debilitating the effects of hidden disabilities can be.
“Brain injury survivors can be faced with a whole range of challenges post-injury, including fatigue which makes walking long distances difficult. They should be able to access a Blue Badge where they are entitled to under the hidden disability rules, which would be hugely helpful for them in living an independent life.”
The BBC also reports that the online process is long and complicated, resulting in people finding it difficult to navigate. Some also told the BBC of the "trauma" of having to produce evidence of their disabilities to be scrutinised, as well as the difficulty of completing the form.
Ms Russell added: “It is hoped that this will serve as a wake-up call to councils that they need additional training in recognising the effects of hidden disabilities, such as brain injury, and the government takes the steps necessary to ensure the application process is consistent, accessible and fair.”
"For brain injury survivors the blue badge scheme should help them achieve independence and make their lives easier. Brain injury is often a hidden disability where there are no outwardly visible signs of injury, but the effects are just as devastating as serious physical injuries. Brain injury is misunderstood even by medical professionals as well as the people who are responsible for issuing blue badges. Whilst the changes to eligibility were welcome, many of our clients seek our help with the application because the process is a daunting task. Hopefully the government will review the process and ensure that it is accessible for everyone with a disability, visible or otherwise."
Ruth Wright is Head of the Court of Protection team and has 15 years of experience of acting as a professional Court of Protection Deputy, and a Trustee for both children and adults. Should you have any queries about Court of Protection issues or indeed any other aspect of this article and wish to speak to Ruth or any other member of the team, please contact us on 0161 237 5888 or email Ruth directly.