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Thousands benefit from extended Blue Badge scheme

  • 07.01.2020
  • HelenDolan
  • Clinical Negligence, Personal Injury
  • Clinical negligence Brain Injury Awareness Personal Injury serious injury accessibility blue badge Multiple Sclerosis disabled access hidden disability stoma invisible illness Department for Transport Blue Badge Scheme disabled parking invisible disability epilepsy Local Authority

Disabled_Blue_Badge.pngThousands of individuals who live with “invisible” disabilities and illnesses have gained access to the benefits of a Blue Badge under new rules introduced in the summer of 2019.

‘Invisible’ disabilities

The Blue Badge scheme previously meant that people with physical disabilities could park closer to their destination than other drivers, as they are less able to take public transport or walk for long distances.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps introduced new rules in August last year, to widen the eligibility criteria of the Blue Badge scheme to ensure that those who live with “invisible” disabilities, such as epilepsy or Multiple Sclerosis (MS), are not disadvantaged.

The latest figures show that within the first three months alone, 12,299 new badges – the equivalent to around 130 a day - were granted to people with hidden disabilities, including those who:

  • Cannot undertake a journey without there being a risk of serious harm to their health or safety or that of any other person (such as young children with autism)
  • Cannot undertake a journey without it causing them very considerable psychological distress
  • Have very considerable difficulty when walking (both the physical act and experience of walking)

Mr Shapps said:

“People with hidden conditions like these have to fight not just their disability, but the psychological worry that others may not recognise them as disabled.

“I’m proud that our reform is already changing thousands of people’s lives, allowing those in need to carry on their daily lives with more confidence and helping combat loneliness and isolation.”

New guidance for councils

The Department for Transport issued new guidance to councils in England on Blue Badge parking permit eligibility ahead of the change, and a new online eligibility checker was introduced in August with the aim of making the process clearer for people when they go to apply.

It should be noted, however, that not everyone who suffers with an “invisible” disability or illness will be eligible for a Blue Badge under the new rules. As was the case prior to last August, local authorities will make the final decision on whether an applicant meets the eligibility criteria.

Chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), Keith Richards, said:

“DPTAC has worked hard to bring the issue of non-visible disabilities to the fore. Enabling those with non-visible disabilities to benefit from a Blue badge will bring a critical improvement in the lives of many disabled people and it is right that the criteria was changed. We have stressed the importance of enforcement of the scheme and we are pleased to see the number of prosecutions increasing.”

Disabled_Parking_Spaces_-_Asda.jpg

The latter point regarding prosecutions refers to on-street misuse of the scheme, examples of which includes theft and use of the Badge by someone other than the disabled person who it is intended for. By the end of 2018, the Local Government Association estimated that theft of Blue Badges had risen by 45% over a 12-month period and was up six-fold since 2013.

Local authorities have been cracking down on such instances, with the DfT granting them the power to seize badges on-street as and when they spot abuse of the scheme.

Latest statistics from the Department show prosecutions for Blue Badge misuse in England have risen 17.9 per cent in 2018/19, with almost all of these being instances where someone used another person’s badge – typically family members or carers.

Huge difference

Samantha Tomlin’s son Henry has autism and has been provided with a new Blue Badge. She told disability magazine, UCan2:

“The key thing with the Blue Badge is that is has increased safety and reduced anxiety for the child and their carer. For a parent or carer of someone with ASD, some of the most challenging times are the most mundane for others. A child with sensory difficulties can be triggered by a car horn or lights - and even road awareness can also be an issue – so going to a new location can be very stressful.

“When my son was younger sometimes I didn’t go out because I just couldn’t face trying to find a safe place to park near the shop or doctors.

“Having the Blue Badge just makes you feel slightly less anxious about the situation and feel your child is safer. It will make a huge difference to parents going through the early years and those with older children and adults that suffer with all the challenges autism brings.”

On street parking review

It is likely that councils will now have to review on street parking provisions in order to increase the number of overall parking spaces due to the rise in applicants. To assist councils with this, the DfT has agreed with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide £1.7 million to local authorities in England in the first 12 months following implementation of the new rules.

Helen Dolan, Senior Partner & Head of Clinical Negligence here at Potter Rees Dolan Serious Injury Solicitors, comments:

“It is absolutely right that those who need additional support, whether their condition is visible or not, are able to access it. We increasingly hear stories from people with conditions such as brain injury or those who live with a stoma, who have faced prejudice, and even abuse, when using parking spots or toilets designated for disabled use - purely because their conditions may not be apparent to the public.

Last summer we launched a ‘Stoma Awareness’ survey as part of a wider campaign to increase awareness of those living with a stoma, as well as other invisible conditions, which revealed some quite surprising results. So I am very pleased to hear that the government has taken steps to help increase awareness and to enable the tens of thousands of people living with such conditions access to the support they need.”

Helen is the head of Clinical Negligence and a Senior Partner at Potter Rees Dolan. Should you wish to speak with Helen or any other member of our Clinical Negligence team, please call us today on 0800 027 2557 or fill out a contact form on the side of this page. Alternatively, you can contact Helen directly here.