Commons Gate

The Blue Badge (Disabled Parking) Reform Strategy (HC 475-i)

Transport Committee 2 Apr 2008

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Evidence given by
2.45 Rob Smith CB - Independent Consultant; Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) - Grahame Lawson, DPTAC Member; Mobilise - Douglas Campbell, Chairman
3.30 Disability Alliance - Paddy Cullen, Tribunal Support Unit Officer; Help the Aged - Dr Alan Burnett, Senior Policy Officer; Citizens Advice - Vicky Pearlman, Social Policy Officer; The Technical Advisers Group (TAG) - Martin Low, Director of Transportation, Westminster City Council
4.15 Minister and Officials - Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP, Minister of State for Transport; Miranda Carter, Head of Accessibility and Equalities Unit, DfT; Sam Waugh, Head of Personal Mobility Policy, DfT : uploaded on 7 April 2008

Q6 Mr. David Clelland: What greatly aggravates non-Blue Badge-holders, many of whom themselves are not necessarily 100% able-bodied or fit, is the abuse of the system. How big a problem is abuse of the system and what form does abuse typically take?

Mr Lawson: There are two ways in which the Blue Badge is abused. One is deliberate abuse, whether it is by the fact it has been stolen or by somebody who blatantly ignores the regulations applying to the Blue Badge, and the other is inadvertent misuse. I think many Blue Badge-holders and their families do not actually realise the rules. We sat in on a working party in Scotland two years ago looking at enforcement of the Blue Badge off-street and it was amazing how many people who worked in organisations representing disabled people, dealing with disabled people, were unaware of the rules relating to that. Some people did not realise the fact that the badge is only valid when the Blue Badge-holder is present, so there is inadvertent misuse.

Q7 Mr. David Clelland: Is there an impact on legitimate Blue Badge-holders?

Mr Lawson: There is no doubt at all about that.

Q8 Mr. David Clelland: What is that?

Mr Lawson: Obviously it increases the demand for the precious few available spaces that there are. To try to quantify it is very difficult. I know that working in a previous authority in Glasgow we reckoned that at any one time at least one-third of the vehicles parked on the street were Blue Badge-holders

Q9 Mr. David Clelland: You have hinted at the fact that legitimate Badges are often used by people who are not the legitimate Badge-holder. How would you propose we tackle that issue?

Mr Lawson: It is a major problem. A large part of it is education. We have to welcome the recent initiative by the Department that has issued much clearer guidance to Blue Badge-holders and that guidance is now being issued with every Blue Badge. Every time it is renewed or if a new badge is issued that guidance is given and it is much, much clearer. I have to commend the Department for that.

Q10 Mr. David Clelland: Have you been able to assess whether that has had any impact?

Mr Lawson: I think it is too early to assess that.

Q11 Mr. David Clelland: Could there be a national framework for sharing Blue Badge data between authorities?

Mr Lawson: Yes. That is something we have strongly campaigned for at DPTAC. It was our recommendation to ministers in 2002 and it remains our recommendation. I think Rob would agree with me on that one.

Q12 Mr. David Clelland: What about supermarkets, railway stations and places like that, how can those be regulated?

Mr Lawson: The problem there is that the Blue Badge Scheme does not actually extend to railway stations and supermarkets. Any provision that is made on these premises and facilities, if you like, is by the operator in fulfilment of their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. The Blue Badge, if you like, has become a proxy. Equally, and I refer back to my initial comments, I think the environment in which the Blue Badge operates is such that the Blue Badge Scheme needs to be extended to cover off-street parking areas so that these areas come formally within the Blue Badge Scheme.

Q13 Mr. David Clelland: Do you have any concerns in terms of the authorities trying to enforce the regulations by giving parking attendants the power to confiscate badges which are not being used properly?

Mr Lawson: I think that would be a retrograde step. We would be against that because in many cases enforcement is by private companies. It could be on a contract to the local authority, not necessarily by the local authority. At the moment, the police are the only people who have the powers to confiscate a badge. At DPTAC we believe there are alternative ways of dealing with this. If we had a smart badge, for example, something that had a chip in it, let us say, it would be fairly easy to deactivate that chip if it was being abused, but it would not be done by the person on the street, it would be done centrally and by someone who has a better grasp of the information and knew whether the badge had been abused before. It is a three strikes and you are out sort of thing.

Q14 Mr. David Clelland: Is any progress being made towards that sort of system?

Mr Lawson: I believe it may well be. We are certainly pressing for it with the Department.


Q53 Mr. David Clelland: Two final questions. In these days when the Government is trying to encourage people out of their cars and on to public transport, is that a principle which should apply to disabled people as much as anyone else? Is there any evidence that concessionary fares have had any impact on the demand for Blue Badges?

Mr Campbell: Concessionary fares will have a slow impact but only as the outside of the big cities' buses become disabled friendly. One of the biggest issues for disabled people using London Transport is actually making the door to terminus hop. If you cannot get parked at the bus station or you cannot get parked at the railway station, as I did today I drove a round-trip of 110 miles because of the aggravation of not reliably being able to park at the station and at least I know if I drive my own vehicle I am in control of the situation. If I have to rely on the possibility of not parking at the station, the possibility that staff directed to get me off the train leave me there for 20 minutes because they have not been told, those issues are ones that will force disabled people to continue to drive for quite a long time, even though it is more expensive to do so.

Mr Lawson: This is one of our arguments against the London boroughs being part of the scheme. Although London is very good in terms of having wheelchair accessible buses, we do not regard the buses themselves as being accessible until they have audio-visual announcements on board, which they do not have at the moment, or very few of them have at the present moment. As Douglas says, it is very important we have the infrastructure on and off the vehicles to enable you to get on to public transport, whether it is a bus, a train or whatever. I was very conscious when I was travelling on the Piccadilly Line out to Terminal 5 last Thursday, which was a big mistake in itself, that you go through stations which London Transport says are wheelchair accessible, and the stations may be accessible but the connection from the platform on to the train is not and it is odd how ---

Q54 Chairman: Let us get this clear, we must get this on the record. You are saying it is possible to get to the station, the hazard arises when you want to get on to the train?

Mr Lawson: Absolutely.

Q55 Chairman: That is helpful.

Mr Smith: From my work on the report I thought that this point that disabled people wherever practical should have the same choice as other people about how they travel was absolutely fundamental and it does imply local authorities and others taking a much more holistic view of how transport works across their areas for disabled people.

Q56 Mr. David Clelland: In that case, if the local authorities and the Government listen carefully to what you have said and the happy day arrives when public transport is fully accessible, would that then be a reason for tightening the criteria for access to the Blue Badge scheme to encourage people to use public transport rather than the car?

Mr Lawson: My attitude would be that the Blue Badge is part of a palette, a menu of facilities that should be available to disabled people. Having fully accessible public transport would never be a total substitute for the Blue Badge but it would be for people who have the confidence, if you like, to try an alternative.


Q63 Clive Efford: What is the biggest problem with abuse of the Blue Badge scheme and what problems does it create for genuine Blue Badge users?

Mr Low: The way in which some local authorities set about considering the discretionary criteria. Far too many rely upon the good word of a local GP and I believe it is essential that highway authorities take on the role across the country - many do, but not all do - and that they do not allow local GPs to assess the applicants. We found in Westminster in the paper that you will read later that 70% of the applications are discretionary. By having an occupational therapist review them, 50% of those applications are refused. If you do not have that rigorous assessment then you have a larger number of Blue Badges on issue to non-genuine disabled badge-holders who should not be being issued with that badge.

Q64 Mr. David Clelland: Can I just clarify something about that. You said highway authorities; do you mean transport authorities?

Mr Low: No, I mean the local authority as highway authority responsible for making the traffic regulation orders that introduce the on-street parking and are responsible for the enforcement, as of yesterday, through the new civil enforcement officers.


Q118 Mr. David Clelland: Can we just talk about the abuse of the system for a moment, Minister? Is it fair to say that your Department's enforcement proposals are more directed at the misuse of lost, stolen or expired badges than at the misuse of legitimate badges?

Ms Winterton: There is a whole raft of changes that we have tried to make so far which is that in October again we introduced a hologram and made some identification on the badge so it could become gender-specific. Again, one the areas that we need to look at is forgeries because there is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence about forgeries, but if you did have a national database and you had reader machines that people could carry around then you would be able very quickly to detect whether or not something had been forged. The issue of abuse by family and friends, again that is something that we do need to address through a public awareness campaign and the type of naming and shaming perhaps that is appropriate.

Q119 Mr. David Clelland: How would that be enforced? You can only name and shame if you actually identify someone; how is that going to happen?

Ms Winterton: First of all there are examples - Liverpool was mentioned earlier - where they have had very effective, targeted surveillance and, again, through our centre of excellence where we have given this money for local authorities to be able to exchange best practice in terms of how you can improve on that and, you know, there are times where perpetrators are for example being caught on film and you can use that as well. I am sure there are ways where, through the use of improved technology, we could make this a lot more effective.

Q120 Mr. David Clelland: What are you doing about the misuse of disabled bays in places like supermarkets and railway stations?

Ms Winterton: There are two issues here because I know that DPTAC have said that there is a possibility of local authority parking enforcement officers going into supermarkets, and we are looking at the legal aspects of that. I would be interested to see what comes out of the consultation because, to start with, places like Asda have started fining people themselves who use disabled bays. I also think that to a certain extent it is a bit of a commercial decision is it not, to make sure that disabled people do have access to the supermarket and it is in the interest of the supermarkets to be able to make sure that there is proper access. In some cases probably one of the attractions of going to supermarkets is that you can get that access easily. My personal instinct at the moment is that you would have to be quite certain that you really wanted local authority parking attendants to do this, who in a sense are there to ensure that the main highways are properly monitored and checked in terms of disabled people.


Q127 Mr. David Clelland: I just have one more question on the question of enforcement. This question of parking attendants having the power to confiscate badges which they believe are being used improperly, could that not lead to legitimate badges being confiscated?

Ms Winterton: I would hope not. At the moment if a parking attendant wants to remove a badge from somebody because they say you are improperly using it, they have to wait for the police to come and, again, as your witnesses were describing earlier the time that takes can be fairly long. The other thing that we could look at, for example, if we did have a national database and we did have readable machines, then it is possible that you could remove their eligibility nationally if somebody had been abusing it, so you could actually have a mixture of the parking attendant being able to remove it, which we think is quite an important power, but I understand that there may be some reservations about that. You could also, maybe, link that with a kind of national database being able to deconstruct the badge or whatever the word for it would be.

Q128 Chairman: Deconstruct the badges?

Ms Winterton: It would blow up in the car or something.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

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