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The Blue Badge Scheme in Wales: Eligibility and Implementation A National Assembly for Wales abstract on the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee inquiry into the Blue Badge scheme in Wales

The Blue Badge scheme provides a national arrangement of parking concessions for disabled people and operates throughout the UK

The responsibility for the scheme in Wales lies with the Welsh Government, but it is administered by individual local authorities, who issue the badges.

Until recently there have been two different categories of eligibility for blue badges. Some people can receive a blue badge automatically, which is called 'eligible without further assessment'. If they do not meet the necessary criteria, an individual may still be eligible 'subject to further assessment'. In the past few years, the eligibility criteria has also been extended to people with cognitive impairments, as well as to those experiencing temporary, but substantial injuries or illness.

Blue badges provide a lifeline for a range of people in our society

Without their blue badge many people would be unable to access essential services such as attending medical appointments, visiting the shops and leisure facilities, leaving them trapped in their own homes. The blue badge system must be fit for purpose to meet the needs of these people to ensure that they can easily access the services they need to live independently.

Differing arrangements across the 22 local authorities have led to inconsistencies in implementation across Wales. Addressing these inconsistencies should be a priority for the Welsh Government and local authorities so that everyone can receive the same level of service, regardless of their post code.

What the Committee did

How you helped shape the Committee's work

The National Assembly for Wales' Citizen Engagement Team delivered a series of focus groups to gather the views and experiences of current and former Blue Badge holders, potential Blue Badge applicants, those who had their applications refused, carers and relevant council staff.

12 focus groups were arranged across Wales involving 102 citizens from all five Assembly regions. Focus groups were arranged in Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Ceredigion, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Swansea. Participants were sourced through a number of relevant organisations and groups including Age Cymru, Carers Wales, Credu, Disability Wales, Learning Disability Wales and the MS Society, as well as disability forums and access groups in Arfon, Ceredigion, Flintshire, Knighton and Powys. Other participants were sourced through a short explainer video on the inquiry which was promoted across the Assembly’s social media channels.

A number of key themes emerged which informed the Committee's evidence session with the Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates AM, its conclusions, and the recommendations it made to the Welsh Government in its report.

You can read the views, experiences and ideas shared at the 12 focus groups by reading our summary note below.

"The focus groups for this inquiry attracted more participants than any of our previous areas of work, which demonstrates the importance of the blue badge scheme and the impact on lives across Wales." - John Griffiths, AM, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee
Ken Skates AM, Minister for Economy and Transport during the Committee's final evidence session at the Senedd on 1 May 2019.

As well as engaging with people from across Wales during focus groups, the Committee also heard from a number of key stakeholders in the sector. Some people submitted written evidence and/ or participated in oral evidence sessions at the Senedd.

Witnesses from Tenovus Cancer Care, National Autistic Society, Wales Macmillan Cancer Support and Alzheimer’s Society Cymru giving evidence during the second evidence session at the Senedd on 4 April 2019.

What we heard

Eligibility for a Blue Badge

Blue Badges and welfare benefits: There were mixed views on the link between eligibility for a blue badge and the benefits system, with most of those representing service users voicing some concern. Concerns were raised by some stakeholders, particularly around changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) system affecting an individual’s automatic entitlement for a blue badge and around delays in settling appeals against PIP decisions.

People with cognitive impairments: Following a recommendation by an expert review of the scheme in 2013, the eligibility criteria was extended to include people with cognitive impairments. The regulations extending the eligibility criteria came into force in December 2014, along with new guidance for local authorities. The extension to include people with cognitive impairments was broadly welcomed, although some questioned whether there was sufficient awareness of the extension, both among those eligible and those assessing applications.

Temporary badges: On 1 October 2016, following a recommendation by the Blue Badge Task and Finish Group, the Blue Badge scheme in Wales was extended to include those experiencing temporary but substantial injuries or illness. Under the extended scheme, blue badges are issued for one year to people who are “unable to walk or have considerable difficulty walking by reason of a temporary but substantial disability which is expected to last for a period of at least 12 months”. Concern was raised at the level of public awareness around temporary badges.

Further extensions to the eligibility criteria: We heard calls for further extensions to the eligibility criteria to enable people living with certain conditions to use a blue badge.

Carers: Alzheimer’s Society Cymru suggested that the Welsh Government should consider carers in any revision of the guidance and criteria for applying for a blue badge. It explained that the current local authority guidance makes no mention of carers applying for blue badges, either for themselves or on behalf of someone for whom they care. It called on the Welsh Government to actively consider carers, and how carers can help those living with dementia through this process, when developing and refreshing guidance.

Our view

Recommendation 1: We recommend that the Welsh Government undertakes a review of the eligibility criteria for a blue badge. The review should consider whether there are further conditions which should automatically qualify a person to receive a blue badge, whether the process for undertaking further assessment is robust enough to respond to the various needs of those who apply, and whether the needs of those who receive a cancer diagnosis are adequately met.

Recommendation 2: We recommend that the Welsh Government updates its guidance to local authorities to ensure that the current arrangement of expediating applications by those with a terminal diagnosis becomes mandatory.

Recommendation 3: We recommend that the Welsh Government updates its guidance to local authorities to ensure that the role of carers in applying for a blue badge on behalf of the person for whom they care is made clear.

Recommendation 4. We recommend that the Welsh Government explores options for introducing a concessionary parking scheme, separate to the blue badge scheme, to meet the needs of those who require swift access to amenities, such as carers and those with incontinence problems, without impacting on the availability of parking spaces for those with mobility problems.

Recommendation 5: We recommend that the Welsh Government updates its its guidance to local authorities to ensure there is clarity that eligible organisations can apply for a blue badge in their own right. The guidance should specify that when an organisation meets the criteria of caring for and transporting people who are eligible, that organisation should be allowed a blue badge of its own, rather than relying on the badges of individuals.

What we heard

The Assessment process

The role of medical evidence and medical professionals in the assessment process: When an applicant is required to undergo further assessment to determine their eligibility for a blue badge, the local authority will look at the evidence of the individual’s disability to reach a decision. Previously, the independent mobility assessment may have been undertaken by the applicant’s GP. In July 2017, the Minister, announced that GPs would no longer have a formal role in assessing whether an individual is eligible for a blue badge. The Committee heard that a range of professional evidence should be accepted, including evidence from a GP, consultant, social worker or occupational therapist

Medical or social model of disability: It was suggested by Gwynedd Council that the current assessment process follows the medical model of disability, rather than the social model of disability, as the assessment focuses on the applicant’s walking ability, rather than asking how a blue badge could allow the applicant to continue to live independently. We explored this with other stakeholders. Disability Wales told us that the assessment process should follow the social model of disability, by focusing on the barriers faced by the applicant, rather than their medical condition

Competence and knowledge of assessors: We heard concerns about the competence and knowledge of some assessors who undertake the further assessments. Concerns were raised by some, that assessors are not qualified to make medical assessments and they lack knowledge about the effect of certain medical conditions on everyday life. We also heard concerns whether assessors understand fluctuating conditions, especially if the applicant happens to be having a relatively good day on the assessment day.

The role of 'lived experience' in the assessment process: It was suggested by some that involving the ‘lived experience’ of people with disabilities with first-hand knowledge of the blue badge scheme would improve the assessment process.

Appealing decisions taken by local authorities: Several people raised concerns at the lack of a legal requirement on local authorities to have an appeals process procedure, and recommended that a clear appeals process should be introduced.

Our view

Recommendation 6: We recommend that the Welsh Government updates its guidance to specify that consistent and appropriate consideration should be given to information provided by appropriate professionals in support of an applicant’s claim for a blue badge.

Recommendation 7: We recommend that the Welsh Government updates its guidance to local authorities to clearly specify that all staff who undertake blue badge assessments are trained to understand the social model of disability.

Recommendation 8: We endorse recommendation 8 made by the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in its report on the future development of transport for Wales, that the Welsh Government moves swiftly to engage with stakeholders in developing the next White Paper on the legislation required to establish Joint Transport Authorities (JTA). The Welsh Government should set out how it envisages a role for those with lived experience of the blue badge system in the establishment of JTA, particularly as their current focus appears to be related to public transport.

Recommendation 9: We recommend that the Welsh Government takes the necessary action so that Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 is amended to require local authorities to formally put in place a ‘reconsideration’ or ‘review’ process to deal with applicants who wish to challenge the authority’s decision on a blue badge application. The amendment to that Act should include a power for the Welsh Ministers to make regulations and issue statutory guidance on the detail of the process.

Recommendation 10: We recommend that the Welsh Government takes the necessary action so that Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 is amended to require the Welsh Ministers to establish a national formal appeals process to deal with those who are still dissatisfied with the outcome of their initial appeal. The amendment to that Act should include a power for the Welsh Ministers to make regulations on the detail of the process, including which body should be responsible for dealing with the appeals.

What we heard

Inconsistencies in implementing the blue badge scheme across Wales

Inconsistencies across Wales: Several stakeholders raised concerns around inconsistencies in implementing the blue badge scheme across local authorities. It is clear that there remains inconsistencies in implementing the Blue Badge scheme across Wales, with all stakeholders expressing frustration. Tenovus voiced its disappointment at the “huge variation, from council to council, in the assessment and administrative processes of the blue badge scheme”. It provided examples from different local authorities and described the variation that exists across Wales.

Practical steps to address inconsistencies: Alzheimer’s Society Cymru expressed concerns regarding the discretionary nature of awarding a blue badge to those who are not automatically eligible, which means that there is no consistent approach across local authority areas.

Blue Badge renewal process: We heard evidence on issues arising in relation to the renewal of blue badges, particularly when a blue badge-holder has a life-long or deteriorating health condition. Disability Wales noted inconsistencies in the way that blue badges are renewed, stating that some of their members with long-term health conditions and/or impairments are having to undergo a full assessment before having their blue badges renewed. It stated that it would welcome the awarding of badges for a period longer than three years to reflect the fact that a condition will not improve if an individual has a long-term progressive health condition or impairment.

Our view

Recommendation 11: We recommend that the Welsh Government considers the most effective way of amending the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 to enable the issuing of statutory guidance in relation to the Blue Badge scheme, and take the necessary action to implement such a change. This should include considering whether the scope of the Public Transport Bill, which the Welsh Government is expected to introduce, can be expanded to include the necessary change or whether a separate Bill should be introduced to incorporate this and the changes we have recommended in recommendations 9 and 10.

Recommendation 12: The Welsh Government should work with the Welsh Local Government Association to establish a statutory working group of local authority representatives on the Blue Badge scheme. Once established, the group should meet regularly to share knowledge and good practice in implementing the scheme. The group should also include representatives with lived experience of the scheme to ensure that the views of those affected by the scheme are represented.

Recommendation 13: We recommend that the Welsh Government works with the Welsh Local Government Association to develop a process to enable those suffering with a life-long or deteriorating condition to renew their blue badge automatically, without further assessment. The working group we have recommended be established would be an obvious forum to facilitate such discussions.

What we heard

Enforcement

Scale of blue badge abuse in Wales: The issue of whether abuse of the Blue Badge Scheme in Wales is widespread was discussed among those who participated in our focus groups, where mixed views were expressed. Whilst some participants shared accounts of friends and/ or family of blue badge holders using the badge when the badge holder was not in the vehicle, others had not witnessed any abuse. Participants spoke of being vigilant as to whether spaces were being used by eligible people, some commented:

“Before my son was born, I never took much notice. You can’t judge, but we all do. I’ll look at some people and think ‘Are they disabled?’. I’ve seen some people park in an accessible parking space before limping into the shop on one leg, and limping out on the other.”

Many focus group participants discussed the perception of abuse and explained that whilst some people may be abusing the scheme, any widespread abuse may simply be perceived and does not reflect the reality:

“I think it’s more perception. I think the amount of people who do abuse it is probably small, but it’s such an inflammatory issue that I think it gets more attention.”

Improving enforcement: Conwy County Borough Council suggested that parking attendants or traffic wardens should be able to scan a barcode on the front of a blue badge to access the holder’s information. The information could be on a ‘smart card’ that could be linked to the central register to determine whether a badge has expired, has been reported lost or stolen, or not been returned following the holder’s death. Disability Wales suggested that there should be stronger enforcement from traffic wardens, along with increased enforcement from police officers.

Our view

Recommendation 14: We recommend that the Welsh Government should establish a mechanism for collecting official data on the misuse of blue badges which is specific to Wales in order to better understand the scale of the problem in Wales.

Recommendation 15: We recommend that the Welsh Government works with the UK Government to explore options for increasing the penalties imposed on those guilty of misusing the blue badge system, including the possibility of issuing penalty points.

Recommendation 16: We recommend that the Welsh Government works with the UK Government to explore options for expanding the range of penalties imposed on those proven guilty of misusing the blue badge system, up to and including the possibility of issuing penalty points.

Yr hyn a glywsom

Support, advice and information

Accuracy, accessibility and availability of information: Disability Wales told us that incorrect advice and information is being given to applicants, particularly about the eligibility criteria for a blue badge. Its evidence emphasised the importance of all advisors and assessors being aware of the current eligibility criteria, to ensure that prospective applicants receive the correct information and that assessments are completed correctly.

Raising public awareness (particularly of “hidden” conditions) and challenging discrimination: Age Cymru stated that there is a low level of public awareness of blue badge eligibility generally, and of the extensions to the criteria. It believed that this was contributing to misconceptions about badge holders who get out of their car with no obvious, apparent physical impairment. NAS Cymru cited anecdotal evidence that those with hidden disabilities, such as autism, feel judged or discriminated against for using the scheme.

Fees: Disability Wales, Tenovus and Gwynedd Council stated their continued support for free blue badges in Wales

Design, availability and location of blue badge parking spaces: Some individual badge holders, along with Disability Wales, stated that many of the designated disabled park parking spaces are too small, and do not allow sufficient space for those with mobility issues, or those using a wheelchair or mobility scooter, to get in and out of the car safely.

The blue badge symbol: Disability Wales highlighted issues with the use of an image of a wheelchair user on the blue badge itself. They suggested that this reinforced preconceptions among the public that badges are only for those is a wheelchair, rather than for people with a wide spectrum of disabilities. They believed that the symbol should be replaced by a more inclusive image

Our view

Recommendation 17: We recommend that the Welsh Government works with local authorities and health bodies to proactively promote the “Who is Eligible for a Blue Badge?” booklet by ensuring that hard copies are available at places people go to get information, such as libraries, local authority “hub” centres, Citizen’s Advice and health settings.

Recommendation 18: We recommend that the Welsh Government uses its social media platforms to raise awareness of its “Who is eligible for a Blue Badge?” booklet

Recommendation 19: We recommend that the Welsh Government writes to local authorities to remind them of the importance of taking account of the The Blue Badge Scheme in Wales: Eligibility and Implementation guidance on accessible parking in Manual for the Streets and Parking for Disabled People when taking forward planning policy and making planning decisions. Local authorities should also be encouraged to consult with access groups to ensure the needs of disabled people are fully considered when decisions are taken.

Making a difference

The Committee would like to express its sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to share their experiences, views and ideas during the inquiry. Your views make a difference and help better inform the Committee's work.

Read the full report

Understand more about our conclusions and recommendations to the Welsh Government and hear what people had to say.

The Chamber at the National Assembly for Wales.

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