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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.