Blue badge scheme extended a year ago to include people with non-visible disabilities
According to the latest data, around 2.3 million disabled people in England currently have a blue badge. People with non-visible disabilities, including anxiety disorders or a brain injury, were allowed to apply for a blue badge parking permit for the first time from 30 August 2019.
The Department for Transport said at the time of the change, this was “the biggest change to the scheme in nearly 50 years”.
But a BBC Shared Data Unit investigation found a disparity between the approval rates of people with non-visible disabilities and those of people with physical disabilities.
It sent requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and gathered responses via the WhatDoTheyKnow website from all of the 216 upper-tier councils in the UK. The FOI asked:
- The number of parking bays councils had designated for disabled people
- How many blue badge applications each council had approved, directly refused or refused due an incomplete request from applicants for physical impairments
- How many blue badge applications each council had approved, directly refused or refused due an incomplete request from applicants who applied under the hidden disability (now know as non-visible disability) criteria introduced in England in August 2019, over the 12-month period since
The Unit then calculated the approval rates for the two different types of application as percentages and compared them. For ten councils the difference was so stark, it was more than 50 percentage points between the two types of application.
The National Autistic Society said this analysis revealed how important it was for councils to improve staff training to ensure they understood when people should be entitled to a “lifeline” blue badge parking permit.
Tim Nicholls, head of policy and public affairs at the National Autistic Society, said:
“These figures highlight the postcode lottery that has developed around Blue Badges. They reflect what we hear from autistic people and their families all the time. Too often important changes – like the ones that were supposed to mean more autistic people got a Blue Badge – often simply aren’t being put into practice.
“Just leaving the house is incredibly hard for many autistic children and adults. Even a quick trip to the shops or park can involve detailed preparation. Some people don’t understand the dangers of the road or are so anxious about things going wrong, like missing an appointment or the car park being full, that they can’t contemplate going out at all.
“A Blue Badge can be a lifeline, helping you to get out and about in ways others take for granted. The changes to the rules last year were a big step in the right direction. But these figures suggest that people with non-visible disabilities, like autism, could be missing out.
“This must change. Getting a Blue Badge when you need one shouldn’t depend on where you live. The Government must make sure that the new rules are implemented fully across England. This means making sure every council has trained its Blue Badge staff, so they understand why autistic people need a Blue Badge and how this will transform their lives.”
Councillor David Renard, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents councils’ interests, said:
“Councils want to make sure that local services and communities are as accessible as possible and they work closely with health professionals to ensure fair and robust criteria are used in the allocation of blue badges to local residents, including those with non-visible disabilities.
“Councils also have to try and strike a balance when making changes to their communities and places to ensure there are parking spaces available for everyone at all times of the day and we can keep traffic moving.
“With 10 million more cars on the road in the last 20 years, an increase of a third, this has become increasingly challenging for them.”
Central Bedfordshire Council
A spokesperson for Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) said that the number of hidden disability applications for the calendar year 2020 (Jan 2020 to Dec 2020) were 137, of which 33 were declined giving an approval rate of 75.91%.
They added that CBC follows national guidelines set by The Department of Transport to assess blue badge applications and that the Council is also part of a forum with other local authorities to ensure robust processing is followed consistently across the country.
“We work closely with our in-house Occupational Therapy Team and Children’s Services SEND team and with our external Expert Assessor partner organisation.
“If applicants need support or help with their blue badge applications they can email Car.Badges@centralbedfordshire.gov.uk or ring 0300 300 8000 and they will be passed onto our blue badge team who can help with their application.”
The Department for Transport said it will review the impact of the new criteria.
Additional reporting by Cranfield and Marston Vale Chronicle.