August saw the biggest change to the Blue Badge scheme since it began in 1970. As we reported a year ago, and as part of trying to bridge the equality gap between physical and mental conditions, the government has granted people with a ‘hidden disability’ the right to use disability parking spaces.

Yet, new research says there already isn’t enough disabled parking for the existing 2.4 million people with Blue Badges, let alone adding more. Despite this, most councils said they didn’t intend to create more disability parking spaces.

Parking the problem

Hidden or ‘invisible’ illnesses are ones that aren’t obvious straight away and include diseases and disorders such as autism, cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease; dementia and mental health conditions.

Authorities say the UK has about 700,000 people on the autism spectrum, around 850,000 with dementia, and estimate about three million with anxiety disorders. With changes to the scheme meaning more eligible people, there may soon be millions of extra badge holders in England and Wales.

The government said they would give councils an extra £1.7million to help them cope with the expected increase in applications but admitted they didn’t know how many more people would become eligible.

A study by the comparison site Confused.com found—before the Blue Badge Scheme extension—only one council-operated bay existed for every 30 badge holders. Despite this, 74% of councils said they would not be building any more disabled parking bays.

Yet councils don’t show the same reluctance in increasing parking charges or introducing other methods that, while often increase road safety, make money from motorists.

Councillors justify things like higher parking fees because of budget cuts or they cite traffic congestion, but when Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) make councils over £326m in just 12 months, can’t the public ask why they can’t invest part of the money into more parking spaces for the disabled?

Besides not being enough disabled bays available to go around, the changes to the Blue Badge Scheme may mean more opportunity for badge fraud. The Local Government Association confirmed that theft of Blue Badges has risen 45% in a year and 600% since 2013.

It’s also estimated that 20% of badge holders misuse them, letting family and friends use their permits when they themselves aren’t in the vehicle. But they should beware; 60% of councils prosecute drivers for misusing disabled parking permits and the fine can be as much as £1,000.

Adding insult to injury

Paul Slowey, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Badge Fraud Investigation (BBFI), a company dedicated to investigating fraud and theft against the public sector, said earlier this year:

‘It’s clear that people with hidden and non-physical disabilities need badges. But confidence in the Blue Badge scheme is undermined by the fact that only a minority of councils take action against misuse.’
While charities and motoring groups have welcomed the change, they’re concerned the extension might cause a lack of parking spaces for other motorists—including those with physical disabilities.

Amanda Stretton, Motoring Editor at Confused.com, said:

‘Clearly more parking for Blue Badge holders is needed—30 drivers to one space is quite a challenge.

‘It’s no wonder some of these drivers have had to park elsewhere, and the number of people competing for spaces is only going to grow as more people can apply for a Blue Badge now.’

‘Drivers who misuse these spaces are making the problem even worse. They should be more respectful and leave them free for those who need them,’ she added.

Confused.com surveyed 2,000 drivers and found that 7% of the 1,300 drivers without permits admitted to having misused a disabled parking bay. Twenty-four per cent said they couldn’t find another space, 28% said plenty of other disabled spaces were available, and 36% said they used the disabled space because ‘they were only going to be quick’.

How to apply for a Blue Badge

If you think you’re eligible for a Blue Badge, you can either contact your local council for an application form or you can apply via the government website.

If your application is successful, and you’re an English resident, the badge will cost you £10. Blue Badges are free in Wales, while those in Scotland must pay £20. Blue Badges are valid for three years.

In London, Blue Badge holders are exempt from the Congestion Charge.

Blue Badges entitle the holder use of disabled parking bays, free use of pay-and-display spaces, and up to three hours of parking on single or double yellow lines. Different restrictions apply for each local council so make sure you check the rules where you are.

Without a doubt, the updated Blue Badge scheme will make a huge difference in the lives of many people with hidden disabilities, more so for those people with ‘hidden disabilities’ who, until now, wouldn’t consider leaving the house.

As a person with ‘hidden disabilities’ myself, if I should ever feel the need to apply for a Blue Badge, it would reassure me to know that there would be enough suitable parking spaces available.

Do you welcome the changes to the Blue Badge scheme? Will it affect you or somebody you know? What do you think the solution is for the lack of disabled parking? Let us know in the comments.

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