The Blue Badge Scheme in Wales: Age Cymru welcomes the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee report
Age Cymru is very pleased that, in its report on the Blue Badge scheme in Wales, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee largely agrees with our views on the operation of the discretionary Blue Badge scheme. We would like to thank the Committee and the many older people who came forward to share their stories with us, for this important result.
We support the Committee's recommendation that the Welsh Government should undertake a review of the eligibility criteria for a blue badge, to consider whether there are further conditions which should automatically qualify a person to receive a blue badge, and whether the process for undertaking further assessment is robust enough to respond to the various needs of those who apply.
We are very concerned that older people are being disadvantaged by the current scheme. People under 65 in receipt of the mobility component of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and its Disability Living Allowance (DLA) equivalent are automatically entitled to a blue badge. People over 65 who claim higher rate Attendance Allowance (AA) – over 75,000 people in Wales - are not. They have to demonstrate their mobility problems to qualify. We hope that Welsh Government will now put an end to this inequitable situation.
Lack of consistency in applying the eligibility criteria across local authorities is a major issue for older people. Some local authorities are extremely strict in in their application of the discretionary criteria, especially in relation to the distance people are able to walk.
Several people have told us that they have been turned down for a Blue Badge even though they are unable to walk the distance specified in the guidance (50 yards, or half the length of a football pitch). In other cases, people with dementia have been discharged by their consultant as nothing more can be done to improve their condition – so they cannot produce a consultant's letter as proof of their impairment, but their local council does not accept a letter from their GP. We have heard of another council introducing vetting procedures before someone is even allowed to fill in an application form.
Inconsistency of approach creates uncertainty for applicants and can mean that those who need accessible parking are being denied blue badges. In addition, as council services are increasingly made available online, older people without computers find it more and more difficult to access them. We are pleased that the Minister for Economy and Transport has said that his first priority is to ensure that the scheme is implemented consistently across Wales. We look forward to seeing Welsh government take action to address the necessary improvements.
It seems only common sense to us that, if someone with a long term condition which affects their mobility has been awarded a blue badge and their condition has not changed, they should be able to renew it automatically. We have heard some distressing stories of people who have had their renewal applications refused by administrative staff, for no obvious reason. We are pleased that the Committee agrees with us that, for people who have permanent conditions which are unlikely to improve or will deteriorate, it does not make sense to conduct a re-assessment.
We are glad that the Committee highlighted the confusing situation regarding care homes and other organisations, who are eligible to apply for organisational blue badges to cover all their residents. We agree with the Committee that local authorities should not be advising that it is preferable for them to apply for individual badges for each resident. This is frustrating and time consuming for the organisation. It adds to the administrative burden of the council, and slows down the process for all the other applicants waiting for their application to be processed. Equally, we agree that being part of an organisation which possesses a blue badge should not prevent individuals receiving one of their own, so that their friends and family can take them out for the day.
Finally, we concur with the Committee's recommendations that the Welsh Government amend Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons
Act 1970 to enable applicants to challenge a local authority's decision on a blue badge application, and to establish a national formal appeals process. For most applicants currently, the local authority's decision is final.
An applicant can challenge a decision if they can produce new evidence, but they may then have to undergo another assessment. People unhappy with the way the process has been conducted have recourse to the Local Authority's complaints procedure. If they think there have been procedural irregularities, people can report their cases to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. And there is a right of appeal to Welsh Government in cases where a badge has been refused following a conviction. However, this patchwork of partial measures does not amount to a single, easily understandable appeals system, and we welcome the Committee's recommendation that one should be established in law.