Delays to the renewal of blue parking badges across the country – following government reforms – are a “national problem, scandal and injustice”, according to a retired Paralympian and campaigner.
Steve Varden – now a musician and actor and chair of the inclusive music education charity More Music – is furious that he was fined by Lancashire County Council for parking in an accessible space when his blue badge had expired.
The coalition’s blue badge reforms were introduced from 2012 and were intended to address what the government saw as widespread abuse of the scheme.
Councils were told to carry out more independent mobility assessments of applicants, while long-awaited plans for a national database of blue badges were introduced, as well as a new electronic badge that is harder to alter or forge than the previous version, with badges now sent out via one central private contractor covering the whole country.
But the new blue badge system has led to some councils reporting delays of up to 12 weeks in dealing with applications.
Varden had applied for a new badge two weeks before it was due to expire, but had not been told the renewal procedure had changed and that he should apply much earlier than in previous years because of delays in the system.
His informal and formal efforts to persuade the council to drop the fine were turned down, and he was forced to take his case to a Parking and Traffic Appeals Service tribunal.
He succeeded with his appeal last week after the council made a late decision not to contest the case against him, but Varden is concerned about other disabled people who might not be as willing or able to fight a fine.
He said: “I am more concerned about the countless other blue badge holders who are being severely inconvenienced and fined because their blue badge renewals are not being processed in a timely manner.
“I have been able to fight my case and corner but others may not have the time, energy and knowledge to do so with the threat of increased fines looming over them if they are unsuccessful.”
Varden and DNS have found numerous online references to blue badge delays across the country over the last three years, including reports from April 2012, June 2012, July 2012, October 2012, November 2012, August 2013, September 2013, December 2013, January 2014, March 2014, July 2014 and October 2014.
Lancashire council said it “withdrew the case against Mr Varden as a gesture of goodwill as we were able to verify through the blue badge team that he had applied for a badge before the penalty was issued”.
The council said that Varden’s badge had expired on 18 October 2014, and that he had submitted his application form on 6 October and sent supporting evidence on 9 October.
But the council admitted that the replacement badge was not sent out until 31 October, and that the council’s processing time was “up to 28 days from receipt of the supporting documentation”.
A council spokesman said: “Mr Varden’s badge was processed and issued within this time frame. However, we do understand that this meant that he was without a badge for a couple of weeks.”
The council also confirmed that reminder letters were only sent out to those whose blue badges were issued from January 2012 onwards.
A council spokesman said: “All blue badges have expiry dates clearly marked on them and people are responsible for applying for a new badge in sufficient time.
“Mr Varden’s badge was issued before January 2012 and he therefore didn’t receive a reminder.”
But Varden said: “I was sat here for at least 28 days waiting for the reminder letter – telling me how to re-reapply, as had happened in previous years.
“Bearing in mind that the renewal application process had changed – were they expecting me to guess how to reapply?
“It is a ludicrous council policy to send reminder letters to some blue badge holders and not others, as this only creates procedural confusion.”
Some local authorities have provided letters outlining the badge-holder’s entitlement while they are waiting for their badges to be renewed, while others have told traffic enforcement officers not to fine drivers for displaying badges that are up to five months out-of-date.
The Department for Transport said it was a matter for local authorities, and refused to comment further.
22 January 2015
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com