The government looks set to maintain the current focus of the blue badge parking scheme in England on disabled people with significant physical mobility problems.
The Department for Transport (DfT) proposals are contained in a new consultation on how eligibility for a blue badge will change when working-age disability living allowance (DLA) is replaced by the new personal independence payment (PIP).
The Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker has suggested that automatic eligibility for a badge should not be extended to all those claiming the enhanced rate mobility component of the new PIP.
This would have included many people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties who can walk but have problems planning and following journeys. They will now have to apply instead to their local council for an assessment of their mobility needs if they need a blue badge.
PIP is due to be introduced for new working-age claimants from April 2013, and will begin to replace DLA for existing claimants from October 2013.
The new consultation is the latest in a series of reforms aimed at improving the blue badge scheme, and cutting fraud and misuse.
Baker told MPs in a written statement that he favoured granting automatic eligibility to those who “score” eight points or more when assessed on the “moving around” activity within PIP, as it was the option that was “most similar to the current scheme”.
This option would mean that anyone who cannot move more than 50 metres – or cannot move up to 50 metres without using a wheelchair or other mobility aid – would be automatically eligible for a blue badge, and so would “restrict eligibility to those applicants who are unable to walk or have very considerable difficulty walking”.
Baker said in his written statement that he was “committed to ensuring that the Blue Badge scheme continues to be focused on those people who will benefit most from the parking concessions that it offers, and that it is sustainable in the future”.
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK, said: “I can understand why the government has looked at this particular criteria because that is what is most akin to the current blue badge scheme.”
But she said people who were not able to claim automatic eligibility could apply instead through the local authority assessment route, and added: “I would hope it would not be excluding anyone who was genuinely in need.
“I would encourage people to respond to the consultation, especially if they have concerns.”
A DfT spokeswoman said the option favoured by the government “is the option we think will have least impact on the number of people receiving automatic blue badge eligibility”.
She added: “We are consulting, so we want people to come back to us and tell us who they think will be impacted by the different options. We will be very glad to receive any evidence from groups and organisations that may have done work on this.”
At present, about a third of blue badges are issued – automatically – to claimants of the higher rate mobility component of DLA, with about 900,000 badges in England on issue to people on higher rate mobility.
An alternative option included in the consultation document – but one not backed by Baker – would mean no-one receiving PIP would be automatically eligible for a blue badge, with everyone between the ages of 16 and 64 needing instead to apply to their local authority.
Another alternative option would create automatic blue badge eligibility for all those who receive the enhanced rate mobility component of PIP, including many people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.
The consultation ends on 2 October.