Forty Eighth Report Contents

Instruments drawn to the special attention of the House

Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/891)

Laid: 30 April 2019

Parliamentary procedure: negative

This instrument extends the eligibility criteria for a disabled parking badge in England (Blue Badge) to people whose non-physical disability impacts on their ability to walk during the course of a journey. While the Department for Transport is unable to provide any detailed estimates, it expects that the changes will add around 44,000 badges in the first year to the 2.4 million badges already issued. The House may be interested in this change to the Blue Badge scheme and its expected impact.

These Regulations are drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground that they give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.

1.The Department for Transport (DfT) has laid these Regulations before Parliament with an Explanatory Memorandum (EM). The purpose of the instrument is to extend the eligibility criteria for a disabled parking badge (Blue Badge) to people whose non-physical impairment impacts on their ability to walk during the course of a journey.

Background

2.The Blue Badge scheme, as set out in the Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) (England) Regulations 2000 (SI 2000/682) (“the 2000 Regulations”), gives the badge holder access to parking concessions and exemptions from parking charges across England. The scheme is administered by local authorities. Badges are usually issued for three years and typically cost £10. At present, 2.4 million Blue Badges have been issued in England.

3.The current system provides for an “independent mobility assessor” where an applicant’s eligibility for a Blue Badge is not self-evident, to certify that the applicant has a disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking. The assessor needs to have a relevant professional qualification and expertise and be recognised by the local authority.

4.The Department explains that, while the current rules cover all disabilities (that is, physical or other conditions), evidence suggests that the 2000 Regulations and existing guidance are not understood sufficiently and are not administered consistently across England, making it difficult for some people with non-physical disabilities to access badges. According to DfT, the key issue is a lack of clarity about the wording in the 2000 Regulations in relation to “a permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking” that is used to assess eligibility.

What is changing

5.DfT says that this instrument changes the wording, so that eligibility is extended to include explicitly: people who are unable to walk; have very considerable difficulty whilst walking, including very considerable psychological distress; or who cannot undertake a journey without there being a risk of serious harm to that person or any other person. The current requirement for a disability to be “permanent and substantial” is changed to “enduring and substantial”. DfT explains that this definition is more appropriate for non-physical conditions, such as mental or cognitive disabilities, which may vary over time and therefore may not be permanent but may still be enduring.

6.The instrument also changes the role of the “independent mobility assessor” to that of an “expert assessor” to include professionals who can assess accurately and fairly the impact of non-physical disabilities on an applicant’s ability to walk. DfT explains that, as it may be difficult for the expert assessor to assess such impacts without knowing the applicant, the current requirement for the assessor to be independent of the applicant is replaced with a requirement for the assessor to be impartial. The Department says that the changes will allow a wider range of healthcare professionals with specialist knowledge of mental, cognitive or learning disabilities and/or close knowledge of the applicant’s challenges and capabilities to carry out the eligibility assessment. Forthcoming guidance will include a non-exhaustive list of relevant professions, including, for example, clinical and educational psychologists and occupational therapists (see Appendix 1). As under the current rules, GPs will remain excluded from the assessment process to preserve the integrity of the doctor/patient relationship and to remove any potential bias in favour of the applicant.

7.The EM states that expert assessors will be able to certify that an applicant has the relevant disabilities to qualify for a badge where eligibility is not self-evident. We asked the Department for further information about the circumstances and conditions that demonstrate self-evident entitlement. DfT told us that forthcoming guidance will set out the conditions and behaviours that decision-makers should consider when assessing an applicant’s entitlement (see Appendix 1).

8.In relation to linkage to the benefit system, the instrument provides for an automatic entitlement to a Blue Badge for people who receive 10 points under the ‘Planning and Following Journeys’ activity of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), specifically because they “cannot undertake any journey because it would cause them overwhelming psychological distress”. The Department’s original proposal was to provide automatic entitlement to those scoring 12 points under the activity against the criterion for being “unable to follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid”. The Government’s Disabled Persons’ Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) and some local authorities disagreed, however, during consultation, suggesting that needing to be accompanied did not in itself equate to a need to park nearby or a difficulty getting from their vehicle to their destination.

Appeals

9.In line with the existing Blue Badge scheme, there will not be an appeals process for those whose applications have been refused under the new rules.

Support for applicants

10.We asked the Department about support for applicants who are unable to complete the application process themselves. DfT told us that:

“It is expected that applicants who would be likely to meet the new criteria would be assisted by those involved in their care. This principle applies to the existing scheme in respect of applicants with physical disabilities who might need help in completing their application. Provision of a dedicated assistance service would be a matter for local authorities.”

Consultation

11.The Department says that an eight-week public consultation between 21 January and 18 March 2018 received more than 6,300 responses from members of the public, local authorities, groups representing disabled people and other organisations. According to DfT, 89% of respondents from all groups supported the proposals to extend the Blue Badge eligibility criteria in principle, including 71% of local authorities, 84% of groups representing disabled people, 87% of other organisations and 89% of individuals who responded to the consultation.1 The Department’s original proposal for automatic entitlement in relation to certain activity scores with regard to PIP were changed in response to feedback from the DPTAC and local authorities (see paragraph 8).

12.Some stakeholders expressed concerns about pressure on on-street parking spaces. Groups representing disabled people suggested that more spaces would be needed, while local authorities were concerned that the proposals would increase the number of cars seeking to park in disabled parking spaces. The Department says that the impact on parking will vary from place to place and that local authorities may have to review parking provision once the impact of the changes on parking is understood. There were also concerns about a risk of greater abuse of the scheme. DfT highlights that misuse of a Blue Badge, for example by friends or family members, is already a criminal offence. The Committee notes the concerns about an increased risk of abuse and that it will be for local authorities to ensure that any risk is mitigated.

Guidance

13.The Department says that it has worked with medical professionals and stakeholders to develop guidance for local authorities on the changes. DfT told us that “the draft guidance has been completed and will be cleared by lawyers ahead of Ministerial sign-off” and that they “have committed to publish the guidance at the end of May”. The Committee believes that the Department should have made the guidance available when the instrument was laid before Parliament, to assist Parliament’s scrutiny of the Regulations.

Impact

14.The Department explains that local authorities raised concerns about the increased administration costs resulting from widening Blue Badge eligibility, but that it is not possible to estimate accurately the cost of the changes, with local authorities having provided widely diverging estimates. In Scotland and Wales, where similar changes have been made, the increase in the number of badges issued was less than 3%. For England, the Department’s planning assumption is for a 6% increase in applications (to 53,000) in the first year of the new scheme, leading to an estimated increase of 44,000 new badges (a rise of 5%). DfT will provide funding to local authorities to cover the expected additional costs of £1.7 million for rolling out the policy in the first year and will review the financial impact of the changes and possible funding solutions after 12 months.

15.In terms of the implementation timetable, DfT told the Committee that publication of the guidance at the end of May will provide local authorities with a three-month lead-in time to prepare and be ready for when the changes come into force at the end of August 2019. The Department added that the publication of its consultation response has attracted significant media coverage and that, subject to Ministers’ views, proactive media activity was proposed to coincide with the publication of the guidance at the end of May, including updating disability groups on the changes.

Conclusion

16.The House may be interested in the change to the Blue Badge scheme made by these Regulations, given the Department’s estimate that it may result in the issue of an additional 44,000 badges in its first year of implementation.


1 Department for Transport, Blue Badge Consultation: Summary of Responses and Government Response (July 2018): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/728204/blue-badge-consultation-response.pdf [accessed 8 May 2019].




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