I am today providing an update on implementation of the Blue Badge reform programme that I announced in February 2011.
One of the key reforms to the Blue Badge scheme is the Blue Badge improvement service. This service has been developed in close consultation with disabled people and local authorities. It is a major initiative aimed at tackling rising levels of badge fraud and abuse, helping to ensure that disabled people receive improved customer service and ensuring that the scheme remains sustainable in the long term for those who rely on it most.
The Blue Badge improvement service became operational on 1 January 2012. I am pleased to say that every local authority in England has signed up to use the service and I would like to thank them all for their support in helping to deliver important and necessary changes that are vital for the future sustainable operation of the Blue Badge scheme. The service should also help them to realise efficiency savings of up to £20 million per year.
In an innovative move by the Department for Transport, the capital costs of the service are being met through private sector investment from Northgate Information Solutions who will deliver the secure web-based service, and Payne Security who will print, supply and distribute the newly designed badge.
The service establishes a common store of key information on badges and badge holders that will enable verification checks to be made quickly and easily.
To counter fraud, the design of the Blue Badge was changed in regulations that came into force on 1 December 2011. The old-style cardboard badges have been replaced by new ones made from a fused and bonded hard plastic material and which contain a number of overt and covert security features.
For the first time, people can now apply for a Blue Badge using a national system that is available on Directgov. This should result in a quicker turnaround time for people re-applying for badges whose circumstances are not going to change. Those who use the online application form will only be asked to complete those sections that are relevant to the eligibility under which they are applying. They can also sign up for text and email reminders at re-application time, track the progress of their application and there will be an eligibility checker for those who want to find out if they are eligible for a badge. From 1 April 2012, badge holders will be able to report lost and stolen badges and update changes to their details online.
There is a new national helpline for general enquiries about Blue Badges that will signpost callers to the relevant local authority. However, local authorities will still be in charge of administering the Blue Badge scheme, making decisions about whether applicants are eligible and issuing badges.