Transport Minister Norman Baker has announced that the government is implementing major reforms to crack down on drivers who abuse the disabled parking system as part of the most comprehensive changes to the blue badge scheme for 40 years.
Changes to the blue badge scheme
Narrator: Blue badges provide a vital lifeline to over 2.5 million disabled people every year and the government plans to crack down on drivers who abuse the disabled parking system, as Minister for Transport Norman Baker explains.
Norman Baker: The blue badge system hasn’t changed for 40 years. It’s a cardboard system, it’s hopelessly out of date, very easy to defraud and that’s why in some areas of the country we’re seeing up to 40% fraudulent use, 20% in many areas and that’s not acceptable for those relying on blue badges because they need them. And why should they be disadvantaged by people perfectly able bodied parking in their spaces, taking away their spaces and also defrauding the council of legitimate money?
Helen Dolphin Disabled Motoring UK 15 1150 00: The blue badge scheme is really important to me and numerous other disabled people with mobility problems because it allows us to park close to our destinations. So, for example, for someone not disabled can, well, they can walk, catch a bus, they’ve got many more options. But if you’re disabled, all those options aren’t really there, you really do rely on your own vehicle and the hardest thing can be parking and that’s why Blue badge is so important.
I’ve been a Blue badge holder for about 15 years and I’ve seen over that time it become harder and harder to park.
And over the years I’ve just seen it’s much much harder if I want to go to my city centre. I have to get up really early if there’s any hope of getting a space on the street and not being able to park in the car park because I can’t use any of the barrier technology that’s in use, I really rely on parking on the street with my Blue badge and again it’s really restrictive not being able to use that badge with ease. And I think one of the reasons is because the badge is being used by people’s friends and families, there’s all sorts of knock off copies people are using.
Narrator: New measures include the replacement of handwritten badges with standard electronic ones which are harder to alter and forge.
Norman Baker: We’ve taken a number of different steps to make the badge much more secure. There’s a large number of new safety devices and aspects to the new badge, which make it very difficult to forge. I believe it’s as secure, if not more secure than a banknote. So people who’ve been busy defrauding councils in the past can forget about it. The new blue badge is going to be very secure so they may as well go elsewhere.
Narrator: One man who makes it his business to catch blue badge abusers is Keith Parcel, a fraud investigation officer with Wandsworth Council. He believes the new badge will have an immediate impact on fraudulent use.
Keith Parcel Fraud Investigation Officer: We’re finding that about 15 to 30% of cases we deal with involve either scanned copies of genuine badges, forged badges or fake badges that have had their expiry dates altered to make it look like they’re still valid. Having seen the new design of the badge, it’s going to be extremely difficult to perpetrate that kind of fraud without it being blatantly obvious on the badge.
It’s a criminal offence, obviously there’s fraud involved, defrauding the parking systems, there’s financial gain to be made, so in Wandsworth there’s a zero tolerance policy. If anyone is caught systematically abusing blue badge to gain free car parking, we’ll look to gather sufficient evidence that we can take to court and prosecute them and also tow their vehicle away once we’ve conducted the investigation.
It tends to average in our cases prosecutions, most defendants having to pay between £1000 and £1500 and also having to pay for getting their car back out of the car pound. Obviously if there’s issues like it’s a stolen badge it’s an altered badge or forged badge, then more serious criminal charges can be brought in using the Theft and Fraud Acts and these potentially carry prison sentences. What we tend to see is quite a few defendants end up having to do community service.
Narrator: More checks will be made at application stage to ensure only those in genuine need can get a badge and a new national database will also cut down fraudulent use.
Norman Baker: I think there’s very good news for disabled people. It means that those who are entitled to have a badge can get one in the knowledge it’ll be personal to them, it is not going to be subject to fraud and misuse, and they’ve got a better chance of getting a parking space than hitherto they have had.
Helen Dolphin: [So] I think it’s really great we are at last tackling the problem and the fraud.