Thousands of people with Parkinson’s, dementia, epilepsy and other hidden disabilities have gained access to the benefits of Blue Badges under new rules introduced last summer.
In the first three months 12,299 new badges, roughly 130 a day were granted to people who cannot walk as part of a journey without considerable psychological distress or the risk of serious harm, as well as to people with a non-visible disability.
The new rules, introduced by the Transport Secretary in August, widened the eligibility criteria to ensure that people with hidden disabilities are not disadvantaged. The badges help people access shops and services, by enabling them to park closer to their destinations.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “People with hidden conditions like these have to fight not just their disability, but the psychological worry that others may not recognise them as disabled.
“I’m proud that our reform is already changing thousands of people’s lives, allowing those in need to carry on their daily lives with more confidence and helping combat loneliness and isolation.”
Ahead of the change, the DfT issued new guidance to councils in England on Blue Badge parking permit eligibility and launched in August an online eligibility checker to make the scheme clearer for people before they apply.
While the new criteria gives clear and consistent guidelines on Blue Badge eligibility for the whole of England, not everyone with non-visible disabilities will qualify for a badge.
Local authorities decide if an applicant meets the eligibility criteria, as is currently the case.
The Blue Badge scheme had already meant that people with physical disabilities can park closer to their destination than other drivers, as they are less able to take public transport or walk longer distances.
Keith Richards, chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), said: “DPTAC has worked hard to bring the issue of non-visible disabilities to the fore. Enabling those with non-visible disabilities to benefit from a Blue badge will bring a critical improvement in the lives of many disabled people and it is right that the criteria was changed.
“We have stressed the importance of enforcement of the scheme and we are pleased to see the number of prosecutions increasing.”
Councils may need to review on-street parking provision to increase the number of spaces, both in terms of the availability of disabled parking and the overall number of parking spaces if disabled spaces take up other existing parking spaces.
To help councils with the expected increase in applications, the DfT has agreed with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide £1.7 million to local authorities in England in the first year of the programme.