Enforcing ‘Blue Badge’ Permit Program
Iwas delighted to hear, late last year, that Norfolk County Council — which covers the area where I live in the UK — had appointed its first Disabled Parking Permit (or “Blue Badge”) Program Investigator.
This means that people parking with such a permit in Norfolk will have it checked, and those found to be using one that does not belong to them may find themselves facing a Magistrates’ Court summons and a fine of up to $1,300.
This news delighted me, as I often struggle to park in Norwich City Centre with my disabled permit, and I’m sure that having an investigator will make an enormous difference.
Norfolk County Council is still very much in the minority, as many local authorities do very little to enforce this program.
The UK Department for Transport (DfT) released figures, at that start of 2016, showing that, in 2014-15, legal action had been taken against 985 people for misuse of a blue badge; in most cases, it was people using someone else’s permit.
Considering that 2.6 million people in the UK have a disabled parking permit, and 20% are thought to be misused in some way, this is a very small number of prosecutions.
Another issue is that most of these prosecutions were carried out by just a few authorities, meaning that most government agencies in England and Wales are doing absolutely nothing to tackle this problem.
However, one city council that has been successfully enforcing the blue badge program for many years is Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, and I’ve had the pleasure of joining its enforcement team on several occasions.
Michael Robinson, the city’s Parking Operations Manager, said: “Protecting the integrity of the disabled permit program is a fundamental part of what we do; it is not an optional extra. All our staff are trained to spot the disabled permit fraudster, and how to deal with them.
“Our council’s commitment to the most vulnerable in our society absolutely includes those having to use a disabled permit,” he said. “Abuse of the program makes it harder for the genuinely disabled, and it costs councils a huge amount in lost parking revenue.”
While out with the enforcement team, I was shocked to see how many people were still happy to park using someone else’s disabled permit. Reasons given were rarely genuine, and some people went to great lengths to avoid being caught.
On one memorable occasion, a man who was found to be using his dead father’s permit, tried to pretend he was still alive, and he was waiting for him to come back. The man had been using the permit to park for work for some considerable time, not only depriving the local authority of parking revenue, but also stopping a genuine permit holder from parking.
I’m often asked if I think that a $1,300 fine is enough of a deterrent to stop someone from parking with another person’s disabled permit. Some activists advocate adding points to people’s driving licenses, which are given for other motoring offenses.
I personally think that the real issue is not what the fine is, but the fact that in most towns and cities in the UK, nobody is enforcing the program, and so people know they won’t be caught. Although most councils say they enforce the disabled parking permit program, what they generally mean is they will put a penalty charge notice (PCN) on a car parked without a blue badge.
This is an important first step, but it is also crucial to make checks on who is using a permit.
There is no pressure put on local authorities to enforce the program, so I’m really pleased that Norfolk County Council has made the decision to do that. Although the DfT collates the numbers of prosecutions, there don’t seem to be any questions asked of councils posting zero prosecutions, or even those who fail to supply their figures.
As a permit holder myself, I’d gladly present my blue badge when asked, if I knew it meant something was being done to tackle the problem that stops so many disabled people from being able to park.
However, I also think that, as well as councils enforcing the program more thoroughly, more needs to be done to publicize what the consequences of being caught would be.
When I was out with the Portsmouth enforcement team most people assumed the penalty would be a PCN and were shocked that they may have to attend court and would receive a substantial fine.
If there were more enforcement and more awareness of the consequences, then I’m sure this would go some way to improving parking for all Disabled Parking Permit holders.