THOUSANDS of Yorkshire drivers are risking a criminal conviction by flaunting the rules of the Blue Badge scheme for disabled people.
Councils across the region have held almost 2,000 investigations into Blue Badge misuse over the last three years, with many authorities pledging they will take offenders to court in an effort to show how seriously it is taken.
Special report: Fines toll reveals misuse of disability parking in Yorkshire
In September 2016, Sheffield City Council launched a renewed crackdown on Blue Badge misuse and the abuse disabled parking spaces, and by January this year had prosecuted almost 50 people for wrongful use of a Blue Badge, with more due in court in the coming weeks.
Paul Fell, the council’s strategic transport and infrastructure business manager, said while enforcement officers would previously issue penalties of £25 or £30 for parking on a double yellow lines, it was now following in the footsteps of “trailblazing” Rotherham Council in taking court action, who shared best practice making the process easier for Sheffield to adopt.
“We have a small team of people carrying out investigations and interview, because we recognise the importance of clamping down - it can make a difference,” he said. “People need to realise that if they are misusing a Blue Badge they will be held to account and the penalties are much more severe than a penalty charge notice - with fines of up to £1,000 and costs on top of that.”
Rotherham Council’s previous work on the issue saw them awarded Enforcement Team of the Year by charity Disabled Motoring UK in 2011.
Damien Wilson, the authority’s strategic director for regeneration and environment, said it takes Blue Badge misuse “very seriously”.
“If we catch drivers using blue badges without being entitled to do so, we will prosecute wherever it is in the public interest,” he added.
Leeds has led the way with the number of successful convictions for misuse in recent years, with 454 from 2015 to 2017. It is also gave out 627 penalty notices for Blue Badge misuse, and a staggering 14,458 for the wrong use of a disabled parking space. It began focusing on the issue in 2012, and has since received plaudits from the Department for Transport for its enforcement work.
A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said: “We take a no nonsense approach to blue badge misuse and prosecute anyone we find abusing it.
“The system is designed to make life easier for those who genuinely need it. Abusing a blue badge inconveniences others and puts people at a disadvantage which is simply unfair.
“Flouting the rules runs the risk of a criminal conviction and could result in the pass being revoked or renewal refused if persistently misused.”
The number of penalty charge notices given to those using disabled parking bays without a Blue Badge was also high in Bradford and Kirklees, with 11,405 and 6,482 notices over the three years respectively.
A Bradford Council spokesperson said: “We will not tolerate the fraudulent misuse and abuse of these badges. People who misuse Blue Badges are denying those who genuinely need to park close to their destination, because of a disability, the right to do so.”
Kirklees Council’s strategic director for economy and infrastructure, Karl Battersby, said: “People who misuse the scheme take spaces away from those who genuinely need them, often in order to avoid paying for parking. As a council we are committed to the Disabled Blue Badge Scheme and have a zero tolerance approach to those who abuse it.”
‘I’ve challenged people and they’ve become abusive’
FOR a disabled motorist, the availability of a designated parking bay can mean a two-minute trip to the shop or bank can result in circling a high street for half an hour, or even abandoning their trip all together when inconsiderate drivers abuse the system.
And for Martyn Weller, of Hunmanby Gap in Filey, it has also meant abuse.
Mr Weller, who was born with spina bifida and cannot walk more than a few metres, has often challenged those who misuse disabled parking bays - and while some offenders are “apologetic”, others have become abusive.
“They are basically implying that it’s ‘tough’ that you’ve got a disability”, he said. “I am highly dependant on being able to park close to where I want to get, and to have enough space to get my scooter out.
“Where I used to live, in Acomb, there were three disabled spaces on the main high street, and the number of people who would use them wrongly was unbelievable. All you can do is drive around and keep going back in the hope they will become free.
“When I’ve challenged people who are blatantly misusing spaces and they’ve become abusive, it makes me angry. People don’t recognise the importance of disabled bays and the impact it has on the people who genuinely need them when they are misused.”
Mr Weller, 58, has campaigned on the issue and is a trustee of the charity Disabled Motoring UK. He has a badge in the back of his car asking people to leave space for the hoist used to lift his scooter in and out of the vehicle, but that is often ignored.
“I still get people parking right up to the bumper, which leaves me stuck there”, he said. “I can’t drive off and leave my scooter behind.”
He says spaces on the seafront in Filey, near to the disabled toilets, are also freely misused.
“They are often used by cars not displaying a badge, by people who are just going to the beach,” he said. “People abuse them all the time.”
Cath Scarlett, who has a form of motor neurone disease, has used a wheelchair since 2013.
Ms Scarlett, who is a town councillor in Driffield and sits on East Riding Council’s disability advisory panel, doesn’t drive herself, but has a Blue Badge for when in the car with her husband.
She thinks that disabled people also have a responsibility to ensure Blue Badges are used correctly.
“For me, the misuse of the Blue Badge system isn’t just about those using it fraudulently, it’s the impact of those using it incorrectly too,” she said.
“A Blue Badge enables the holder to park on double yellow lines, but where I live this is becoming an issue as people seem to think it enables them to park wherever they like, obstructing the pavement. I’m a fairly proficient wheelchair user in a fairly high-tech chair, but there are times when I can’t get down a footpath or cross a road because of inconsiderate parking across dropped kerbs.
“The problem is, the number of disabled spaces is insufficient. It’s a contentious issue, and I’m not sure what the answer is, but if people used Blue Badges honestly it would be a good start.
“There needs to be more enforcement - but disabled people have a responsibility to use the scheme correctly.”
Blue badges - the facts
- Blue Badges entitle holders to park in disabled parking bays, and in some designated spaces in council-run off-street car parks, for free.
- Holders can also park on single and double yellow lines, where there are no loading restrictions and providing they do not provide an obstruction, for three hours.
- The scheme applies to many people with mobility issues, though there are strict criteria.
- Common misuse of Blue Badges includes: lending a badge to a family member, friend or carer; the use of the badge when the holder is not present; using out of date or cancelled badges; using a deceased relatives’ badge.
- The Government is currently consulting on increase the criteria of a Blue Badge to include mental health conditions, something Disabled Motoring UK warns, if left unchecked, could see the number of Blue Badges “go through the roof” and those with mobility issues struggle to find a space.
- The Blue Badge scheme only applies to on-street parking - private off-street car parks, such as those at supermarkets, are on private land and the charges and conditions of use are essentially a contractual matter between the owner and the motorist.