Clampdown on parking fraudsters

DRIVERS who use disabled parking badges when they are not entitled will have their car towed away in a new crackdown being planned by a South Yorkshire council.

Blue badges are issued by local authorities to people with a disability to allow them to park on the street or use designated disabled parking bays in car parks.

But the system is open to abuse, with some badges being "borrowed" by able-bodied family members who flout the parking regulations. Others are stolen, rented out or copied.

A recent survey in Rotherham among blue badge holders revealed that 95 per cent of them would support more harsh sanctions for those caught playing the system.

According to the survey, disabled people called for more officers patrolling areas where blue badge abuse was a problem and they supported bigger fines.

Rotherham was recently given "centre of excellence" status by the Government for its blue badge scheme. Parking bosses said the clampdown aimed to build on that.

Parking services manager Martin Beard said: "The Department for Transport recognised our administration of blue badges as excellent, now we want to improve enforcement.

"We receive a significant number of complaints about people misusing and abusing the blue badges and these usually involve somebody using a pass when not entitled.

"We now plan to act on complaints from the public who see possible misuse and we will tow a vehicle away if the person using the blue badge is not the registered holder."

A specialist officer from the council's parking enforcement team will receive training and be dedicated to policing blue badge offences if the measures are approved next week.

Training will be funded from a 50,000 grant awarded to the council by the Government after it received its centre of excellence status.

The plain-clothed officers will patrol problem areas, respond to complaints and be equipped with a hand-held computer to call up pictures of blue badge holders to compare with possible offenders.

Mr Beard added: "If an officer sees a blue badge being misused at present, all they can do is issue a penalty charge notice. We will now be able to take tougher action.

"If the picture of the person using the badge does not match that on our records, we will take the vehicle away and the owner will be forced to pay a release fee to get it back."

Offenders may also face magistrates court action, and if a blue badge holder is found to be lending their badge out to friends or family, they may have the privilege withdrawn. Parking chiefs said they were aware that the owner of the vehicle may not be the offender, but added it would be their responsibility to pay the release fee if their car was used illegally.

Officers from Rotherham Council visited Birmingham to see a similar scheme in action, which involves dedicated officers watching people who use blue badges to identify misuse.

Birmingham Council currently tow away about 10 cars a day, and Mr Beard said official figures showed that they had only towed two vehicles in error in a 12 month period.

He added: "Obviously, if a car is towed away and it subsequently turns out that the badge was being used legitimately then the fee will be waived and we will apologise.

"But we are hoping that in general this will be seen as a good news story – we are taking action against those who are causing real problems for disabled people."

If the scheme is approved by councillors at a meeting next Monday officer training will begin and enforcement action will start later in the year.