At last, it seems the government is doing something about a matter of real concern. The Blue Badge is subject to far more abuse than is the benefits system but, says Helen Dolphin, it’s just had a whole new security makeover
As of the 1st January this year, one of the final stages of the Blue Badge Scheme reforms came into effect with the launch of a new centralised database and newly designed Blue Badge. This new database will standardise the way badges are issued and should prevent fraud at the point of issue. For example, people will not be able to apply for a badge with false identification or make multiple applications for badges in, for instance, two counties as it’s possible to do now.
I for one am delighted that after years of campaigning for improvements to this scheme changes are at last coming into force. Unlike the old style badge the new badge won’t be made of cardboard, handwritten by an issuing officer and covered by them in sticky back plastic. Instead they will be made from a combination of PVC and PET and have a large number of safety devices. The look and feel of it will be similar to a driving licence photo card, but it’s considerably bigger being exactly the same size as the old style badge.
Launching the new badge, transport minister Norman Baker said, “Motorists who pretend to be disabled to get some free parking are frankly disgraceful. They prevent real Blue Badge holders from using parking bays designed for those genuinely in need and they cheat the vast majority of road users who play fair when they park their cars. Our new Blue Badge will be as secure as a banknote and anyone thinking of faking it can forget it. We are also tightening up on enforcement and eligibility so there will be no way to scam the system.”
Now I agree the new badge will certainly be considerably harder to forge as photocopies of these badges are not going to fool anyone. The badge will also make it easier for parking attendants to determine if it’s genuine as each badge will have a unique number which can be read by parking attendants all over the UK and referred to the national database. However, although I hope forgeries will become a thing of the past, abuse by genuine badge holders, friends and family is going to be significantly harder to stop.
Paul Slowey from the company Blue Badge Fraud Investigation Ltd believes that more policing of the scheme is needed in conjunction with the new badge to really get fraud and misuse under control. He said, “In Norman Baker’s constituency almost one badge a day was lost or stolen last year, yet none were reported recovered and no one prosecuted.”
The badge scheme was simply not policed. The new higher profile given to the abuse of the scheme and raised awareness should urge politicians of all parties to act on this crime. The £10 you pay for the badge (in England) is not ring-fenced and we all hope it will go to providing investigators to put the lost and stolen data on the national database to good use.”
It’s been estimated that over half a million fake, lost, stolen, or otherwise misused badges will be used on the UK’s streets this year. In addition, there are also those that go on being used by relatives or friends even after the genuinely entitled disabled user has died. A survey carried out by Disabled Motoring UK last year showed that very few local authorities carried out any enforcement of the scheme. So, although the database and badge are a great step forward, councils really need to understand the problems that scheme fraud and misuse cause, and allocate resources for the problem to be tackled so the scheme can be effectively policed. This measure, in conjunction with the new badge and central database, should finally ensure that the Blue Badge Scheme only benefits those it is supposed to.