On the streets of Portsmouth with a blue badge scheme enforcement team, Helen Dolphin witnesses the sorts of try-ons used by badge abusers.
Statistics from the Department for Transport show that in 2012-13, Leeds City Council prosecuted one blue badge abuser. Call me a cynic but I’m guessing there were considerably more people abusing the scheme in Leeds than one in an entire year!
The statistics for 2013-14 are not yet available but I’m presuming the Leeds prosecution rate must have considerably improved because this was the city chosen by the transport minister Robert Goodwill to visit in August in order to see blue badge enforcement in action.
Like the minister, I have been out with a blue badge enforcement team – although I was in Portsmouth rather than Leeds. Portsmouth has a team which has been particularly effective in prosecuting blue badge abusers. I have always known about abuse, but I was shocked by the amount of abuse that I saw, and this was in a city where people know enforcement goes on.
The majority of the abuse was among people using badges which belonged to relatives. In Portsmouth, badge-holders are phoned to see where they are and if they are at home in bed when the car is parked in the city centre, the car is towed away. The abusers are then interviewed under caution and if it is a second offence, they are prosecuted.
In addition to relatives using badges, I witnessed a young couple using a badge they said they’d bought from a pub and which had been reported as stolen from an 85 year old man a year earlier. I had always thought people buying badges in pubs was an urban myth but clearly not. I also witnessed a man using his father’s badge who had died over two years ago to avoid paying parking fees when he went to work. He initially tried to pretend the enforcement team had made a mistake but when it became clear they weren’t falling for his lies, he confessed. I spoke to quite a few people about why they were misusing the scheme and depriving disabled people of parking spaces. Most of them claimed that it was the first time they’d ever done it and they didn’t have any money for the parking machine. I didn’t believe them.
A few years ago, very little enforcement was carried out across the country; the 2012-13 statistics on blue badge abuse show this because the most common answer for the number of blue badge prosecutions is 0. But it seems that more local authorities are realising how important enforcing the scheme is. This is reflected in figures released earlier this year by the Local Government Association which showed that successful blue badge fraud prosecutions have doubled over three years to 686 in England in 2013.
But if Portsmouth had the resources to enforce the scheme every day, they would probably reach this kind of figure themselves.