Motorists no longer have to show tax discs in their windows. Helen Dolphin explains why this has led to blue badge holders losing parking concessions.
The DVLA stopped issuing paper tax discs in October. This is because people who need to check that a vehicle is taxed, like the police, parking inspectors and the DVLA, now rely on the DVLA database instead. Drivers can use the same database at to find out if their car tax is up to date. DVLA has now advised that all motorists should remove tax discs from their windscreens, even if the tax has not expired.
This all sounds absolutely fine in principle. But the removal of discs has had a detrimental effect on some disabled motorists. This is because there are a number of local authorities who previously relied on a Nil rate tax disc being displayed with a blue badge in order for the person to be granted a parking concession. Usually the reason for this policy was that people who can apply for Nil rate tax discs are in receipt of the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance and are seen by some local authorities as more deserving than other blue badge holders of free or reduced parking. Since there are no longer any tax discs on display, local authorities have had to devise new policies and in some areas this has meant an end to the concession.
One authority which has ended the concession is Rushmoor Borough Council. Previously, motorists displaying a Nil rate tax disc with a blue badge could park free of charge but now the council has decided that all blue badge holders will have to pay the parking charge when using council-owned car parks. But they have met their requirements under the Equality Act by allowing blue badge holders to park for twice as long as non-blue badge holders. But as one resident wrote to me to say: “Our annual increase in benefits will not cover the extra parking payments let alone the increase in other costs. As pensioners on fixed incomes, this is another unplanned outgoing from an ever-diminishing pot of money.”
Cornwall Council is another authority which previously used Nil rate tax discs to identify motorists who would receive a concession. But they have decided to continue offering it – although motorists do need to contact the council once their tax disc has expired to provide details of their vehicle. This information will be added into its system as a vehicle exempt from enforcement in Cornwall Council car parks. This information will then be available to enforcement officers as they patrol and they will be able to identify the exempt vehicles. Obviously, people visiting the area who have not registered will just have to pay.
I am not completely comfortable with this division of blue badge holders into two different groups – those who pay and those who don’t – and think it is right that these policies are reviewed. The charity Disabled Motoring UK also sees this division as a discriminatory policy and believes there should be concessions for all blue badge holders regardless of what benefits they receive. If authorities are following the issuing criteria correctly, all blue badge holders should have similar requirements – usually the need for a wide bay and to be able to park close to where you need to park. This does not change if you happen to have a Nil rate tax disc. There are many blue badge holders who became disabled after the age of 65 who do not qualify for DLA. They do not receive any additional help towards the costs of their mobility so it is wrong for authorities to assume they have more ability to pay than those who receive DLA.
What I believe is better is a payment scheme which encourages Badge holders into off-street car parks which are much safer than situations where people unload mobility equipment on busy roads and which are better for congested streets. If this means three hours free for all Badge holders, this is what I would advocate. And, if there is an expectation for disabled people to pay, then there must be a way for them to pay. Paying by phone is a good alternative to complicated coin-operated machines but there will still be people who cannot use this technology and may need to pay online. There also needs to be consideration of how disabled people will enter and exit the car park. As always the decision to implement charging for Badge holders brings a wealth of other issues which councils are now actually facing up to. There will be those who agree with me and those who don’t about who should receive free parking but if the removal of tax discs brings fairer charging policies and easier payment methods for all blue badge holders, maybe it’s not such a retrograde step after all.