New blue badge parking crackdown
A crackdown on abuse of the disabled "blue badge" parking scheme has been announced by ministers.
It is estimated that use of up to half of the existing 2.5 million badges could be fraudulent, costing the UK an estimated £46m a year.
More people are to face mobility tests to get the badges, which offer special parking rights, and councils will have greater powers of confiscation.
Use of blue badges has soared by more than a third in the last 10 years.
The badges allow access to special parking or the right to avoid parking restrictions.
They are issued to people who are registered blind, receive a war pensioner's mobility supplement or higher rate disability living allowance, and to other people with mobility problems who undergo an assessment.
A Department for Transport statement said: "Increasing levels of badge fraud mean those who genuinely need to use these parking spaces often find themselves displaced by people who do not."
The new measures, due to come into force from April, will include:
- On-the-spot powers for local authorities to recover misused and cancelled badges
- Wider use of independent mobility assessments to determine eligibility
- Printed badges with anti-fraud holograms and bearer photographs to replace current handwritten badges
Transport minister Norman Baker said the scheme was "in real need of modernisation", having undergone little change since it was introduced in the 70s.
"These improvements will mean that blue badge holders get a much better service for less than 1p per day," he said.
Helen Dolphin, who co-ordinates policy for the disabled motorists charity Mobilise, has said there is a need for much greater consistency with councils taking more care over who received the badges
And Ms Dolphin wants people to be educated about their proper use: "A lot of family members think they can use it even without the disabled person being in the car.
"There are many cases of carers thinking they can use it to park when they go shopping," she said.
Paul Slowey, of Blue Badge Fraud Investigation Ltd, which investigates blue badge abuse on behalf of councils, says that in some city areas up to 50% of badges are being wrongly used.
He says the powers are there for local authorities to mount prosecutions for fraud when they detect misuse, but "historically enforcement has been dreadful".
Mr Slowey points to the rail network, where ticket fraud fell after companies introduced strict measures aimed at fare-dodgers.
"If the use of blue badges is enforced properly then the scheme will function as it should," he said.