There has been recent discussion on what appropriate penalties should be for people using blue parking badges fraudulently. But, argues Helen Dolphin, the answer lies in policing and enforcement rather than stronger punishment.
At the start of the year the Department for Transport (DfT) released figures which showed that in 2014-15 legal action had been taken against 985 people for misuse of a Blue Badge. In the majority of cases it was people using someone else’s Blue Badge. This was hailed as a success by a number of charities representing disabled people as prosecutions were up 84% from the previous year. However, I didn’t see it as much to celebrate as most prosecutions were down to just a very small number of councils doing sterling work, with the majority in England and Wales doing absolutely nothing to tackle this problem.
One council that does take Blue Badge abuse seriously is Portsmouth and I’ve had the pleasure of joining their enforcement team on a number of occasions. Michael Robinson, Parking Operations Manager at Portsmouth City Council said: “Protecting the integrity of the Blue Badge Scheme is a fundamental part of what we do; it is not an optional extra. All our staff are trained to spot the Blue Badge fraudster, and how to deal with them. Our council’s commitment to the most vulnerable in our society absolutely includes those having to use a Blue Badge. Abuse of the scheme makes it harder for the genuinely disabled, and it costs councils a huge amount in lost parking revenue.”
Even in a city which publicises its enforcement it was shocking to see how many people were still happy to park using someone else’s Blue Badge. The excuses that were handed out were usually pretty pathetic and some people went to great lengths to avoid being caught. On one memorable occasion a woman pretended her husband, the Blue Badge holder, was locked in the toilet for over an hour before realising she couldn’t keep up the pretence any longer. It turned out he was at home in bed and she was using the badge to avoid paying for her parking.
When Portsmouth catches someone blatantly misusing a Blue Badge they do proceed to prosecution. Under the Road Traffic Act 1984 misuse of a Blue Badge is a criminal offence and the fine on conviction can be up to £1,000. There are often discussions as to whether this is enough or whether the fine should be higher.
It has also been suggested that one deterrent maybe to put points on people’s driving licenses. I personally think that the real issue is not what the fine is but fact that in the majority of towns and cities there is no enforcement and so people know they won’t be caught. Although the majority of councils say they enforce the Blue Badge scheme, what they generally mean is they will put a penalty charge notice (PCN) on a car parked without a badge. This is an important first step but it is also crucial to make checks on who is actually using a badge.
There is currently no compulsion on local authorities to enforce the scheme. Although DfT collate numbers of prosecutions, there doesn’t seem to be any questions asked of councils with zero prosecutions, or even those who fail to supply their figures. I’m not advocating targets being set for numbers of prosecutions but there could be requirements for checking certain numbers of badges. As a badge holder myself I’d gladly present my badge when asked if I knew it meant something was being done to tackle the problem that stops so many disabled people from being able to park.
I also think that, as well as councils enforcing the scheme more thoroughly, more needs to be done to publicise what the consequences of being caught would be, and what having a criminal record would mean when it comes to employment and applying for insurance. When I was out with the Portsmouth enforcement team most people assumed the penalty would be a PCN and were shocked they may have to attend court and would receive a substantial fine. If there was more enforcement and more awareness of the consequences, then I’m sure this would go some way to improving parking for all Blue Badge holders.