The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council completed a flawed mobility assessment to consider Ms B’s eligibility for a Blue Badge. The Council will complete a new assessment.
- The complainant, who I will call Ms B, says the Council failed to properly assess her for a blue badge. Ms B had to stop a couple of times, yet the Council says she did not need to stop. The Council issued its decision before the 28-day timescale for her to present further evidence. When she complained the Council responded but failed to tell her how to pursue her complaint further.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered:
- Information provided by Ms B and the Council.
- ‘The Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance (England)’ issued by the Department for Transport in October 2014.
- Responses from both parties to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The Disabled Persons’ Parking Badge Scheme (Blue Badge) provides a national arrangement of on-street parking concessions for severely disabled people who are unable, or find it difficult, to use public transport.
- The Blue Badge scheme is for people with severe mobility problems. It allows Blue Badge holders to park close to where they need to go. The scheme operates throughout the UK and is managed by local authorities, who deal with applications and issue Blue Badges.
- To be eligible for a Blue Badge without further assessment the applicant must be more than two years old and:
- Receive the Higher Rate of the Mobility Component of the Disability Living Allowance; or
- Be registered blind; or
- Receive a War Pensioner’s Mobility Supplement.
- Drive a vehicle regularly, have a severe disability in both arms, and be unable to operate, or have considerable difficulty in operating, all or some types of parking meter; or
- Is unable to walk or have considerable difficulty in walking because of a permanent and substantial disability.
- Ms B applied to the Council for a Blue Badge; because of undiagnosed arthritis she cannot walk very far due to pain, cannot manage steps, and must use a walking stick to get around. A Blue Badge would make it easier for her to visit places as she could park closer.
- The Council decided Ms B was not automatically eligible, and sent her for a mobility assessment by an occupational therapist. The applicant needs to show that because of their permanent and substantial disability, they cannot walk very far without experiencing severe difficulty. Several factors may be relevant to decide this.
- The assessment report states the assessor saw Ms B walk around 70 metres with a walking stick and didn’t need to stop. Ms B says she stopped twice. The Council accepts Ms B did stop on one occasion, but says this was to talk to someone rather than because she needed to stop. Ms B says she did need to stop and used talking to the lady as an excuse to do so.
- The guidance says an applicant may be deemed eligible if they can walk 30-80 metres without pain or breathlessness, but demonstrate very considerable difficulty in walking through a combination of other factors. If an applicant cannot walk 30 metres then they can be deemed as having very considerable difficulty in walking.
- The assessor has not noted the stops, or what the distance was before Ms B stopped.
- The guidance says you should consider the applicant’s outdoor walking ability, and consider the types of road or pavement you would normally expect when walking outdoors. The assessment should include a degree of incline or decline, and not only be on flat ground. The record of the assessment does not cover this element and does not explain the ground Ms B was asked to walk. Ms B says she cannot manage steps, the assessor did not see Ms B managing steps or stairs.
- The guidance sets out what can be considered a brisk pace, a normal pace, a slow pace and a very slow pace. Ms B says she walks at a slow pace, the assessor has recorded normal. The assessor was timing Ms B but has not recorded the time down so we can show how they determined Ms B walks at a normal pace. I also do not know whether the assessor included the stops as they are not mentioned in the assessment record.
- The Council decided Ms B was not eligible for a Blue Badge because she could mobilise a considerable distance. Ms B put in further evidence from her physiotherapist, which she says she did within the 28-day deadline, but by which time the Council had already made its decision. The Council has since reviewed Ms B’s extra evidence but says based on the mobility assessment she is not eligible.
- The Council failed to tell Ms B about stage two of its complaint procedure, and has apologised for its error.
Was there fault causing injustice?
- The Council failed to complete, or properly record, a mobility assessment for a Blue Badge.
- The Council accepts that Ms B stopped walking during her assessment, but this is not documented on the assessment record. It has not recorded how long she walked for before she stopped, how many stops she made, and the time it took her to walk the distance. The assessment did not take account of outdoor walking ability, and the use of steps.
- The flaws in the assessment process bring into question the Council’s decision on Ms B’s eligibility.
- Although Ms B put in her physiotherapist information after the Council had already made its decision, it did then consider it and did not change its decision. Therefore, this did not affect the outcome.
- The Council’s apology for failing to tell Ms B about the next stage of its complaints procedure is sufficient to acknowledge her frustration, time and trouble.
- Because the assessment was flawed the Council will arrange a fresh assessment. The assessment should comply with government guidance, and take account of all relevant factors. The Council should contact Ms B within the next two weeks to arrange the assessment, and should evidence its compliance to the Ombudsman.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis a new assessment will put Ms B back into the position she should be in but for the Council’s fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman