The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council cancelled his blue badge mobility assessment at short notice and revoked his blue badge without giving him a reasonable explanation. The Council has apologised and offered a remedy. We propose to uphold Mr X’s complaint and we are satisfied with the Council’s remedy.
- Mr X complains the Council cancelled his blue badge mobility assessment at short notice. He says that when he arrived for the assessment, a Council officer caused him embarrassment when he revoked his blue badge. He also complains the methods used by the Council caused a personal data breach. He complains the Council did not provide him with a satisfactory reason for the late cancellation nor the revocation of his blue badge.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated the actions of the Council in terms of the process it followed when assessing Mr X’s blue badge renewal. I have not investigated Mr X’s complaint about a personal data breach in relation to his application. The Information Commissioner’s Office is best placed to investigated this.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), 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 have considered Mr X’s complaint and supporting information. I have also considered the information supplied by the Council.
- Mr X and the Council have had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- In 2012 the Department for Transport (DfT) issued Guidance to councils for providing Blue Badges to disabled people with severe mobility problems. The Guidance introduced a structured functional mobility assessment which was not a feature of the previous scheme. This meant councils had to reassess many disabled people who had been awarded a Blue Badge under the old system.
- The guidance is non-statutory meaning that councils are not legally obliged to adopt it. In practice, however, most councils do follow it. This guidance was updated in October 2014 to take account of changes to eligibility brought about by the introduction of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). PIP replaces Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
- The DfT’s Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance (England) dated October 2014 identifies two different types of eligibility:
- For an applicant to be ‘eligible without further assessment’, they would need to submit current proof (letter dated within the last 12 months) that they receive other state benefits as evidence of their mobility need. This includes Higher Rate of the Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance (HRMCDLA) or awarded at least eight points against the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) ‘Moving around’ activity.
- Applications that are outside the ‘automatic’ DfT qualifications described above are for the Council to decide within the scope of the DfT guidance.
- Applicants may be asked to do a mobility assessment. A health professional will look at their ability to carry out a range of mobility activities. They will then tell the council whether they think the applicant’s health condition or disability limits their ability to move around enough for them to need a badge.
- In 2015, Mr X received his first blue badge from the Council. In 2018, he applied for a renewal of the blue badge. An assessor considered the medical information provided by Mr X and carried out a desk top assessment. Based on the assessor’s recommendation, the Council renewed Mr X’s blue badge.
- A few months after receiving his renewed blue badge, Mr X received a letter from the Council. The letter said that the Council has an on-going commitment to ensuring that blue badges are only issued to people who meet the eligibility criteria.
- The letter goes on to say the Council has received reports of Mr X participating in recreational walks and because of this, he may not meet the criteria. The letter included a copy of the eligibility criteria.
- The Council asked Mr X to return his blue badge if he did not believe he met the criteria. It also said, if he believed that he did meet the criteria, or was not sure, the Council would be happy to check his eligibility at an Independent Mobility Assessment.
- Mr X arranged a date for an assessment.
- The Council says that ahead of the assessment, it reconsidered Mr X’s application. It decided that he did not meet the qualification criteria for blue badge.
- Three days before the assessment, the Council sent a letter to Mr X cancelling the assessment. The letter said the reason for the Council’s decision was that from the evidence available to them, the Council believes Mr X is able to walk further than the distances set out in the DfT eligibility guidance.
- I have seen evidence that the Council sent the letter recorded delivery. Mr X did not receive the letter as he was not home at the time of delivery.
- Mr X attended the assessment. He was met by a council officer who informed him that it was cancelled. Mr X says that the officer then informed him that the Council was revoking his blue badge. Mr X says that the officer would not explain why. Mr X also complains the way he was treated in a public place was humiliating and unprofessional.
- The Council apologised to Mr X for the late cancellation. It reimbursed him for his travel expenses and inconvenience for the day of the assessment. It also rescheduled Mr X’s mobility assessment and said he could use his blue badge in the meantime.
- Mr X attended his rescheduled mobility assessment in August. The assessors approved Mr X’s blue badge.
Response to my enquiries
- The Council has provided evidence of its correspondence with Mr X. This shows the Council attempted to notify Mr X of the cancelled assessment, the revocation of his blue badge and the reasons for this.
- The Council has admitted it did not do enough to inform Mr X of this cancellation prior to his appointment, for which it has apologised and offered to pay compensation.
- The Council has also decided on review that it was wrong to cancel Mr X’s appointment and that he should have the opportunity to be seen in-person by a mobility specialist. It has clarified that Mr X’s blue badge was therefore never revoked.
- The Council has confirmed it has put a new process in place to ensure this situation does not happen again. This includes a point that all communications are made in a clear and timely manner.
- The Council has admitted fault in the way it dealt with Mr X’s case. It specifically acknowledges its communication with Mr X should have been better. The Council should also have clearer procedures in place in relation to the revocation of blue badges. This is particularly important when considering evidence which it believes contradicts the content of a person’s application form.
- I agree there is evidence of fault in the actions of the Council. It cancelled Mr X’s appointment and threatened to revoke his blue badge without sufficient evidence to support its decision. This is evident as Mr X was awarded a blue badge following a rescheduled mobility assessment.
- The fault of the Council caused Mr X an injustice. This included: a wasted journey to attend a cancelled appointment, the humiliation caused by the conversation with the council officer in a public place, and the threat of his blue badge revocation.
- I am not recommending any remedy in my decision as I am satisfied the Council has remedied Mr X’s injustice. It has apologised, offered to pay Mr X’s expenses, rescheduled his assessment, did not revoke his blue badge, and put a new process in place to ensure this does not happen again.
- I have upheld Mr X’s complaint. The Council has remedied Mr X’s injustice and I have closed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman