Nottinghamshire County Council (18 009 607)

Category : Adult care services > Transport

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 14 Feb 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains about the Council’s decision to refuse his wife a blue badge. The Ombudsman found fault because the Council failed to follow its own guidance. As a result, Mrs X has been left uncertain about her eligibility for a blue badge. The Council has agreed to carry out a mobility assessment of Mrs X and arrange training for officers dealing with blue badge applications. It has also agreed to apologise to Mr and Mrs X and pay them £100 to recognise the impact on them because of its failures.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr X, complains the Council has not issued his wife, Mrs X, with a blue badge. He also complains the Council has not returned the photograph or postal order which were submitted with the application.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the complaint made by Mr X and discussed the complaint with him.
  2. I considered the Council’s comments about the complaint and the documents it provided in response to my enquiries.
  3. I gave Mr X and the Council an opportunity to comment on my draft decision and I considered their responses.

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What I found

  1. Local authorities are responsible for the day to day administration and enforcement of the blue badge scheme. Local authorities must ensure they only issue blue badges to residents who satisfy one or more of the eligibility criteria. The government has issued 'The Blue Badge scheme local authority guidance (England)' to help local authorities manage the scheme.
  2. Some people are automatically entitled to a blue badge (without further assessment). This includes people who receive the Higher Rate of the Mobility Component of the Disability Living Allowance.
  3. Where further assessment is required, a blue badge can only be issued to an adult who:
    • Drives a vehicle regularly, has a severe disability in both arms and is unable to operate, or has considerable difficulty in operating, all or some types of parking meter; or
    • Has a permanent and substantial disability that causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking. Applicants will need to demonstrate that their ability to walk is affected to the extent that they would be unable to access goods and services unless allowed to park close to shops, public buildings and other facilities.
  4. The guidance says that if the local authority cannot make a clear and robust decision on eligibility based on the application, it should refer an applicant for an independent mobility assessment.
  5. The guidance sets out several factors that are relevant in deciding whether an applicant meets the criteria for a badge:
    • Excessive pain reported by the applicant when walking, or because of the effort of walking;
    • Any breathlessness reported by the applicant when walking, or because of the effort of walking;
    • The distance an applicant can walk without excessive pain or breathlessness, considering the environment the individual usually walks;
    • The speed at which they can walk;
    • The length of time that an applicant can walk for;
    • The manner in which the applicant walks;
    • An applicant's use of walking aids;
    • The applicant's outdoor walking ability; and
    • Whether the effort of walking presents a danger to the applicant's life, or would be likely to lead to a serious decline in their health.
  6. The Council’s ‘Blue Badge Scheme Staff Guidance’ says, “If the application has not been completed properly or the appropriate evidence is not returned, staff should return the application along with a template letter, requesting the required information.”
  7. The Council’s own guidance also says, “Staff should arrange a mobility assessment for anyone who appeals against the decision not to award a badge, if the applicant has not already had one.”
  8. The regulations governing the blue badge scheme allow authorities to charge a fee on the issue of a badge, which cannot exceed £10.

What did happen?

  1. Mrs X applied for a blue badge. She included a postal order for the £10 fee and a photograph.
  2. In her application, she ticked the box to show she received the Higher Rate of the Mobility Component of the Disability Living Allowance.
  3. Mrs X completed some other sections of the application form. In those sections, she said she could walk for “500 yards with difficulty”. She also said she struggles with longer distances or hills; cannot walk around the supermarket to do her own shopping; and cannot walk or use public transport for some of her local trips.
  4. Mrs X described the way she walked as “poor” and said she could not walk outside without help from another person. She said she used a walking stick and would shortly begin using a wheelchair. Mrs X said she had to stop for breath while walking at her own pace on level ground.
  5. On a scale of zero to ten where ten was “the worst pain imaginable”, Mrs X scored her experience of pain while not walking at five. She scored her experience of pain while walking at zero.
  6. Mrs X named a nearby place she could comfortably walk to from home. By my estimates this destination was within 250 metres of her home. She stated it took her “10 minutes plus” to cover this distance, indicating a walking speed of less than 25 metres per minute.
  7. Mrs X did not complete the mandatory declarations on the application or sign and date the form.
  8. The Council received Mrs X’s application and assessed it. Not all completed areas of the application form have been scored. The Council has not provided any explanation of its scoring system.
  9. The Council wrote to Mrs X in July 2018 to advise her that her application was unsuccessful. The reason given was because her walking difficulties did not appear to be severe enough to qualify for a badge.
  10. Mrs X appealed the decision. I asked for copies of the letters Mrs X sent to the Council but the Council could not find them in its records. Mrs X provided the Council with a copy of a referral for a wheelchair assessment completed in July 2018, which included some extra details about her health needs.
  11. The Council wrote to Mrs X again advising the information she had provided was not enough to allow it to reverse its decision. The Council did not offer Mrs X a mobility assessment. The Council says it returned the postal order and fee with this letter.
  12. Mr and Mrs X moved to a new house around this time.
  13. Mrs X contacted the Council in September 2018 about her application. The Council wrote to her at her new address advising it would not be changing its decision.
  14. The letter, postal order and photograph were returned to the Council undelivered in October 2018 and were placed in a safe.
  15. The Council says it has tried to confirm Mrs X’s new address but has not received the proof it needed to enable it to return the postal order and photograph.

Analysis

  1. Mrs X did not present any evidence confirming her entitlement to the Higher Rate of the Mobility Component of the Disability Living Allowance. If she had, she would have been eligible for a blue badge without further assessment.
  2. Given Mrs X also did not sign or date the form or complete any of the mandatory declarations, the Council should have followed its own guidance and issued a letter asking for the missing information and evidence. This would have provided the Council with an opportunity to clarify if Mrs X received the correct benefits to qualify for a badge without further assessment. I have not seen any evidence the Council did this, and this was fault.
  3. The information provided within the application is contradictory in places and does not lend itself to making a clear and robust decision according to the government’s guidance. The Council should have referred Mrs X for a mobility assessment. It failed to do so, and this was fault.
  4. The Council has failed to comply with its own guidance when it did not offer a mobility assessment in response to any of Mrs X’s appeals. This was fault.
  5. Because of the information Mrs X provided about her health needs as part of her appeal, the Council should have considered whether she needed more support to complete her application effectively. This would be in line with the government’s guidance on assisted completion of applications for blue badges. The Council would also be meeting its duties under the Equality Act 2010.
  6. The Council says it has not returned the postal order and photograph because Mrs X has not provided proof of her address. However, it wrote to her about her blue badge application at her new address. Either the Council was satisfied that it had the correct address and therefore should have returned the postal order and photograph to the new address; or it should not have written to Mrs X about her application without receiving proof of her new address.
  7. Mrs X remains without a blue badge and she and her husband have gone to the time and trouble of putting in appeals and making their complaint. There is uncertainty about whether she would have received a badge if the Council had made further enquiries about her benefit entitlement, or referred her for an independent mobility assessment as it should have done.

Agreed action

  1. The Council expressed reservations about the findings of this investigation. However, it has agreed to undertake the following actions within four weeks of this decision:
    • Carry out an independent mobility assessment and write to me and Mrs X with the result of this assessment.
    • Apologise for the faults identified and pay £100 to Mr and Mrs X.
    • Reimburse Mr and Mrs X £10 for the cost of the expired postal order.
  2. The Council also agreed to arrange training for relevant officers to ensure they are complying with the Council’s own guidance when considering blue badge applications. It will complete this within eight weeks of this decision.

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Final decision

  1. For the reasons explained in the Analysis section, I have completed my investigation and uphold Mr X’s complaint. I am satisfied the actions the Council has agreed to take are sufficient to remedy the injustice caused.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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