The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council was at fault in the way it recorded the outcome of an assessment for a Blue Badge for Mrs X. It has agreed to issue a Blue Badge in recognition of the error.
- Mrs X (as I shall call the complainant) complains about the way the Council assessed her mobility when she applied for a Blue Badge to enable her to park close to amenities.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 the written information provided by the Council and Mrs X: this included the notes made at the Independent Mobility Assessment and the appeal panel.
What I found
- The Blue Badge scheme was introduced by the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
- The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued guidance (2014) 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. The guidance is non-statutory meaning that councils are not legally obliged to adopt it. In practice, however, most councils do follow it.
- To qualify under the eligibility criteria where there is no automatic right to hold a Badge, an applicant must be more than two years old and fall within one or more of the following descriptions:
- 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.
- The guidance says that an independent mobility assessor should undertake a face-to-face assessment of the applicant’s mobility. The person completing the assessment should have a professional qualification giving them expertise in assessing walking ability. Councils typically employ Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists to undertake the assessments. The assessor must be independent of the applicant and their treatment and care.
- The guidance says that applicants who can walk more than 80 metres (87.5 yards) and do not demonstrate very considerable difficulty in walking through any other factors would not be deemed as eligible. Having a certain medical condition does not in itself qualify an applicant for a badge. Rather it is the effect of the condition or disability on the applicant’s ability to walk that is assessed.
- The guidance sets out several factors that are relevant in deciding whether an applicant meets the criteria for a badge: excessive pain; breathlessness; distance; and speed.
- Mrs X applied to the Council for a Blue Badge. She explained she had arthritis and chronic back problems. She detailed the prescription medications she took.
- The Council invited Mrs X to an assessment. The Occupational Therapist (OT) who carried out the assessment completed the form to say that Mrs X could walk 80 metres in total without experiencing severe discomfort. She then wrote that Mrs X had been observed to walk 63.8 metres at a normal pace with minimal difficulty. The application was refused.
- Mrs X appealed against the refusal. The Council’s Blue Badge Panel considered her appeal. The Council wrote to her to say the Panel had concluded that her medical conditions did not cause “inability to walk or considerable difficulty with walking” as the DfT guidance stated.
- Mrs X complained to the Ombudsman.
- The Council cannot say why the OT only measured Mrs X’s walking speed over 63.8 metres and not 80 metres as the guidance stipulates (the OT is not available to comment)
- In recognition of its error, the Council now agrees to issue a Blue Badge to Mrs X.
- The Ombudsman cannot achieve any more for Mrs X than the issue of the Blue Badge and the investigation is completed.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman