The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There is no evidence the Council was at fault in the assessment or appeal for a Blue Badge for Mrs X.
- Mrs X (as I shall call the complainant) complains that the Council has refused her application for a Blue Badge, although it awarded her a Badge last time she applied in 2015.
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 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)
- 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 information provided by Mrs X and the Council. I spoke to Mrs X. Both Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on an earlier draft of this statement and I considered those comments before I reach a final decision.
What I found
- The Blue Badge scheme was introduced by the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
- The Department for Transport 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.
- Some people are automatically entitled to a blue badge (without further assessment). Mrs X does not fall into that group. For other people, like Mrs X, 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.
- 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;
- distance; and
- In February 2018, the Council reviewed its Blue Badge procedures and as part of the process, ensured its appeal procedure was robust.
- Mrs X was issued with a Blue Badge in 2015, after her appeal against an initial refusal was upheld. Mrs X says her conditions include torn cruciate ligaments in both knees, and kidney disease which affects how often she has to stop when walking.
- Mrs X applied for a renewal of her Badge in August 2018. She was invited to a mobility assessment. She was assessed as being able to walk 80 metres at a “slow pace” as defined by the guidance, including times when she stopped. The assessment record said Mrs X reported pain in her left knee several times during the assessment and stopped because of the pain; that she walked unaided, that the assessor noted some pain and discomfort but that she did not have “very considerable difficulty” walking as the guidance said was necessary to qualify for a Blue Badge.
- The Council refused Mrs X’s application. Mrs X appealed against the refusal. She said her kidney function had deteriorated further and she was unable to take NSAIDs for the pain in her knees because of the effect on her kidneys. She said her ankles were swelling more and she needed to urinate more frequently, both of which restricted her mobility more. She submitted a letter from her GP detailing her medical conditions and asking that a Blue Badge should be awarded.
- The Appeals Panel agreed that Mrs X had medical conditions and some disability which affected her ability to walk: it agreed however that this did not amount to the “very considerable difficulty” described in the guidance. It refused her appeal.
- Mrs X complained to us. She said her condition now is worse than it was in 2015 when the Council awarded her a previous Blue Badge. She said her GP says he could not have written a stronger letter in support.
- The Council’s mobility assessment service says that Mrs X walked slightly more quickly in 2018 than in the 2015 assessment. It says the stops which Mrs X took during the assessment test were included in the overall time, which was deemed to be slow, but not very slow (the most extreme level described by the guidance).
- Mrs X was understandably upset to have been refused the renewal of her Blue Badge. There is no evidence however that the Council failed to take into account the relevant information in reaching its decision that she was not eligible.
- Mrs X appealed against the decision and the evidence provided shows that the Appeal panel also considered all the available evidence in reaching its decision to reject the appeal. That was a decision it was entitled to take.
- In the absence of fault in the way the decision was reached, the Ombudsman cannot question the merits of the decision to refuse the application.
- There is no evidence the Council was at fault in the way it reached its decision.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman