The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council failed to properly consider Mrs X’s application for a blue badge. It failed to consider the impact of her disability and her need for a mobility aid.
- Mrs X complains the Council failed to properly consider her application for a blue badge.
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 have:
- considered the written complaint and discussed it with Mrs X
- considered information submitted by the Council
- taken account of relevant legislation;
- offered Mrs X and the Council an opportunity to comment on this complaint, and considered the comments made.
What I found
- The Department for Transport’s (DfT) Blue Badge Scheme is to help disabled people with severe mobility problems access goods and services by allowing them or a carer to park near their destination. The scheme provides parking concessions for Blue Badge holders. Local authorities are responsible for the day to day administration and enforcement of the scheme. This includes assessing whether people are eligible for the badge.
- The DfT issues Guidance to councils for providing Blue Badges to disabled people with severe mobility problems. The guidance says that councils must ensure they only issue badges to residents who satisfy one or more of the criteria set out in legislation. There are two types of eligibility criteria. One is where a person is eligible without further assessment. The other is where the person is eligible subject to further assessment.
- In 2019, the DfT issued new guidance for councils. The main change from previous guidance was the introduction of assessment criteria to help people with severe mobility problems caused by non-visible (‘hidden’) disabilities.
- To be eligible for a badge, those people who are eligible subject to further assessment 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 been certified by an expert assessor as having an enduring and substantial disability which causes them, during the course of a journey, to:
- Be unable to walk;
- Experience very considerable difficulty whilst walking, which may include very considerable psychological distress; or
- Be at risk of serious harm when walking; or pose, when walking, a risk of serious harm to any other person. (The Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) Regulations, 4(2)(f))
- The disability experienced by the applicant must have endured, or be expected to endure, for at least three years.
- In respect of both physical disabilities and non-visible conditions, where a council cannot reach a view based on the applicants evidence, it would be expected to appoint an expert assessor. (The Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance, 4.27)
- If applicants are unhappy with the outcome of an assessment, they may appeal by asking the Council to review the decision.
- Mrs X was involved in a car accident in 1991. She sustained serious injuries and she has been left with significant disabilities.
- In 2020 Mrs X applied for a blue badge. She attached a letter from an Orthopaedic Spinal Consultant. I have seen a copy of this letter. It is detailed and clearly explains Mrs X’s disabilities, and the impact on her mobility. It explains her specific difficulty with sitting and that she needs a specially adapted chair when out of the house.
- The Council refused Mrs X’s application. It wrote to her in July 2020 explaining its decision. I have seen a copy of this letter. It sets out the Council’s reasoning and explains it had consulted an ‘expert assessor’ to inform its decision-making. It acknowledged the information Mrs X provided from an Orthopaedic Consultant. The Council said Mrs X had difficulty mobilising “...if she had to carry things which is not covered under the DFT guidelines for people who experience considerable difficulty walking”. It quoted the DfT guidelines which say, “an applicant’s ability to carry parcels and luggage, or to follow a journey independently, are not to be considered”.
- Mrs X submitted an appeal.
- The Council did not uphold the appeal. After reviewing the application and supporting information Mrs X submitted, it considered the original decision to be correct. It wrote to Mrs X in September 2020. I have seen a copy of this letter. The author explained the Council had reviewed medical reports and information submitted by Mrs X. It confirmed Mrs X to have “...skeletal and sitting disability… problems with her sitting disability which is considered to be enduring and as a consequence she needs to use seating adaptation equipment which she has to take with her if she is going to sit down for more than a very short period of time. Although her sitting disability is considered permanent…there is no evidence presented to indicate the applicant is unable to walk or that she has considerable difficulty…”. It said Mrs X’s “mobility difficulties are associated predominantly with carrying weights which should not be considered when assessed against the DFT guidelines”. It reiterated the DfT guidance, that an applicant’s ability to carry parcels and luggage should not be considered. It recommended Mrs X’s husband carry the chair.
- The Ombudsman cannot question the merits of a decision made without fault. We can consider how the Council made the decision and whether it took all relevant information, including the law and guidance, into account. In this case, I consider the Council failed to do so.
- The Council wrongly considered Mrs X’s specially adapted chair as ‘parcels and luggage’ and failed to recognise that the chair is in fact a disability aid that she has to carry with her as she cannot function away from home without it, is not ‘parcels and luggage’.
- Considering the chair as ‘parcels and luggage’ implies it is something that is not essential, that a person can choose whether to take it with them. That is not the case here. It is not disputed that Mrs X needs to have the chair, as it is specially adapted to allow her to sit. Carrying the chair causes Mrs X considerable difficulty when walking, which the Council failed to consider. The Council’s suggestion that Mrs X’s husband carry the chair is not appropriate.
- I find the Council failed to consider the impact of Mrs X’s disability and her need for a mobility aid.
- The Council should within four weeks of the final decision
- apologise to Mrs X in writing for the failings set out above
- undertake a desk-based review of Mrs X’s application, and consider her need for a mobility aid
- Provide evidence of the above to this office.
- The Council failed to properly consider Mrs X’s application for a blue badge.
- The above recommendations are a suitable way to remedy the injustice caused to Mrs X.
- It is on this basis; the complaint will be closed.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman