The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council failed to properly consider the impact of his medical conditions on his mobility before it refused his Blue Badge application. Mr X says the matter has affected his well‑being and caused him significant distress. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council considered and made its decisions.
- Mr X complains the Council failed to properly consider his medical conditions and the impact it has on his mobility. As a result, the Council refused to award Mr X a Blue Badge.
- Mr X says the Council’s failings have caused him significant distress and it has made his physical and mental health conditions worse.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. 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 discussed the complaint with Mr X and considered the information he provided. I also considered the information the Council provided in response to my enquiries.
- I sent Mr X and the Council a copy of my draft decision and considered the comments received before reaching a final decision.
What I found
- The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued guidance to councils for providing Blue Badges. The Blue Badge scheme entitles drivers or passengers with mobility problems to park nearer to their destination.
- 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 qualify for a Blue Badge, an applicant must be assessed by their council as either ‘eligible without further assessment’ or ‘eligible subject to further assessment’.
- To be eligible for a badge, those people who are eligible subject to further assessment must 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 a 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 be endured, or be expected to endure, for at least three years.
- In respect to 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)
- The guidance does not allow for the applicants GP to be an expert assessor.
- The final decision rests with the council to decide if an applicant meets the eligibility criteria for a Blue Badge. Councils must consider each application solely on its merits and on application of the scheme’s eligibility criteria.
- The DfT strongly recommends that councils establish an internal appeals procedure for unsuccessful applicants and clearly signpost this in its decision letter. Councils should also provide unsuccessful applicants with a detailed written explanation.
- The following paragraphs set out key events in this case and do not cover everything that happened.
- Mr X has a long-term medical condition which affects his mobility.
- In November 2020, Mr X submitted a Blue Badge application to the Council. The Council asked Mr X to provide further information and evidence to support his application.
- Mr X provided the Council with a letter from his doctor. The GP’s letter confirmed Mr X has inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) / Crohn’s disease. It said this increased Mr X’s need to access a bathroom quickly. The letter stated a Blue Badge would enable him to manage his long-term medical condition if he is able to park more widely. It confirmed Mr X drives for a living.
- The Council asked Mr X for further supporting information which included his walking ability and his recent prescribed pain relief medication. This was to enable the Council process Mr X’s Blue Badge application.
- Mr X provided the Council with information about his walking ability. Mr X confirmed he could only walk to his bathroom which was a 5 to 6 meters distance. This took Mr X between 30 seconds to 1 minute to walk. Mr X also confirmed he did not take any pain relief medication.
- The Council used a desktop mobility assessment questionnaire to assess Mr X’s application and health condition. The Council found Mr X’s walking to be adequate. It found there was not enough information and evidence to prove Mr X was eligible for a Blue Badge award. The Council decided Mr X would need to attend an Independent Mobility Assessment (IMA). This was to establish whether Mr X was eligible for a badge.
- The IMA carried out a mobility telephone assessment for Mr X. It decided Mr X could not be considered eligible for a Blue Badge scheme. The IMA said Mr X was able to walk unaided. Mr X has had IBS for five years and said he suffers from depression as a result. The Council refused Mr X’s application. It informed him of his appeal rights.
- In December 2020, Mr X wrote a letter to the Council to support his application. He said it was important he set out the impact the IBS had on him. Mr X said he had regular, continuous attacks and urgent need for a bathroom. He said he had episodes of breathlessness, inability to stand for long periods and experienced extreme pain when walking due to excess bleeding. Mr X said his health condition made life very difficult for him and he has had suicidal thoughts. Mr X said his need for a Blue Badge was genuine to ease his health condition and anxiety. Mr X asked the Council to consider his condition and help improve his quality of life.
- In January 2021, the Council confirmed it did not receive further evidence from Mr X to support his review request. Mr X informed the Council he was unable to get further evidence to submit to it. The Council decided to review Mr X’s application as ‘hidden’ disability under its appeal process. This was because Mr X mentioned he suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts.
- In February 2021, the Council carried out a desktop hidden disability assessment for Mr X. It considered Mr X’s IBS / Crohn’s disease, his GP letter and Mr X’s personal supporting letter it had on record. The Council refused Mr X’s application under the ‘hidden’ disability criteria. The Council explained there was no evidence of a long-term treatment, medication or management plan for Mr X’s health condition. In particular, the frequency of the exacerbation and his urgent need of a bathroom. The Council said there were no previous clinic letters to support Mr X had anxiety including suicidal thoughts. It concluded “there was no evidence he experienced very considerable psychological distress when walking or undertaking a journey, more often than not.”
- In March 2021, the Council informed Mr X of its decision to refuse his appeal for a Blue Badge. The Council said it asked Mr X to provide as much information and evidence as possible to support his application. The Council explained it carried out its initial assessment and made its decision based on the information Mr X provided to it. The Council carried out a further assessment (IMA), a robust process completed by a medically trained assessor. It confirmed the IMA decision is final. The Council informed Mr X he had no further review option and it referred him to the Ombudsman if he remained unhappy.
- Mr X remained dissatisfied with the Council’s decision. He made a complaint to the Ombudsman.
- It is not for me to say whether the Council should have awarded Mr X a Blue Badge. My role is to decide whether the Council followed the guidance and considered relevant information in how it reached its decision.
- In this case, the evidence seen shows the Council followed the correct procedure in assessing Mr X’s application and appeal as set out in the guidance. The Council requested additional information and evidence from Mr X to support his application on several occasions. It considered the supporting evidence Mr X provided and referred his application for an expert assessment. The Council considered the application under a specific tool designed for people with ‘hidden’ disabilities such as Mr X. It then followed the same process for Mr X’s appeal. On both physical and ‘hidden’ disability criteria, the Council did not find Mr X eligible for a Blue Badge award.
- This was a decision the Council was entitled to make and the Ombudsman cannot question the merits of a decision which has been properly reached.
- Mr X was unable to provide the Council with all the supporting evidence it requested about his health condition (physical and ‘hidden’). It appears Mr X’s inability to submit all the requested medical information and evidence contributed to the Council’s decision for finding him ineligible for a Blue Badge.
- I do not therefore find fault by the Council in the way it considered and reached its decision that Mr X was not eligible for a Blue Badge.
- I find no evidence of fault by the Council in the way it considered and made its decisions.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman