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Plymouth City Council (20 014 289)

Category : Adult care services > Transport

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 21 Sep 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: the complainant complained the Council failed to properly consider her application for a Blue Badge. The Council says it properly considered all the information but failed to give a detailed decision letter as recommended in government guidance. We found the Council acted with fault and it agreed to reconsider the application having given the complainant time to present further information and to pay her £100 in recognition of the inconvenience caused.

The complaint

  1. The complainant whom I shall refer to as Dr X complained the Council failed to properly consider her application for a Blue Badge. Dr X says it failed to show how it had considered all the issues raised in her application when it decided to refuse her application.
  2. Dr X wants the Council to review the assessment. In doing so Dr X wants the Council to properly consider the pain and difficulty she has in walking. Plus, Dr X wants the Council to consider the impact on her of being unable to leave her home if she cannot park close to facilities.

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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. If 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. In considering this complaint I have:
    • Spoken with Dr X and read the information presented with her complaint;
    • Put enquiries to the Council and reviewed its response;
    • Researched the relevant law, guidance, policy, and procedure.
  2. I shared my draft decision with Dr X and the Council and considered any comments received before reaching this my final decision.

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What I found

  1. The Department of Transport (DfT) has issued guidance in 2019 to councils for assessing and providing Blue Badges. The Blue Badge scheme entitles drivers or passengers with mobility problems to park nearer to their destination. Although not statutory guidance we expect councils to adhere to the advice set out in the guidance.
  2. 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’.
  3. Where someone does not qualify under the ‘without further assessment’ criteria the Council will assess them to decide if they meet the criteria for a Blue Badge.
  4. From August 2019, people with hidden disabilities such as anxiety disorders can apply for a Blue Badge.
  5. It is for the Council to decide if an applicant meets the eligibility criteria for a Blue Badge and it may appoint an Expert Assessor to help it decide the application.
  6. The DfT strongly recommends councils set up an internal appeal procedure for unsuccessful applicants and clearly signposts this in their decision letters. Councils should also provide unsuccessful applicants with a detailed written explanation for the decision.

What happened

  1. In October 2020 Dr X applied for a Blue Badge and set out in her application the medical conditions she experiences such as osteoarthritis resulting in her needing a walking stick to help her walk. Dr X described the effect on her ability to walk and the pain experienced.
  2. In November 2020 the Council wrote to Dr X to say it had passed her application to its medical assessor for a desktop and telephone assessment.
  3. The Council undertook a telephone assessment on 10 December 2020. Following that assessment, the Council wrote to Dr X on 17 December 2020 telling her the Council had refused her application. The letter referred to Dr X’s right to ask the Council to review the decision.
  4. In its response to my enquiries the Council says its expert assessor could not certify from the information gathered that Dr X had an enduring or substantial disability which caused her to be unable to walk or experience very considerable difficulty whilst walking. Therefore, it decided she had not met the necessary criteria.
  5. The Council recognises the decision letter did not give a detailed explanation for the decision. To address that, the Council says it is amending its template for decision letters. The Council says while it does not believe this affected the decision, it has offered to review Dr X’s application.
  6. During the Covid-19 pandemic assessments had to be made over the telephone. With restrictions easing the Council has now resumed face to face assessments and says it is happy to offer Dr X such an assessment.

Analysis – was there fault causing an injustice?

  1. My role is to consider how the Council carried out its assessment of Dr X’s application it is not to decide if Dr X is eligible for a Blue Badge. If I find the Council acted with fault, I must consider the impact that had on Dr X and whether I should recommend a remedy.
  2. The Council acted in line with its usual practice by referring the application to its expert assessor and invited Dr X to provide information she felt may help the assessor decide her application.
  3. The guidance is clear that councils should send a detailed decision letter to an applicant. That gives them an explanation of why they have not been successful and allows them to address those reasons when asking the Council to consider a review or appeal. The Council failed to comply with the guidance, and I find the Council acted with fault.
  4. The fault meant Dr X had no reasons for the rejection on which she could focus when asking the Council to review the decision. I have not seen evidence of an appeals procedure but note in its letters the Council says if conditions change it will consider a further application. The decision letters do not signpost applicants to an appeal procedure, and I find that a fault.
  5. Without a clear signposted route for an appeal Dr X was put to avoidable inconvenience.
  6. I welcome the Council’s recognition of fault, its offer to re-assess Dr X’s application and its invitation to her to provide further information in support of that application. I also welcome the systemic improvement in revising the decision letters. I recommend the Council includes details on its appeal or review procedure in those letters.
  7. Dr X has been put to avoidable inconvenience by these faults and so I have recommended a payment to her in recognition of that. In our ‘Guidance on Remedies’ we suggest in acknowledgement of avoidable time and inconvenience councils pay a sum between £100 and £300.

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Agreed action

  1. To address the injustice arising the Council has agreed to within four weeks of my final decision:
    • Send a written apology to Dr X with a timetable for the review of the application and setting out what information she may wish to provide to help the Council with that review;
    • Confirm changes made to its letter template to prevent a recurrence;
    • Pay Dr X £100 in recognition of the avoidable inconvenience and confusion caused by the faults identified in the investigation.

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Final decision

  1. In completing my investigation, I find the Council acted with fault for which it has agreed to provide a proportionate remedy to address the injustice caused.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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