The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council did not properly consider Mr C’s application to renew his blue badge that he requires due to his medical conditions. Its approach in processing blue badge applications, subject to further assessment, is not in line with guidance. In this case it caused injustice to Mr C in the form of distress by not processing his application correctly. We recommend the Council reconsider Mr C’s application and apologise for its errors.
- Mr C says the Council did not properly consider his application to renew his blue badge. He says it did not refer him for an assessment and did not take into account medical evidence he had provided. Mr C says this has caused him stress and he has been unable to have his application processed in line with local authority guidance.
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 read the complaint and other documentation supplied by Mr C, including the Council’s responses to his application and the supporting documentation he sent to the Council. I invited Mr C and the Council to comment on a draft decision, and considered any comments made in response.
What I found
- The Government has issued Blue Badge scheme local authority guidance. It details criteria of those who may be eligible for a blue badge. Eligibility is determined under two criteria, those eligible for a blue badge without further assessment and those eligible subject to further assessment.
Part of the eligible subject to further assessment criteria says “People who may be issued with a badge after further assessment are those who are more than two years old and may be described as one or more of the following:
- a person who 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
- a person who 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
- in addition, they may be at risk of serious harm when walking - or pose, when walking, a risk of serious harm to any other person” (4.26 Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance)
- If it is not self-evident to a local authority on the basis of the information available to them, from the applicant and health or social care practitioners, whether the applicant falls within these descriptors, then a referral should be made to an expert assessor for certification. (4.27 Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance)
- It is important that applicants, at the initial application stage are asked to provide detailed information about their condition and how it causes them to:
- be unable to walk
- experience very considerable difficulty whilst walking, which may include very considerable psychological distress
- be at risk of serious harm when walking; or pose, when walking, a risk of serious harm to any other person. (3.7 Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance)
- Providing this information enables local authorities to make more informed and quicker decisions, especially in circumstances where an applicant is clearly eligible under the automatic criteria, or clearly ineligible for a Blue Badge. Detailed information provided at the point of application can also avoid the need for the applicant to undergo an impartial mobility assessment, or for the local authority team to seek additional expert insight into how the applicant’s condition affects their mobility. (3.8 Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance)
- In respect of physical disabilities and/or non-visible (‘hidden’) conditions, only where a local authority cannot satisfy itself that an applicant meets, or does not meet, the eligibility criteria, based on the evidence provided by the applicant would it be expected to appoint an ‘expert assessor’. Most applicants would reasonably be expected to demonstrate a health/social care history that is consistent with having an enduring and substantial disability that causes them very considerable difficulty when walking between a vehicle and their destination, therefore it is anticipated that appointing an expert assessor would be by exception. (4.36 Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance)
- Mr C had previously been granted a blue badge which was due to expire in April 2021. In January 2021, he applied to the Council for the blue badge to be renewed. Mr C also provided the following supporting evidence;
- a letter from a consultant orthopaedic surgeon dated March 2018 detailing how Mr C had multi-level disc degeneration and evidence of Scheurmann’s disease at the lower thoracic spine,
- a letter from an orthopaedic clinic dated September 2019 which details how Mr C is suffering from multi-level disc degeneration and discs slipped in his lower thoracic spine. It also said Mr C’s scans show Scheurmann’s disease. The letter details most common types of pain associated with this disability and includes pain walking short distances. It also said Mr C’s condition is a permanent disability which will get worse over time,
- details of medication Mr C was taking, and
- a copy of Mr C’s current blue badge.
- Mr C’s wife receives carers allowance to look after him and he is in receipt of a personal independence payment due to his health problems.
- In February 2021 the Council wrote to Mr C informing him that to process his application he would need to supply a letter from his doctor or consultant, dated within 3 months, stating his medical condition and how it affects his mobility.
- Mr C responded to the Council that his doctor will not provide this, and he had experienced the same problem with a different department within the Council when he applied for a freedom pass in 2018, and the Council had to appoint an assessor.
- Later in February 2021, the Council rejected Mr C’s blue badge application. It said this was because based on the documents provided it believes Mr C would be able to walk 50 metres unaided, and no supporting evidence has been supplied to suggest otherwise. It also said his application does not show Mr C has a permanent or substantial disability which causes you an inability to walk or considerable difficulty in walking.
- Mr C appealed the decision. He said the Council had been unreasonable and failed to consider medical evidence and facts provided. Mr C said the Council failed to consider the eligible subject to further assessment criteria and arrange an assessment. He also said the decision was contradicted by earlier decisions by the Council such as the granting of a freedom pass after an assessment.
- In March 2021 the Council responded to the appeal. It said in order to proceed with an appeal, Mr C would need to approach his consultant or specialist for a fresh assessment of his medical or disabled needs, and provide evidence dated within a year. It also listed the eligibility criteria for a blue badge but did not specify that some parts of it were eligible subject to further assessment.
- Mr C responded to the Council that it has not considered the eligible subject to further assessment process for a blue badge. He also said he has asked his consultant for an assessment, but this has already been refused on previous requests as the consultant does not do such a service. Mr C also said previously the Council arranged an independent occupational therapist to undertake such an assessment.
- In April 2021 Mr C’s consultant provided a letter that he does not do assessments for disability. Mr C shared this with the Council.
- Later in April 2021 Mr C sent an email to the Council, three days before his existing blue badge was due to expire, sharing the Council’s assessment for a freedom pass dated January 2019 where the Council arranged occupational therapist stated that Mr C has been issued with a freedom pass as he is virtually unable to walk.
- The Council issued its appeal decision at the end of April 2021. It said Mr C did not meet the walking disabilities criteria as he had not provided recent medical evidence from a consultant or specialist as requested. The Council refused his application for a blue badge at appeal.
- Mr C was already in possession of a blue badge due to his disability, as well as a freedom pass, and received other disability related benefits at the time he applied to the Council to renew his blue badge. He provided medical evidence to the Council.
- Mr C had been previously assessed by an occupational therapist appointed by the Council in January 2019. This was when he applied for a freedom pass. The assessment found he was virtually unable to walk.
- Letters from consultants provided to the Council by Mr C describe his medical issues and say they are permanent and will get worse with time.
- The Council asked Mr C to provide further medical evidence dated within 3 months of his application. It later asked for evidence within a year at appeal. When responding to Mr C’s appeal, the Council asked Mr C to approach his own consultant for a fresh assessment. Mr C did contact his consultant who does not provide disability assessments.
- If the Council cannot make a clear decision if a person is eligible for a blue badge, it should refer them to an expert assessor. Mr C had provided numerous pieces of evidence to the Council about his medical condition and the Council’s own previous assessments that state he was virtually unable to walk. Mr C provided evidence of why he could not get a further letter from his consultant. If the Council was unsure whether Mr C met the criteria to renew his blue badge, it should have referred him to an expert assessor rather than ask him to arrange his own assessment. This was fault and has caused Mr C injustice in the form of stress.
- To remedy the injustice caused by the Council’s fault in this case, it has agreed within one month of a final decision to take the following action:
- Send a written apology to Mr C;
- Reconsider his blue badge application with a fresh assessor;
- Pay Mr C £200 in recognition of the distress caused;
- Within three months of a final decision the Council has agreed to deliver training to all its officers processing blue badge applications. This training should consider when to refer a case to an expert assessor.
- Evidence of completing the remedies listed should be provided to the Ombudsman by the Council.
- I uphold a finding of fault against the Council for not referring Mr C to an expert assessor when it should have, in line with local authority guidance. The Council has agreed to implement my recommended actions to remedy the injustice caused to Mr C.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman