Privacy settings

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Nottinghamshire County Council (21 006 708)

Category : Adult care services > Transport

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 18 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B was unable to make an online application for a Blue Badge because of his disability. There was fault in the Council’s failure to offer an alternative way to apply for Mr B. The Council has already remedied this fault as it offered a telephone application to Mr B on the following day. The Council has also changed its procedures to allow telephone applications.

The complaint

  1. Mr B is a person with a disability. He complains about the Council’s failure to offer him the option to apply for his Blue Badge over the telephone, rather than online. He says the Council should have made a reasonable adjustment because of his disability. He says he encountered the same problem three years ago when he made the same application and the Council told him it would change its procedure.

Back to top

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. We cannot decide if an organisation has breached the Equality Act as this can only be done by the courts. But we can make decisions about whether or not an organisation has properly taken account of an individual’s rights in its treatment of them.
  3. Organisations will often be able to show they have properly taken account of the Equality Act if they have considered the impact their decisions will have on the individuals affected and these decisions can be challenged, reviewed or appealed.
  4. 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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I have discussed the complaint with Mr B. I have considered the documents that he and the Council have sent and Mr B’s comments on the draft decision.

Back to top

What I found

Law, guidance and policies

  1. The Equality Act 2010 protects the rights of individuals and supports equality of opportunity for all. It offers protection in employment, education, the provision of goods and services, housing, transport and the carrying out of public functions.
  2. The Equality Act makes it unlawful for organisations carrying out public functions to discriminate on any of the nine protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010. They must also have regard to the general duties aimed at eliminating discrimination under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
  3. The ‘protected characteristics' referred to in the Act are:
    • age,
    • disability,
    • gender reassignment,
    • marriage and civil partnership,
    • pregnancy and maternity,
    • race,
    • religion or belief,
    • sex, and
    • sexual orientation.
  4. The reasonable adjustment duty is set out in the Equality Act 2010 and applies to any body which carries out a public function. It aims to make sure that a disabled person can use a service as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard usually offered to non-disabled people.
  5. Service providers are under a positive and proactive duty to take steps to remove or prevent obstacles to accessing their service. If the adjustments are reasonable, they must make them.
  6. The duty is ‘anticipatory’. This means service providers cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use their services, but must think in advance about what disabled people with a range of impairments might reasonably need.

The Council’s Equality Policy

  1. The Policy echoes the Equality Act and says the Council will:
    • Ensure that all services are provided fairly and without discrimination. Reasonable adjustments will be made so that services are accessible to everyone who needs them.

The complaint

  1. Mr B made an application for a Blue Badge on 15 July 2021. The Council limited applications to online only. Mr B rang the Council and explained to the Council officer that he was unable to apply online because of his disability. The Council officer advised him to ask a third party to assist him.
  2. Mr B made a complaint on the same day and said:
    • The Council had a duty to make reasonable adjustments to make its services accessible to him. He said the Council failed to take account of its duties under the Equality Act 2010 by allowing online applications only. Mr B said he should have been offered a telephone application.
    • The same problem occurred in 2018 when he made his application for a Blue Badge. He made a complaint at the time and was assured that the Council would address this to allow telephone applications. However, the Council later reverted back to only allowing online applications.
  3. The Council then offered Mr B a telephone application and the application was made on 16 July 2021.
  4. The Council responded to Mr B’s complaint on 16 July 2021 and said:
    • It followed the Blue Badge Scheme Local Authority Guidance and had in place their recommended channels for application.
    • It agreed this fell short of Mr B’s personal circumstances and initially the Council did not meet his requirements.
    • It apologised to Mr B.
    • It acknowledged that Mr B had experienced the same problem during his previous application and was disappointed that no improvement had been made.
    • It reassured Mr B that the matter had now been escalated to the person responsible for the development of the Blue Badge service. They would review the complaint to assist in service improvement.
    • Mr B had been offered to make his Blue Badge application over the phone the morning on 16 July 2021 and his application had been made.
  5. Mr B escalated his complaint as he was not satisfied with the response. The Council said it had properly responded to his complaint and there was nothing further it could add to its original response.
  6. Mr B has now come to the Ombudsman. As the Council had upheld his complaint, had apologised and remedied the injustice, I asked Mr B why he wanted to pursue the complaint with the Ombudsman. Mr B said he wanted an explanation why the Council had not improved its service after making the same mistake in 2018. He also questioned the Council’s assurance that its approach had changed since he made his complaint in July 2021. He was concerned that the Council was paying lip-service to its equality duties.

The Council’s response

  1. I made further enquiries from the Council in relation to Mr B’s remaining concerns and its response was:
    • It had no record of Mr B’s complaint from 2018, but said it was possible that Mr B had a telephone conversation about this.
    • Mr B made an online application in 2018.
    • A process for taking Blue Badge applications over the telephone was introduced in 2017 and ran until 24 December 2018.
    • The facility to apply via telephone ceased at the end of 2018 as a new Blue Badge case management system was to be introduced in February 2019. The Council also anticipated the introduction of new guidance by the Department for Transport, to support applications for people with hidden disabilities.
    • As the new guidance ‘was due to be introduced in August 2019 and required a full redesign of application forms, processes, and policies it was agreed that it was not economical or best use of business resources to reintroduce the telephone application until all new processes were running effectively. By March 2020 the Coronavirus pandemic had taken hold and many resources were shifted to other priority areas, and Blue Badge development was placed on hold’.
    • After Mr B made his complaint in July 2021, a new telephone application option was built into the process and was available from 22 July 2021. The Council had also introduced a telephone application for applicants who were in receipt of an automatic qualifying benefit for a Blue Badge. This went live on 28 September 2021. Mr B was eligible to use either of these processes.

Analysis

  1. It is not clear what happened in 2018 as the Council does not have a record of Mr B’s complaint and it has provided evidence that Mr B made an online application.
  2. The Council has upheld Mr B’s complaint that it did not meet his requirements when he made his application in July 2021.
  3. I agree this was fault. Mr B had a disability which meant that he could not apply online.
  4. The Council used to offer applicants the option to apply by telephone but withdrew this option in December 2018.
  5. The Council should have considered its duties under the Equality Act and its Equality Policy to make its service accessible to Mr B who had a disability. It should have offered Mr B a different way to make his application that he could access. The Council failed to do so. It was only after Mr B complained that the Council offered him the option of a telephone application and changed its procedure.
  6. Mr B suffered an injustice as a result of the fault as he was not offered a service which was accessible for his needs. This caused him stress and meant he had to make a complaint. However, the injustice was short-lived. Mr B complained on 15 July 2021 and the matter was resolved on the following day. The Council offered him a telephone application and processed his application. It responded to his complaint and apologised. The Council has therefore appropriately remedied the injustice that Mr B suffered.
  7. In addition, the Council changed its process to allow telephone applications for people who cannot access the online application process. That is a sufficient remedy and I therefore do not recommend any further remedy.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. The Council has already remedied Mr B’s fault as it offered him a telephone application and it apologised to Mr B. The Council also changed its Blue Badge procedure.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page