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London Borough of Hackney (21 013 452)

Category : Adult care services > Transport

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 24 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr C complained on behalf of Mr B, about the implementation of School Street Zones and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. He said the process had failed to recognise the impact on disabled people with restricted mobility. The Council also took too long to grant him exemptions for particular streets, insisted on individual applications for exemptions and delayed in sending him the correct blue badge. We found the Council delayed in granting exemptions to Mr B and had not provided a quicker route for exceptional situations. The Council has agreed to pay Mr B £200 and has improved its procedure.

The complaint

  1. Mr C complained on behalf of Mr B, that the London Borough of Hackney (the Council):
    • in respect of the implementation of the school streets policy:
      1. failed to take account of the specific impact on disabled people, particularly those with restricted mobility;
      2. took an unreasonable amount of time to grant exemptions to Mr B for specific streets to enable him to attend medical and therapy appointments;
      3. failed to recognise the rigidity of the exemption process and its impact on disabled people in requiring exemption applications for individual streets.
    • Incorrectly renewed Mr B’s Blue Badge and Companion Badge for only one year, rather than three and made unreasonable requests for Mr C to return the badge to the office in person before it would issue a new one.
  2. These failings caused Mr B and Mr C significant distress and inconvenience at a difficult time.

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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. 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)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. Mr B, Mr C and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Since 2017 the Council has introduced 48 School Streets Zones (SSZ) and dozens of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN). SSZs restrict access to vehicles during school drop-off and pick-up times. LTNs permanently restrict certain roads to mainly pedestrian and cycle use.
  2. Residents of SSZs are automatically exempt from the restrictions and other people who require access can apply for an exemption, including blue badge holders. When the scheme was first introduced in Mr B’s area, there was no timescale for the Council to make decisions on exemption applications.
  3. Mr B has a terminal health condition and requires access to different parts of the borough for health appointments. He cannot walk far, and Mr C has to drive him.

Blue Badge

  1. In 2021 the Council issued in error, a blue badge to Mr B for only one year, when it should have been for the full three-year period. Initially the Council asked him to return the badge in person before it would issue a new one. Mr C complained as this was not possible given Mr B’s health situation. He was then asked to return it by post, but a stamped addressed envelope was not provided. In the end he cut up the badge and sent a photograph. The Council then issued the correct badge. In July 2021 Mr C complained about the delay he experienced in getting the correct badge and the unhelpful attitude of the Council.
  2. The Council responded in August 2021. It apologised for issuing the wrong badge and for the insensitive communication following the error. It also reminded staff to take regular breaks from the screen to prevent avoidable errors occurring.

SSZs and LTNs

  1. The decisions the Council took in 2020/21 relating to the SSZs and LTNs in Mr B’s area, contain consideration of the impact on people with impaired mobility. The reports explaining the decision, noted that people can apply for exemptions, Blue Badge holders can apply in advance to be added to the list of approved vehicles and the maximum walking distance from the edge of the zone to the furthest property had been kept to a minimum. It recognised that some journeys would be longer as a result of the changes, but concluded the schemes struck a reasonable balance. It noted that people could apply for an exemption by paper form, online form or by telephone. It also introduced exemptions in some LTNs for holders of a Companion Badge (a personalised e-parking permit).
  2. In September 2021 Mr C applied for two exemptions to enter SSZs so that Mr B could attend regular health appointments. He also complained about the implementation of the restricted zones, questioned how the Council had considered the impact on people with mobility issues and why people could not apply for multiple exemptions in one application.
  3. The Council replied on 11 October 2021 saying that the exemption applications were being dealt with, the Council considered the impact on people with protected characteristics including disability when introducing the schemes and the schemes did not allow blanket exemptions; applications had to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  4. Mr C was dissatisfied with the response and escalated his complaint to stage two of the Council’s complaints procedure on the same day he received the stage one response. The Council failed to act on his request until 18 November 2021.
  5. It responded in full on 2 December 2021. It apologised for the failure to escalate his complaint more quickly and offered him £25. It said his exemption applications had been processed on 25 November 2021: they had taken longer to process due to the large number of applications. The Council would look at introducing a time-frame to decide applications. It directed Mr C to the consultation platforms to contribute to the ongoing evaluation of the schemes and provided an email address for him to apply for a special exemption from additional streets.
  6. Mr C complained to us.
  7. In February 2022 the Council’s website said the Council aimed to process exemption applications within five working days. In March 2022 this had increased to ten working days.

Analysis

Blue Badge process

  1. The Council was at fault for issuing the wrong badge and then insisting on the return of the badge to the Council offices before it would issue the correct badge. The Council has apologised for this and issued the correct badge. I consider this is sufficient action to remedy the injustice caused to Mr B and Mr C.

SSZs and LTNs

  1. The Council has provided evidence that the impact on people with mobility issues was considered as part of the decision-making process. The delegated decision reports contain detailed equalities impact statements, and the Council introduced an exemption scheme to address the effect of the impacts. I understand that Mr C remains dissatisfied with the schemes and considers they disproportionately impact on people like Mr B with impaired mobility. But the Council has recognised and addressed these issues as part of its decision-making process, and I have not found fault.

Exemption scheme

  1. The Council took two months to decide Mr B’s exemption applications. This was far too long and was fault. It caused frustration and distress to Mr B and Mr C as they were unable to access important appointments for Mr B’s health and well-being. The Council should have anticipated the surge in applications and taken steps to speed up the process.
  2. Given that the exemption scheme is the main way to address the impact of the scheme on people with impaired mobility, I consider it is important for the scheme to be responsive and quick. I initially felt the increase in the timescale from five to ten days for deciding exemption applications was too long. However in response to my draft decision the Council explained the following reasons for the ten-day timescale:
    • Consistency: - The ten day target is consistent with other similar Council targets
    • Structured processes: - To bring the process of handling exemption applications in line with other similar Council processes, a ten day target allows for a more structured process, which will reduce the likelihood of case errors in the future.
    • The nature of the applications: - the vast majority of exemptions are handled automatically in the back-office using existing Council databases and negating the need for residents to apply. This means that the applications received through the manual process, are mainly exceptional circumstance cases, where additional information is often required. The previous target was for a response in five days, but in most cases the response asked for further detail to justify the application.
  3. I am satisfied that the Council has properly considered the issue and the system is now more responsive to resident’s needs.

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Agreed action

  1. In recognition of the injustice caused to Mr B and Mr C, I recommended the Council (within one month of the date of my final decision) pay Mr B £200 for the delay in granting the two exemptions.

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Final decision

  1. I consider this is a proportionate way of putting right the injustice caused to Mr B and Mr C and I have completed my investigation on this basis.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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