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Devon County Council (21 007 837)

Category : Children's care services > Disabled children

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 22 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council was not at fault in how it assessed Ms X’s son’s application for a Blue Badge.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains the Council did not properly consider her teenage son, Z’s, application for a Blue Badge.
  2. She says that due to Z being unsafe and experiencing distress when he walks near roads and cars, without a Blue Badge the family are very limited in where they can go.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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 considered information provided by Ms X and the Council.
  2. I considered information provided by the independent assessment service which acted on the Council’s behalf when it assessed Z for a Blue Badge.
  3. I considered the relevant law and guidance as set out below.
  4. I considered our Guidance on Remedies.
  5. I considered comments made by Ms X and the Council on my draft decision before making a final decision.

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What I found

Assessing people with non-visible disabilities for Blue Badges

  1. 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.
  2. The DfT updated its guidance in August 2019 to ensure that difficulties experienced by people with non-visible disabilities were considered by councils when determining eligibility for Blue Badges. The revisions to the eligibility criteria meant that councils could now consider a person’s difficulty whilst walking, and during the course of a journey, rather than solely their ability to walk or difficulties caused only by the physical act of walking.
  3. The ‘Blue Badge scheme local authority guidance (England) 2019’ says:
    • to qualify for a Blue Badge, an applicant must be assessed by their council as either ‘eligible without further assessment’, previously known as automatic eligibility, or ‘eligible subject to further assessment’, previously known as discretionary;
    • the role of an applicant’s GP has been reduced in decision making around Blue Badges since 2012;
    • ‘Local authorities will also need to be satisfied that such difficulties cannot otherwise be managed through reasonable coping strategies. For example, where an applicant would only ever be accompanied by another person and that negates ‘very considerable’ difficulty, a badge would not help the applicant.’ (Section 4.64) and;
    • the final decision on eligibility is for the council to make, drawing on the information provided, and where applicable, the views of an expert assessor.

What happened

  1. Ms X made an application for a Blue Badge on her son’s behalf in April 2021. Z’s application was refused by the Council and refused again after an appeal.
  2. Z has several conditions and disabilities which Ms X says make walking near roads, groups of people and cars difficult and risky for him. This is because he struggles to perceive danger, becomes overwhelmed easily and tends to run and not respond to communication.
  3. Z receives Personal Independence Payment (PIP). How much PIP a person receives is based on how many points they score during an assessment. Points are awarded according to the amount of difficulty the person experiences with various mobility and daily living tasks.
  4. Ms X’s son had been awarded the higher rate for both daily living and mobility needs. If an applicant received this rate of PIP, as well as 10 points under the descriptor for ‘planning and following journeys’, they would be automatically entitled to a Blue Badge. Z did not score the 10 points required under this descriptor to be automatically eligible.
  5. As such, the Council considered whether his application was ‘eligible subject to further assessment’. When making that decision it looked at the evidence provided by Ms X and sought evidence itself from third parties. This consisted of a letter from Z’s GP, a letter from his specialist ski instructor, a copy of a medication letter from his Consultant and his Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHC Plan).
  6. Z’s EHC Plan included contributions from his Educational Psychologist, his Consultant Paediatrician and an autism assessment service.
  7. The Council uses a points-based system to assess eligibility for Blue Badges. After reviewing the evidence, the independent assessor scored Z two points less than the amount needed for a Blue Badge. This meant he did not qualify for one.
  8. In response to our enquiries, the independent assessment service said, “From the evidence provided [Z] is always accompanied when he goes out to keep him safe and there is no evidence to indicate that this is not an appropriate coping strategy, as outlined in the assessment guidance”.
  9. Ms X said as Z is getting older and stronger, her holding his hand to try and keep him and others safe when out and about, is no longer an appropriate coping strategy.

My findings

  1. It is not for the Ombudsman to say whether Z is entitled to a Blue Badge, as the Ombudsman is not an appeal body. Instead we look at the processes the council followed to make its decision. If we consider it followed those processes correctly, we cannot question whether the decision was right or wrong, regardless of whether you disagree with the decision made.
  2. The Council assessed against criteria specifically for non-visible disabilities. It took the evidence submitted by Ms X into account and considered whether the current coping strategies negated the need for a Blue Badge. It concluded Z was not eligible for a Blue Badge and while its decision differed from recommendations made by the applicant’s GP, this is permitted under the guidance. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.
  3. Ms X said holding her son’s hand was no longer a suitable coping strategy and this was becoming more difficult for her as he got older. It is open to Ms X to submit a new application for the Council’s consideration in the future.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and have not found fault with the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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