Blue Badge Update (from Office of the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales)
The new guidelines are stricter and are being interpreted differently by Local Authorities, it has been suggested that a postcode lottery now exists. Two Councils have decided to discard the Welsh Government guidelines and toolkit, and as a result fewer Blue Badge renewals are being rejected.
The key issue for older people is that there is no mobility component to older people’s entitlements such as Attendance Allowance, unlike entitlements for younger people such as Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments. Without this component, it is harder for older people to renew their Blue Badges, and the Commissioner is therefore concerned that the new guidelines are having a disproportionate effect on older people. Furthermore, although GP letters are no longer sufficient to support a renewal, some GPs are charging £50 for a letter. The guidelines were designed to prevent fraud and misuse of the system, but have now gone so far that people with genuine disabilities are having their Blue Badge renewals turned down.
A meeting was held with the Welsh Government’s Task and Finish Group in mid-June. The Group were very receptive to the Commissioner’s concerns, and we are now waiting for their recommendations to the Minister. The presentation to the Group included helpful case studies from Caerphilly 50+ Forum and from Flintshire and Pembrokeshire. Key points included the following:
- Since the introduction of Changes to the Eligibility Criteria (2013), Local Authority Verification Toolkit (July 2014), and Guidance to Local Authorities (January 2015), the nature of enquiries received by the Commissioner’s Casework Team has changed, with more older people asking for help following renewal rejections
- By moving towards a desktop assessment, it appears that fewer people who were previously eligible for a badge are now entitled (LAs reporting 46-50% refusal rate)
- With older people more likely to be disadvantaged and have to provide further evidence of need, there is an argument that the Scheme discriminates on the basis of age
- Older people say they’re not given clear information on precisely how they need to evidence their need and what information to provide
- Mr F: tried to renew his badge but could not find an original copy of his entitlement to War Pension. Had other documentation to show he was in receipt but LA would only accept original
- Ms W: Unsure what medical evidence she needed to provide. Unable to provide GP letter: no longer accepted, no time. Some GPs however charging up to £50 for letters of support
- Local Advocacy provider concerned that a number of people with a genuine need were having their applications declined & no right of appeal once application was declined
- Mr S’ renewal was declined. Believed guidance was discriminatory as there were no mobility components to the entitlements he received. Under 65 with PIP different?
- Ms T’ renewal declined on medical grounds. Health issues not examined holistically, accumulative impact meant a BB was a necessity
- Under Discretionary Criteria, older people’s entitlements (e.g. Attendance Allowance) do not have a mobility component to them (unlike PIP, DLA). Older people are more likely to be disadvantaged, discrimination on the grounds of age. An older person could have same condition as someone receiving higher rate of DLA (Automatic Criteria), but would not automatically qualify for the Blue Badge
- Lack of clarity on how to evidence need, what information to provide, and how to challenge/appeal decisions. Limit on number of appeals taken forward
- Lack of consistency: Local Authorities interpreting the Toolkit differently. Postcode lottery: stricter Local Authorities?
- Two Local Authorities are no longer using the Toolkit; some have introduced face-to-face assessments
- Toolkit at local level differs from that at appeals level? Individual rejected at local level eligible at appeals level