Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
The Blue Badge Scheme has a vital role to play in enabling blind or disabled people to travel independently, either as a driver or a passenger, by providing for parking near where they need to go.
Given the Scheme’s importance, I have been concerned by some of the experiences that have been reported to me by members of the public and by Assembly Members about the way that the Scheme is being implemented.
It is also clear that there are questions about whether the eligibility criteria for the Scheme covers a sufficiently broad range of conditions.
For example, people with cognitive impairments and their carers can face enormous barriers when travelling because a wide range of everyday stimuli can impact on behaviour. In some cases this results in the person putting themselves in danger and also the people around them.
The Welsh Government made regulations this year to allow people to have a Blue Badge if they receive Personal Independence Payment (PIP) at the highest rate because of the difficulties they face planning and following any journeys. This includes people with cognitive and sensory impairments. In fact Wales has led the way enabling people with cognitive impairments to be issued with a Blue Badge.
However, PIP is limited to people of working age and I recognise the importance of equal access. People of all ages, who are unable to plan or follow a journey should be able to access the Blue Badge Scheme.
To explore all these issues in more detail, I asked Robert Lloyd Griffiths, Director Wales - Institute of Directors and Autism Employment Ambassador for Wales, to lead a group of experts to review the Blue Badge scheme in Wales, with a particular focus on considering eligibility criteria for people with cognitive impairments. In addition, my Department gathered information on user experience of the Blue Badge Scheme through engagement with access groups and organisations that represent disabled people.
From this work, there is no doubt that there is good practice by local authorities but it is also clear that this is not consistent across Wales and that some people are not receiving the level of service they have a right to expect.
Robert Lloyd-Griffiths’ Review Group thoroughly explored the complex area of designing eligibility criteria for people with a cognitive impairment and I am delighted to say that, in a very short time, they have identified an innovative solution to identifying need and assessing eligibility.
The Review Group also addressed a number of issues about the wider implementation of the Blue Badge Scheme, ways in which administrative processes could be improved and the need to appropriately tackle abuse of the Scheme. I have considered the report and I am determined to implement its recommendations.
I therefore intend amending legislation at the earliest opportunity to include people who are unable to travel safely, who are not eligible for PIP as a result of their age, so that they are eligible for the scheme.
I have instructed my officials to review the current application and assessment processes to develop consistent and robust guidance, decision-making toolkit and standardised application forms. These will be tested with local authorities this autumn.
To ensure that applications under the new criteria are properly assessed, I am working with the Minister for Health and Social Services to explore the appointment of Blue Badge Ambassadors who would sit within the Local Health Boards and would deal with certain applications.
I recognise that some current badge holders may be worried about the pressure on available parking spaces that more badges will create. I have instructed that work to improve enforcement action against abuse and misuse of the scheme is prioritised alongside extending eligibility.
The sum of these actions will mean a Blue Badge Scheme in Wales that identifies those people who should have access to these important parking concessions and a scheme that delivers more in Wales than is provided in the rest of the UK.
The Review Group’s Report has been placed on the Welsh Government website.