Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities
The Welsh Government is making good progress with its plans to modernise the Blue Badge Scheme in Wales to promote independent mobility, social inclusion, equality of opportunity and access for disabled people who meet the eligibility criteria. I would like to update you on some of these recent developments.
Regulations came into force on 1st August 2011 which extended eligibility to children under
the age of three who must be accompanied by bulky medical equipment or may need
access to vehicles for emergency hospital treatment. At the same time we extended the Scheme to severely injured war veterans who fall within tariffs 1 – 8 of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.
One of the key areas for modernising the scheme is the provision of a more secure badge and the development of a data sharing system. The Welsh Government is working closely with the Scottish and UK Government to develop a GB wide data sharing system which will deliver this aim. A contract has been awarded by the Department for Transport to Northgate Information Solutions, in partnership with Payne Security who will print and supply the new badge design. This is known as the Blue Badge Improvement Service or BBIS.
The BBIS will be available to all Local Authorities in Wales, England and Scotland. The core BBIS will provide:
- secure printing, personalisation and distribution of the new Blue Badge design;
- a central database of all Blue Badges on issue and key information on badge holders;
- an on-line eligibility checker and an on-line application form that will be available via Directgov, Local Authorities’ own websites and other suitable interfaces;
- an initial enquiry support service; and
- managed service administration and support.
One of the most significant changes we are making as part of the BBIS is to the design of the Blue Badge itself so that it is harder to copy, forge and alter. The new badge will be made of PVC and includes elements such as complex printing patterns; a holographic feature that can’t be photocopied or scanned; use of security inks that are only available from a restricted list of providers; raised features and Braille; and, a digital photograph. Using a single supplier for the badges has several benefits. As well as improving security in the distribution, supply and storage of badge:
- we can make use of a common numbering system, enabling more effective control of badges that are reported as lost or stolen;
- we can maximise economies of scale and introduce sophisticated anti-fraud features at the lowest cost;
- we can respond quickly by changing, for example, some of the colour features should fakes or copies start being produced;
- the quality and durability of badges can be improved so that they are legible and resistant to fading in the sun.
A public consultation exercise was conducted between 8 August and 31 October 2011 and covered a number of issues: the Blue Badge fee, assessment procedures and enforcement.
In the Programme for Government we have made a commitment to reduce poverty amongst some of our poorest people and communities. The Equality Impact Assessment produced for the Blue Badge reforms states that disabled people in Wales are almost twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in low income households, and they face extra costs related to managing their impairments, which could push individuals further into poverty. In recognition of the fact that we need to support the most vulnerable groups in society, I am looking at ways to support the cost of the Blue Badge Scheme. As a result I have decided not to impose a fee on Blue Badge users. To do this I am reviewing spending and looking for efficiencies in all areas – for example I am currently consulting on options that may deliver efficiencies in the way in which we publicise traffic orders. Organisational badges and certain kinds of replacement badges will incur a fee for the applicant. The Welsh Government will provide funding for Local Authorities which will cover the increased cost of the badge. This is in contrast to England and Scotland, where local authorities may charge up to £10 and £20 respectively for a blue badge.
I will shortly be publishing the summary of consultation responses which also sets out our plans for taking forward good practice on the assessment of eligibility for the Scheme and to give Local Authorities the power to improve enforcement and reduce misuse.
Finally, I am also looking at the evidence to extend eligibility to certain categories of people who have cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s or autism. Further research is being undertaken to establish threshold and assessment techniques, and a consultation will be undertaken prior to any policy decision being taken.
In taking the whole of this work forward the Welsh Government is looking at the ways in which Local Authorities can develop collaborative working practices in delivering the Scheme.