3.1 To ensure that the Blue Badge Scheme stays fit for purpose in the 21 st century the consultation proposed several changes to the eligibility criteria to make it easier to assess for those who have to be assessed and to extend the criteria to others that would benefit from a Blue Badge, who are currently excluded.
3.2 The first question that consultees were asked was - " Do you agree that we should amend the definition of ' unable to walk or has considerable difficulty walking' so that it is consistent with that used for the Higher Rate of the Mobility Component of the Disability Living Allowance Assessments?". In response to the question, 505 responses were received, 416 from individuals (305 in favour), and 90 from organisations (62 in favour). The overall response to this proposal was positive with 367 consultees in favour, 124 against and 14 not indicating a clear preference for or against the proposal.
3.3 Consultees were invited to explain why they disagreed with the proposals. A recurrent concern was that the phrase " unable to walk or has considerable difficulty walking" used for the assessment of the Higher Rate of the Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance ( HRMCDLA) relates to physical disability and precludes those who are mobility impaired due to conditions which are not primarily physical. One individual respondent commented:
" Many problems make mobility difficult. Age and its problems, chronic conditions and a whole range of difficulties may make the walk across a supermarket or hospital car park impossible."
3.4 Some consultees were concerned that applicants with heart disease, Parkinson's disease, mental health conditions, and Cystic Fibrosis would no longer be eligible, when in fact unless they receive HRMCDLA or are unable to walk they are not eligible under the current legislation. Other reasons that were given for opposing this proposal were that local authorities should have discretion in awarding blue badges and that the:
" criteria could be seen as a barrier to those who should claim but are put off by the wording' (organisation)."
3.5 Many of the respondents who opposed the proposal explained that they were satisfied with the current definition of ' has considerable difficulty walking".
3.6 There was a positive response to the question " Do you agree that we should extend eligibility to severely disabled service personnel and war veterans?". Four hundred and seventeen individuals and 87 organisations responded, making a total of 504 responses. Strong agreement with the proposal was expressed with 446 respondents in favour, 34 against and 24 undecided. There was little variation in the individual and organisational response, with individuals expressing a marginally stronger preference for the proposal with 371 in favour compared with 75 organisational consultees.
3.7 Despite the strong response expressed in favour of the proposal it is necessary to understand the reasons why some consultees opposed it. The near universal reason given for disagreeing with the proposal relates to equity. The majority of respondents who were against the proposal thought that the criteria should be the same for all people with disabilities regardless of the cause of disability. One individual responded that:
" Being disabled in active service should not be a good enough reason to meet the rules for getting the Higher Rate of the Mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance."
3.8 There were also questions about extending the eligibility to other professional groups. One disability organisation replied that it:
"w elcomes measures to include veterans injured after 2005 [Measures] could be extended to members of civilian forces injured or who became disabled (Police, Fire and Ambulance Services)."
3.9 The final question that was asked as part of the eligibility section of the consultation document was ' Do you agree that we should extend eligibility for those with severe forms of autistic spectrum disorder and very advanced forms of dementia?' The response to this question came from 411 individuals and 89 organisations. Three hundred and seventy eight respondents agreed with this proposal; 83 were against and 39 were undecided.
3.10 This proposal proved to be relatively more popular with organisations than individuals. The number of individuals in favour of the proposal was 305 whereas the number of organisations in favour of the proposal was 73.
3.11 The proposal was widely supported but there were a variety of reasons why some respondents were not in favour. One of the reasons most commonly given was the perception that autism and dementia are not illnesses which affect ability to walk and if the individuals concerned are unable to walk then this would be picked up in a general Blue Badge or disability living allowance assessment. Another reason given was that people with autism and dementia would be accompanied by carers and, as they are able to walk, would not require a badge.
3.12 A different common concern with the proposal was that the scheme is already overprescribed and it would become more difficult to find designated parking spaces. One individual respondent commented:
" I feel we already have a huge number of badges being issued, within a limited number of disabled spaces. I feel to open it up to this group would vastly increase the number of service users and therefore make it even more difficult for service users to find vacant spaces."
3.13 Related to the concern over a possible reduced number of spaces was the potential for abuse by relatives of individuals with autism or dementia who would be eligible for the scheme.
3.14 One individual respondent agreed with the proposal in principle but added:
" I think most of the abuse of [blue] badges is carried out by relatives of older people. The family apply for the badge and use it themselves."
3.15 Conversely, a disability organisation welcomed the steps proposed but raised concerns about the wording ' severe forms of autistic spectrum disorder' because ' severe has no medical meaning in relation to autism'.
3.16 The organisation recommends that:
" guidance emphasises that people with autism may be eligible for a Blue Badge according to their needs without reference to 'severe'."