The government has announced that people who have an “invisible” disability are now able to apply for a blue badge parking permit.
The new guidance issued by the Department for Transport (DfT) says that people with conditions such as autism, dementia or anxiety could be eligible for a badge, which allows holders to park in designated spaces in car parks.
Local authorities will still however have the final say on who does and does not qualify for a badge, beginning on 30 August.
About 2.35 million blue badges have been issued in the UK, but the DfT does not know how many more people will qualify under the new rules.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told Sky News: “We’ve had a blue badge scheme in this country for a long time but what we’ve never done is make disabled parking spaces and facilities around the blue badge scheme available to people with hidden disabilities.
“We’re much too focused on people whose disabilities are very viable and very practical, but if you’re the parent of a child on the autistic spectrum you face big challenges as well and we need to make sure you and your family have the support we provide those with physical disabilities as well.”
Ceri Smith of disability equality charity Scope said: “This change could make a real difference for many disabled people with invisible impairments and conditions who have been shut out of the blue badge scheme to date.
“But in order for it to work, it’s vital that councils issue blue badges to people who are newly eligible to apply.
“More also needs to be done to ensure that there are enough allocated blue badge spaces near shops and amenities to meet increasing demand.”
The DfT has also announced it is launching a review into blue badge fraud, after the Local Government Association (LGA) estimated that theft of the permits went up by 45% last year – a six-fold increase since 2013.
Despite 1,200 more people facing legal action for blue badge misuse in 2017/18, at least 40% of local authorities in England did not have a policy on prosecutions.
The LGA said: “Despite limited resources, councils are trying to crack down on dishonest motorists by prosecuting offenders and seizing blue badges suspected of being used illegally, so it is good that the government has listened to our concerns and has committed to a review which will support councils in tackling fraudulent use.
“People can help councils win the fight against blue badge fraud, by tipping us off about people they suspect are illegally using a badge, bearing in mind this new eligibility and that people’s need for a badge might not be obvious.”
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