Council expects to lose cash from parking charges when blue badge rules change

Parking rules are set to change. Picture: MARK ATHERTON

Parking rules are set to change. Picture: MARK ATHERTON - Credit: Archant

The biggest shake-up of disabled parking in 50 years means North Somerset Council is venturing into ‘unknown territory’ over distributing permits and preventing the system being abused.

Officers are braced for a big increase in applications for blue badges - and claims of fraud - after the Government expanded the eligibility criteria to include 'hidden' disabilities.

The rules will come into force from August 31 and could hit the council's finances as it will cost more to run and allow more drivers to park for free.

Cllr Mark Crosby, speaking at council's adult services and housing policy and scrutiny panel meeting, said: "It's not possible to estimate the costs.

"To some extent we are going into unknown territory."

He said the issue will affect everyone and needs to be considered by other bodies as well. Suggestions from other members included Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and the council's panel for children and young people.

The blue badge scheme was introduced in 1971 but changes will allow people diagnosed with other disabilities, such as autism and dementia, to benefit.

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Sarah Shaw, the council's service leader for adults' support and safeguarding, said: "The challenges will be the sheer demand, the increased cost and the need to develop processes. I don't believe there's any additional funding to create additional disabled parking.

"There may be a challenge from the public on hidden disabilities.

"We will need a clear approach to fraud - we need confidence from residents on that issue.

"There have been cases where people have been challenged because they don't have an apparent disability.

"We need to build trust we are issuing blue badges in accordance with the guidance and the law."

There are 12,235 blue badges in use across North Somerset.

The council expects a 10 per cent increase in misuse of blue badges after the changes. Last year it seized around 120 and prosecuted 30 people.

The council expects the number of applications it receives to increase by 49 per cent, and the number issued by 27 per cent.

Blue badge holders can often park for free therefore a drop in parking revenue is likely.