Blue badge thefts soar
Some 2,921 blue badges were reported stolen in England in 2016/17.
Thefts of parking permits for disabled motorists have quadrupled in the past four years, new figures show.
Some 2,921 blue badges were reported stolen in England in 2016/17, compared with 656 in 2012/13, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).
The latest annual figure represents a year-on-year rise of 14%.
Around 2.4 million disabled people in England have a blue badge.
The badges allow holders to park free of charge in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines, while in London they exempt holders from having to pay the congestion charge.
Martin Tett, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, representing councils, described the increase in thefts as “alarming”.
Blue badges are a vital lifeline that help disabled people get out and about Local Government Association
He said: “For disabled people, blue badges are a vital lifeline that helps them get out and about to visit shops or family and friends.
“Callous thieves and unscrupulous fraudsters using them illegally are robbing disabled people of this independence.”
Councils in England took legal action against 1,131 motorists for blue badge misuse in 2016/17, up by a quarter on the previous 12 months.
Almost all cases (98%) involved drivers using someone else’s blue badge.
But the actual number of people misusing the scheme could be much higher as two out of five councils (44%) said they do not have a policy of launching prosecutions in relation to the issue.
Richard Lane, head of communications at disability charity Scope, said: “It’s appalling that people are stealing blue badges, which are a vital lifeline for those who genuinely need them.
“Many disabled people rely on their blue badge to live independently, be part of the local community and contribute to their local economy.
“The police and councils need to ensure they are serving their disabled residents by cracking down on this abuse.”
Mr Tett said: “Despite limited resources, councils continue to work hard to crackdown on this growing crime.
“More blue badge fraudsters than ever are being brought to justice by councils who will come down hard on drivers illegally using them.
“To help councils win the fight against blue badge fraud, residents must keep tipping us off about people they suspect are illegally using a badge, bearing in mind people’s need for a badge might not be obvious.”
Last month the DfT announced plans to make people with hidden disabilities entitled to blue badges.
The Government said the move would help create parity in the treatment of physical and mental health.
The DfT said councils have different interpretations of existing rules with only some recognising hidden disabilities.
The new policy is designed to provide “clear and consistent” guidelines.
The changes being put to an eight-week public consultation also include blue badge assessments being carried out by a greater variety of healthcare professionals who can spot if mental health is causing mobility issues.