People with hidden disabilities will soon be able to access Blue Badge parking permits.
For drivers or passengers with dementia, anxiety disorders or reduced mobility, the anticipation of travel difficulties such as finding a parking space can build on top of the stress of the journey itself.
Minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson said: “It’s unacceptable that people with hidden disabilities still face discrimination when using disabled facilities like parking spaces.”
“Extending the Blue Badge scheme is a watershed moment in ensuring those with hidden disabilities are able to travel with greater ease and live more independent lives.
To help councils with the expected increase in applications, the department has agreed with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide £1.7 million in the first year of the programme.
The Department for Transport has been working with specialists to expand the eligibility criteria for the badges, which will now include people who cannot walk as part of a journey without considerable psychological distress or the risk of serious harm.
Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “The changes will make a huge difference to thousands of autistic people and their families across England – helping them to go out in the way many others take for granted.
“Just leaving the house is incredibly difficult for many autistic people – and involves detailed preparation. Some autistic people have no concept of the dangers of the road while others are so anxious about plans going wrong, like not being able to find a parking space, that they don’t go out at all. Having a Blue Badge will be life-changing and help many to reduce loneliness and isolation.”
The expanded scheme coincides with the launch of a new task force to toughen up enforcement and help councils tackle fraudulent use of the badges.
At the end of 2018, the Local Government Association estimated that the theft of Blue Badges had risen by 45% in 12 months and increased six-fold since 2013.
A task group will be set up with key organisations to gather ideas and evidence on how to improve the consistency of council enforcement to tackle fraud and misuse.
The review will also look at ensuring that there is greater public awareness of which groups are eligible for a badge, when it can and cannot be used, and how to surrender the badge when it is no longer needed, for example if the badge holder dies.
While the new criteria will give clear and consistent guidelines on Blue Badge eligibility for the whole of England, not everyone with non-physical disabilities will qualify for a badge. It will be up to the relevant local authority to decide if an applicant meets the eligibility criteria, as is currently the case.