Page last updated at 01:24 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Blue badge fee 'set to increase'

By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of a blue badge
The government is urged to set a cap on the cost of blue badges

The government has been accused of deceiving disabled people by allowing the cost of blue badges to rise.

Under the terms of Blue Badge Strategy for England, councils will no longer be restricted to the 2 fee for issuing permits.

Shadow disability minister Mark Harper said the government itself had predicted the cost could rise to more than 20.

The government said the current charge does not cover administration costs.

Mr Harper said: "The government is attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of disabled people."

He predicted that an increase in the cost of a blue badge was almost inevitable, given that the government recently widened the eligibility criteria to include, for example, people who have difficulty using parking meters, ticket machines and automatic barriers in car parks.

'Unfair'

The Conservatives say there is survey evidence to suggest that the majority of badge holders think it would be unfair to charge more than 10.

"By opening the door for higher application fees, the government is placing a further burden on disabled people which will inevitably hit those on low incomes the hardest, " said Mr Harper.

The strategy for England, which was published in October, predicts that if badges are issued on a cost-recovery basis, the fee could increase to between 8.15 and 20.33.

The average would be almost 14.50.

Blue badge parking
The government says the current fee for the permits is not enough

Mobilise - the organisation that represents disabled drivers - strongly opposed any increase.

"We have already heard of some councils planning on charging 30," said the organisation's policy and campaigns director, Helen Smith.

"We believe this is a tax on disability."

The charity fears that if the cost becomes too high, it will discourage people who need a badge from applying for one.

It urged the government to set a limit on what can be charged.

In a statement, the Department for Transport (DfT) described the Blue Badge scheme as "a lifeline" for the two million plus people who use it.

"We recently announced a 55m strategy that will radically overhaul this scheme - making it fit for purpose in the 21st Century."

The DfT said that the current cost of a badge has been fixed since the early 1980s.

A spokesman said: "Local authorities will, of course, still have to make sure that disabled people can get to their local shops and services, and any change in the fee level will have to be proportionate to costs."

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