I know that many disabled residents in rely on the availability of disabled parking spaces.
I know that many disabled residents in rely on the availability of disabled parking spaces for their independence. It is important that those spaces are not abused. Brighton and Hove Independent is to be commended for raising the important issue of blue badge fraud.
The most recent city council report found that 79 people were using badges belonging to people who had died, demonstrating the problem in our city very clearly. The Audit Commission estimates one in five badges is abused.
I have long been aware of the problems for genuinely disabled people caused by the fraudulent use of blue badges. That is why in 2012 I introduced to parliament my Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges Bill to tackle this problem.
My bill was a private member's bill and - thanks to the cross-party support I received -I was able to steer my bill onto the statute book. My Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges Act passed into law and came into effect late last year.
The powers in the act give local authorities the ability to undertake more effective enforcement activity. Making enforcement easier for local authorities should encourage enforcement and improve operational efficiency.
The substantial financial value of a badge provides an incentive to commit fraud and abuse the scheme. This deprives disabled people of parking spaces and the National Fraud Authority estimate it to be costing local authorities up to £46 million a year in lost parking revenue.
The changes will improve the credibility of the scheme and result in the greater availability of parking spaces, protecting the scheme for genuine badge-holders who have the most need.
The Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges Act contains a number of specific measures to resolve the problems, including:
providing local authorities with a power to cancel badges that have become lost or stolen, or which are no longer in the holder’s possession;
extending local authority inspection powers to officers in plain clothes;
enabling local authorities to recover badges that have been cancelled, have expired, are misused by a third party, or are fake;
removing ambiguity from existing blue badge misuse offences so that it is clear that it is an offence to use a badge that should have been returned to the issuing authority;
extending eligibility for a badge to Armed Forces personnel and their families resident overseas on UK bases who meet the qualifying criteria for a badge.
It is great news that the government, through the Department for Communities and Local Government, has now also awarded the city council £183,000 of funding to help enforce laws aimed at ensuring there are enough disabled parking spaces for those who genuinely need them. This will help make a real difference for disabled residents.
The investment will fund two blue badge fraud investigation officers operating across East Sussex and Brighton and Hove as well as tracking down people who are misusing the badges by working with East Sussex County Council and Sussex Police. The two councils are both providing additional funding of £30,000.
I believe that this targeted action will really help improve the situation for the genuinely disabled residents across Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven, who are too often deprived of parking spaces as a result of blue badge fraud.
I will be keeping a close eye on this issue, which is very close to my heart.
Simon Kirby is Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown.