A government review of the orange badge scheme for disabled drivers will consider the wide variations in how local authorities administer the scheme and tackle problems of enforcing it, DETR minister Keith Hill told MPs.
Replying to the adjournment debate, Mr Hill said the scheme was one of the most controversial issues he had to deal with as minister with responsibility for mobility issues. Everyone seemed to have a view on how the scheme should work, on who should have a badge and who should not. In arguing about the detail, too often the purpose of the scheme was forgotten - to enable severely disabled people to be independently mobile.
Eligibility, in principle, was fairly tightly controlled. Despite that, there had been a dramatic rise in the number of badges issued over the past 10 years, from 929,000 to 1.7 million. That bore no relation to the proportion of the population who were disabled nor the increase of cars over that period.
'The majority of local authorities operate the scheme through their social services departments, while others use their highways department. The number of badges issued in different authorities also varies much more widely than demographic or geographical factors could explain', said Mr Hill.
'It is important to examine how local authorities run the scheme and whether there are any alternative ways in which it might be administered'.
He said resources would always be an issue in enforcement, and police and local authorities should be given 'the best possible tools'. Under the existing system, enforcement officers can issue penalty charge notices to non-disabled people who parked in disabled spaces designated by a local authority order or give a fixed penalty notice to offenders at on-street parking places. Police or council could even decide to prosecute - but those powers applied only to on-street parking. In private car parks, it was for operators to safeguard the use of ornage badge spaces.
Andrew Rowe, Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid-Kent, who initiated the debate, said the law did not allow the police or local authority parking attendants to insist on being shown the details of the orange badge.
He added: 'That is absurd. We provide disabled people with a special privilege, but anyone who abuses it can refuse to show the badge. That is clearly a failure of the law'.
Mr Rowe said legislation was urgently needed to give necessary powers of enforcment of the scheme.