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Assembly cracking down on disabled-badge abuse.

Byline: Sally Williams

MOTORISTS who abuse the Blue Badge disabled parking scheme were today warned they face an Assembly Government crackdown.

The move follows fears of widespread misuse of the badges, which aim to provide convenient parking and free Severn crossings for people with disabilities.

Transport Minister and Deputy Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones announced moves to target abuses in Wales as part of wide-ranging plans to improve the scheme.

As well as working with partners such as the British Retail Consortium to target parking abuses in private car parks, the action plan will look at extending the scheme to families of children under three with disabilities.

Mr Jones said: "The blue badge scheme has been going for nearly 40 years and has helped registered blind or severely disabled people to park close to the facilities and services they need.

"But we now feel it is time to completely re-look at the scheme to ensure it is fit for purpose, which is why we commissioned the wide ranging consultation on which this action plan is based.

"This plan sets out how we will work with partners to develop a scheme that will meet the future needs of the people of Wales by improving equality of opportunity and access for the most severely disabled people.

"We need to ensure that the people who are most in need of a Blue Badge are able to access the service quickly and efficiently, and we make best use of modern technology to reduce the abuse of the Blue Badge Scheme."

Under the plan, abuses of the scheme would be reduced by establishing a system of data sharing between local authorities, improving badge security features and looking at the possibility of civil enforcement officers being able to seize Blue Badges being used unlawfully.

In 2008, it was revealed that four Welsh local authorities had received complaints from Severn River Crossing - the company that operates the Severn Bridge and Second Severn Crossing - about badges being fraudulently used, for example by friends or relatives of genuine badgeholders or by motorists whose conditions have improved.

Statistics from the same year showed that almost one in 12 of the Welsh population had been issued with a blue badge, with Neath Port Talbot reporting a figure as high as one in nine.

Nationally, the number of badges handed to disabled drivers has rocketed from 72,474 in 1987 to 178,176 in 2000 and almost 227,000 in 2008, according to statistics published by the Local Government Data Unit in Wales. The action plan unveiled today details how the Assembly Government will work with local authorities to streamline the application and administration process and improve systems to tackle abuse of the scheme, which was introduced in Wales in 1971.

Mr Jones said priority will be given to extending the scheme to children under the age of three with specific medical conditions, as well as to people with severe congenital disabilities in both arms and those who find it difficult to use parking equipment after major traumas, strokes or waiting for joint replacements.

He added: "We will work closely with local authorities, disability groups and other key stakeholders.

We are also liaising with UK Government and other devolved administrations to ensure that a cohesive scheme is developed across the UK."

CAPTION(S):

FRAUD: Some of Wales' quarter-million disabled badge-holders are misusing them, it is being alleged
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 11, 2010
Words:564
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