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Retailers and car park operators need to protect Blue Badge bays

The annual Baywatch survey reveals alarming levels of disabled parking abuse, reports DMUK’s Graham Footer

Graham Footer
13 November 2020


Having the ability to drive to and park at their desired destination is crucial to ensuring the independence of disabled people. Sadly, too many disabled people are being disadvantaged and prevented from living independent lives because of the state of the nation’s disabled parking provision and enforcement.

The results of the annual Disabled Motoring UK Baywatch survey should be a wake-up call that the retail, local authority and parking sectors, making them realise that more needs to be done to make adequate provision for disabled motorists and make sure this provision is enforced.

The survey
During August Disabled Motoring UK (DMUK) asked the public to help with our annual Baywatch campaign by completing a survey on their parking experiences over the past 12 months. The results have now been calculated. This year we had the biggest number of responses that we have ever seen, which goes to show how important the problem of disabled parking abuse remains. The total number of responses was 777.

Traditionally, the Baywatch Campaign asks the public to survey supermarket car parks for levels of disabled parking abuse. We were unable to undertake this type of campaign in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, we asked the public to complete a survey from home that asked them questions on their more general parking experiences. This allowed DMUK to expand the scope of the campaign to other parking settings.

Local authorities
One of the most alarming statistics that came from the survey results was that 95.6% of participants did not think that local authorities were doing enough to tackle Blue Badge abuse. This is a very high percentage, but not at all surprising to DMUK.

Every year the Blue Badge statistics are released, and every year the number of local authorities actually prosecuting Blue Badge fraud is disappointingly low.

The Baywatch Campaign also showed that only 20.8% of Blue Badge holders had ever been asked to have their Blue Badge inspected by an official and that 96.4% of participants supported more inspections of Blue Badges.

The disabled community has spoken, and local authorities must do more to support their parking needs. DMUK wants to see far more Blue Badge inspections and enforcement of the on-street concession.

Supermarket parking
With the data gathered we cannot produce our usual supermarket league table of who is performing best and worst. However, the results have shown that 53.4% of participants either find it ‘Difficult’ or ‘Very difficult’ to find suitable disabled parking in general at supermarkets.

Also, 86.8% found that disabled parking bays were either ‘Often’ or ‘Very often’ abused. ('Abused' is defined as vehicles parking in disabled bays not displaying a Blue Badge.)

These statistics show that supermarkets are not doing enough to support their disabled customers. Disabled parking is not managed properly, disabled parking bays are clearly not enforced, and abuse of the bays is rife.

Looking specifically at enforcement DMUK asked the question: When parking at the supermarket do you ever see signs of enforcement? In response to this 55.1% of respondents said No.

The next question asked was: If you have reported disabled parking abuse to a member of staff do they take action? 86.7% of respondents answered ‘No’ to this question. This is distressing and shows that when a disabled customer asks for help their concerns are ignored by supermarket staff.

General findings
The survey also asked participants about parking on their everyday journeys, not just at the supermarkets. On these types of journeys 74.8% of respondents said that finding suitable disabled parking was either ‘Difficult’ or ‘Very difficult’. Also, generally when parking 87.7% of respondents said that they ‘Often’ or ‘Very often’ saw disabled bays being abused.

These statistics are appalling and clearly indicate that the parking industry needs to once and for all provide adequate parking provision to disabled motorists and make sure it is enforced correctly. The level of deterrent needs to reflect the importance of keeping disabled bays free for genuine users and at present the deterrent clearly is not enough.

Impact of the coronavirus pandemic
Earlier in the summer, DMUK started to receive anecdotal evidence that disabled bays were being removed from car parks to make room for socially distanced queuing. As lockdown restrictions eased this became a more common problem. We posed the question in our survey: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic have you seen disabled bays being removed (e.g. for queuing)?

Some 65.8% of respondents answered ‘Yes’ to this question. Once again the needs of disabled people have been pushed to the back of the queue and equality has been forgotten.

Support for better enforcement
The DMUK Baywatch 2020 Campaign had two main sponsors, the British Parking Association (BPA) and BBFi Public Sector Investigations.

Dave Smith, head of public affairs and communications at the BPA, said: “The results of this year’s survey show that more must be done to tackle the abuse of disabled parking bays and the public’s attitudes towards disabled and accessible parking generally needs to change. The parking sector has a clear role to play in ensuring that parking spaces reserved for Blue Badge holders are managed properly so that they are not obstructed and used only by people displaying a valid disabled Blue Badge. We encourage all those who manage parking to properly enforce their disabled bays so that only genuine Blue badge holders can park there.”

Paul Slowey, director of BBFi, said: “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which introduced disability parking permits, the scheme is clearly still not enforced – only 1-in-5 people have had a badge checked. This shows a shocking disregard for protecting the rights of disabled motorists by local authorities who, 95% of disabled drivers say, are not doing enough. Where the few that have chosen to protect the rights of disabled motorists and enforce the scheme, compliance with the law is very high. The reality is that enforcing the scheme works.”

How to help DMUK Baywatch 2021
DMUK has launched a fundraising initiative called the Baywatch Appeal to help it continue campaigning on the issue of disabled parking abuse. The appeal will help the charity raise funds to keep advocating the need for proper management of disabled parking bays.

Graham Footer is chief executive of Disabled Motoring UK

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