To consider the draft Blue Badges review report prepared by the Wellbeing and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Panel for submission to the Executive on 21 September 2021.
The Statutory Scrutiny Officer confirmed that the Panel had followed a good process to conduct this review.
The Chair of the Wellbeing and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Panel introduced the Blue Badges review report and outlined the reasons for the review, which included an Ombudsman investigation; residents’ complaints about the blue badge application process and a press report which found Bracknell Forest Council was in the lowest 10% of local authorities (of those that responded) for blue badge applications submissions.
During the review Panel members found:
· Bracknell Forest was the third highest for non-visible disability applications. It was concluded this did not mean there was a greater need than in other local authorities, but it appeared expectations had been increased.
· Panel members found several areas of good practice.
· An internal, wide-reaching review was currently being undertaken by the team in charge of blue badge applications and the findings from this review would feed into that process.
· Refusal decisions letters could be clearer.
· Resident’s expectations could be better managed.
· Understanding complex conditions was key as disabilities changed over time.
Members scrutinised the review report. Arising from the discussion the following points were made:
· Non-visual disability was a term defined in statutory legislation.
· Residents had the right of appeal and a review of the process had been undertaken.
· Most local authorities used the same application form as Bracknell Forest Council, but some local authorities had devised their own form to capture local factors too.
· Panel members received representations during the review about the need for improved communications and concluded local guidance about applying for a blue badge would be helpful as national guidance was open to interpretation. It was also noted the local MP had written to the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work asking for a review of the guidance.
· More than 90 local authorities responded to a press enquiry about blue badge applications. This information was used to grade Bracknell Forest Council in the bottom 10% of Councils for approving blue badge applications. The statistic was based on the variation of applications between non-visual disabilities and visual disabilities so, while it appeared the distinction was not happening in Bracknell Forest the report did not compare on demographics or other differences.
· This review had helped to dispel potential reputational damage.
· Members acknowledged the review provided a greater depth of information than before but queried if people with disabilities and carers still required a lot of support to complete applications and what support was available locally. It was noted members had been mindful of that issue during the review and had received contrasting evidence from witnesses, as some found the application process easy, while others did not. The review concluded help was needed at different levels within the application process and that the use of technology; trained customer care staff, a process for learning from mistakes and an empathetic approach would all contribute to a smoother process.
· Panel members were conscious of fraudulent claims and the team were looking at how to deal with these efficiently too.
· Voluntary sector organisations, such as The ARK, raised the issue that support around the process was crucial and said that some medical professionals reported finding the process tricky too. The recommendations included developing local guidance that encapsulated national guidance, but local nuisances too, as that should make the process smoother.
The Commission endorsed the recommendations within the Blue Badges review report for submission to the Executive on 21 September and agreed to review the implementation of these recommendations within a year.