'APPALLING' figures revealed by the News show more than half of those 'with hidden disabilities' are being denied Blue Badges

An investigation by this newspaper found many families are being refused the 'lifeline' of the disabled parking permits that could prove vital for those with autism, dementia, anxiety and other non-physical disabilities.

Bracknell News:

Families which were refused the badges told the News they have stopped going out into the community out of fear their loved ones could hurt themselves in car parks.

This comes despite Transport secretary Grant Shapps saying last year he hoped new changes to enable people with hidden disabilities to access Blue Badges would “improve even more people’s lives” after they were introduced in August 2019.

The News’ Freedom of Information request found around 42 per cent of applications for Blue Badges made on behalf of people with hidden disabilities have been approved since August 2019.


Of 119 applications approved or refused up until May 2020, 69 were thrown out and 50 were given the all-clear.

This is compared to 907 applications approved for people with non-hidden disabilities against 92 rejections — an approval rate of around 91 per cent.

Labour councillor Mary Temperton said the figures were “horrific”.

Bracknell News:

She added: “I was appalled over 50 per cent of those that are actually put forward are getting refused.

“These figures to me are quite horrific.

“It tells me as a councillor and it tells me as a human being, that it’s much more difficult for the 58 per cent and they’re rejecting far more than normal.

“If you’re physically disabled there’s not an issue. If you’ve got hidden disabilities, there is a real issue here.”

What is a Blue Badge, and why are they so important?

Access to a Blue Badge makes it easier for parents or carers of people with hidden disabilities to park nearer to where they are going.

They have been described as a “lifeline” to those who have them by Transport secretary Grant Shapps, something Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the National Autistic Society, agrees with.

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He said: “A Blue Badge is a lifeline for some autistic people and their families, helping them to get out and about in ways others take for granted and reducing social isolation.

Bracknell News:

(Grant Shapps)

“Without it, some autistic people wouldn’t be able to leave the house at all. This is more important than ever during the Coronavirus crisis.

“It’s vital that every autistic person who needs a Blue Badge can get one. But, we’re really worried about the number of autistic people we hear from whose applications are refused – just like many of the people covered by these statistics.”

How does not having a Blue Badge affect families who need them?

Mr Nicholls urged council officials to “understand autism” and the challenges autistic people face.

But one parent, who saw her son’s Blue Badge application refused, is not hopeful of this.

Pip, from Binfield, was told by the council her application was rejected as there was not enough proof her four-year-old autistic son Tim struggled frequently with his needs.

Bracknell News:

(Pip's son Tim)

The mother told the News she has needed to take Tim to A&E before but because she has no Blue Badge for him she has had to carry him down a multi-storey car park while he was having a fit.

BFC’s decision to refuse the application was “absolutely devastating” for her family, she said.

Pip added: “I'm really concerned about a culture problem overall at the council with regards to hidden disabilities.

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“The Blue Badge debate is a wider part of the fact that the council either doesn't understand hidden disability, or doesn't care.”

As part of the investigation, the News spoke to two other families who have been rocked by Blue Badge refusals.

One mother, whose application for her autistic son was refused and who did not want to be named, previously told the News her family felt “very isolated and cut off from normal society” because not having a badge meant they would often choose to stay home rather than risk an accident should her son run off in the middle of a busy car park.

Another autistic Bracknell Forest resident, 25-year-old Matthew Mullins, saw his Blue Badge application refused in January despite him having had one for the past 18 years.

Bracknell News:

(Matthew Mullins)

His parents, Sam and Dave Mullins, from Harmans Water, got a similar response from BFC in their refusal letter — that there was not “adequate evidence” indicating their son’s psychological distress hindered his ability to walk despite the family often choosing not to go out because of the difficulties they experienced.

This came despite the family submitting a report from a doctor and a clinical psychologist indicating Matthew’s need for a badge.

Speaking to the News in May, Dave Mullins claimed Matthew’s needs were so severe “it got to the point where I don’t know what sort of person with hidden disabilities qualifies for a Blue Badge.”

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Reacting to the figures obtained by the News, Sam Mullins said: “It’s more than dispiriting, we’re absolutely livid.

"I don’t think they realise the immense impact it has on families like us in the decision they’re making.

"It’s almost as if they think it [having a Blue Badge] is a convenience for us.

Bracknell News:

"It’s discrimination against people with a mental disability, I’m afraid to say. It’s blatant discrimination."

What does Bracknell Forest Council say about the figures?

Bracknell Forest Council’s assistant social care boss Melania O’Rourke explained to the News the authority makes its decisions on Blue Badges following Department for Transport guidelines, which cover both physical and hidden disabilities.

Bracknell News:

She added: “Each application is considered equally against these by healthcare professionals, who routinely apply their clinical reasoning, to ensure the evidence and insights collated are taken into account and assessed.

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“This is the case for both hidden and physical disabilities.

“We are unable to comment on individual cases, however, applicants do have the opportunity to appeal a decision, at which point the council discusses with the applicant why the evidence provided did not meet the eligibility criteria for a Blue Badge to be approved.

Bracknell News:

“If the applicant remains unhappy, they have the option to make a formal complaint following the council’s complaints procedure.”

What’s the picture like in other local authority areas?

Data collected by the News shows similar rates of Blue Badge approval in neighbouring authorities.

Wokingham Borough Council approved 47 per cent of all Blue Badge applications from people with hidden disabilities between August 2019 and May 2020 — a marginally higher rate from 310 submissions.

Bracknell News:

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead received just nine hidden disability Blue Badge applications in the same period, approving five of them and refusing four.

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Surrey Heath Borough Council was also asked for its data, but did not respond.

Asked if they have any concerns about the guidelines which inform local authorities’ Blue Badge decisions, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport said they did not.

“We believe the new eligibility criteria will make a huge difference to people with hidden disabilities in all areas of the country”, they said.

“Local authorities are best placed to decide on the needs of their residents and it is their responsibility to evaluate applications on a case by case basis.”

“Permanent lockdown”

Bracknell MP James Sunderland has previously lodged his support for the Mullins family after meeting them at a surgery in January.

Bracknell News:

He said he would be raising their problems in Westminster, using their example as a case study for the Transport Select Committee to consider.

Reacting to the figures obtained by the News, Mr Sunderland said: “I’m 100 per cent supportive to those who are applying for Blue Badges with good reason.

“I’ll be discussing this privately with Bracknell Forest Council.”

Meanwhile, for those families in the borough who have been hit hard by Blue Badge refusals, life does not get any easier.

Bracknell News:

Dave Mullins said: “Covid lockdown actually hasn’t made a great deal of difference to us — we’re already in lockdown!

Sam Mullins added: “If we don’t get that badge, our family will be in permanent lockdown anyway.”