Disabled Bracknell Forest residents are less likely to be given a Blue Badge if they have a non-visible disability than in dozens of other areas across the UK, according to “shocking” new figures which highlight a “postcode lottery” around the parking permits.

Figures published by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit show a disparity between ‘hidden’ and physical disability Blue Badge approval rates of 43 per cent in Bracknell Forest, which means the borough has the 16th highest disparity ratio from 109 UK council areas.

This means Bracknell Forest residents with non-visible disabilities are less likely to receive the parking permit, which has been described as a “lifeline” by a national charity, if they were to live in Wokingham.

In total, 92 areas had higher approval rates for physical impairment applicants, the research found.

READ MORE: Bracknell Forest Council refuses more Blue Badges from applicants with 'hidden' disabilities than it approves

For 36 councils, including Bracknell Forest, the approval rate was more than 33.3 percentage points’ higher for physical impairment applications.

James Taylor, from disability equality charity Scope, said of the national picture: “This new data shows a shocking disparity between the allocations of Blue Badges to people with invisible and visible impairments.”

Tim Nicholls, from the National Autistic Society, added: “These figures highlight the postcode lottery that has developed around Blue Badges.

Bracknell News:

“A Blue Badge can be a lifeline, helping you to get out and about in ways others take for granted.

“But these figures suggest that people with non-visible disabilities, like autism, could be missing out.”


The BBC’s Shared Data Unit requested figures from councils following the one-year anniversary of an extension to the Blue Badge scheme, which allowed people with non-visible disabilities to apply for the parking permits from August 2019.

The change was introduced so people with hidden disabilities, such as autism, anxiety disorders, a brain injury and more, can use disabled parking bays which are closer to where they are travelling to.

Councils were asked to provide details of how many Blue Badge requests from people with physical impairments they had approved and refused in the year up to 30 August 2020, and how many requests from applications with non-visible disabilities they had approved and refused in the same period.

In Bracknell Forest, 1,165 Blue Badge applications were sent to the council in the year up to 30 August 2020, with 907 of these being approved. This gives an approval rate of 77.85 per cent.

Of these requests, 144 were from applicants with a non-visible disability.

According to the research, 50 were approved and 69 were refused, with the remaining requests not completed or not decided.

This gives an approval rate of 34.72 per cent, and a difference in the rates of 43.1 per cent.

READ MORE: Bracknell mum 'cut off from society' after council refuses Blue Badge application

One Bracknell Forest mother, who has applied for a Blue Badge for her severely autistic and non-verbal son three times in a year but who has been repeatedly knocked back by the council, told the News about the impact of not having the permit.

Preferring to remain anonymous, she said: “I have been applying for a Blue Badge for my son for a year now.

“Since the rules changed to supposedly better support those with hidden disabilities, I didn't really think we would have a problem.

“He has a vast team of professionals involved in his care, an Education Health Care Plan, and a full time 1:1 assistant at nursery.

“We have overwhelming evidence of his needs. The Blue Badge process at our council completely lacks transparency and the goalposts keep changing.

Bracknell News:

“The first rejection letter said there was no evidence of a substantial disability. There was no appeal process but I wrote to them to tell them why I thought they were wrong. They still rejected it and I was told to apply again if anything changed.

“If you don't need a Blue Badge, you won't understand how important it is. It is the difference between accessing the community safely, and not.

“My son is only getting bigger and stronger and every day I worry will be the day he wriggles out of my grasp and gets hit by a car.

“I have given up trying to apply for a Blue Badge, because they will not accept any evidence and the whole process is just humiliating. I really don't understand why it has to be this hard.”

Melanie O’Rourke, adult social care chief at Bracknell Forest Council, said: “Blue Badge applications for hidden disabilities are considered on a case-by-case basis in line with the Department for Transport Guidance.

“Applications are assessed by qualified and trained professionals who apply clinical reasoning and decision making based on the information and evidence provided in the application, such as health reports.

READ MORE: Family refused Blue Badge for autistic son despite previously having one for 18 years

“We continually review and improve our processes based on the experiences and feedback of applicants, best practice research and recommendations.

“We aim to support residents in understanding the criteria and evidence required to give them the best chance of a successful application.

“We do not set targets for approval rates as every application must be considered individually.”

“Everything is a fight”

In July, the Local Democracy Reporting Service told the stories of more Bracknell Forest families who had been refused Blue Badges following an investigation into the council’s handling of the application process.

In collaboration with the LDRS, this sparked the BBC’s own investigation into the national picture.

Following the publication of the research, which shows some local authority areas such as Surrey with a disparity in approval rates of more than 60 per cent, the Department for Transport said it would review the impact of the new criteria.

Commenting on the research, Pip Catnach, Founder of Bracknell Sensory Toy Library, said: “It is so disappointing that the figures show nationally that councils are turning down applications for a Blue Badge from those with hidden disabilities much more than from those with physical disabilities, but it is hardly surprising.

READ MORE: Ascot boy will get 'life-changing' Blue Badge despite having been refused by council

“Families of people with special needs, developmental differences or mental health problems have known this all along.

“For years ministers have talked about parity between services for physical and

mental health, but the reality is that if you can't see the condition, you will get treated like it's not there.

“From services and benefits to education, everything is a fight: exhausted families simply give up.

“We can, and must, do better to serve all of the disabled community."