A SIX month investigation over failings in the process of handing out disabled parking badges locally has prompted several changes to be set in stone.

In order to park in disabled parking bays, people need Blue Badges which are allocated by councils.

Recommended changes will be made after councillors conducted a review of Bracknell Forest Council’s Blue Badge application process.

The review was prompted after complaints from residents and data from a BBC survey which compared approval rates for blue badge applications for visible and non-visible disabilities.

The data showed Bracknell Forest had one of the biggest disparities of approvals between those with visible and non-visible disabilities among 109 UK councils which provided data.  The council has pointed out 216 councils asked for data, only 109 (around a half) responded.

READ MORE: Refusal of mum's bid to gain blue badge for autistic son in Bracknell upheld

But the complaints from residents and the disparity was enough for a panel of councillors to conduct a review of the Blue Badge application process in Bracknell, which aimed to make the process fairer and easier for applicants and assessors to navigate.

The review was conducted by Bracknell Forest Council’s wellbeing and finance overview and scrutiny panel, which recommended:

  • Making changes to blue badge refusal letters to make sure they show understanding and are also easier to understand
  • Creating local guidance that explains the Bracknell Forest approach to assessment

These were finalised at a meeting on July 8. 

These recommendations have now been approved by the council’s executive committee in a meeting yesterday (Tuesday, September 21).

You can view tweets from the meeting here: 

The panel’s findings were presented to the executive by the panel’s new chairman Councillor Michael Gibson (Conservative, Hanworth).

Cllr Gibson acknowledged that he had not led the panel during the review process.

He said: “I have to confess I was not the lead on this, that was another councillor, but I was involved in this as a member of the panel and as champion of the voluntary sector.

“I would like to thank the rest of the panel and the witnesses who gave evidence.

“This review has found areas where improvements can be made, and the opportunities we have considered make the application process an easier and a more sustainable for a wider range of people.

“That said, inaccuracies and misleading reporting can be distressing for the public and undermining the good work of local Government. This review has put our blue badge rates in context and I’m pleased to be able to reassure residents about our performance and acknowledge the hard working social care staff of the council.”

The review was led by Cllr Malcolm Tullett (Independent Conservative, Old Bracknell), the former chairman of the panel. He was removed from his role and replaced by Cllr Gibson after he left Bracknell Forest Conservative group over concerns that he could not ‘properly represent’ residents as a member of the group.

READ MORE: Bracknell councillor re-admitted to town Conservative group

Reacting to the news that the review into the process has been approved, Cllr Tullett said: “As the past chairman of the panel responsible for the findings and recommendations, I am pleased to note that my successor has submitted the report unamended and that the Executive has approved the recommendations in full.

“Of more importance though, is my sincere hope that findings and recommendations go some way to help provide a fair and equitable basis for those with hidden disabilities to make applications for a blue badge or to renew an existing one.”

During their investigation, panellists interviewed residents who applied for blue badges for themselves or loved ones, council officers responsible for the process, The Ark Trust -a charity that supports disabled people in Bracknell- and former Local Democracy Reporter Ollie Sirrell who reported on the BBC’s study.

READ MORE: Bracknell MP wades in on disabled badge process and urges the Government to act

Panellists heard how families had been left disappointed after their applications for Blue Badges were rejected.

Bracknell Forest Council’s Adult Social Care department, which is responsible for giving out Blue Badges, has conducted its own internal review of the application process, which also concluded this month.