Wired-GOV Newswire (news from other organisations)
LGA - Blue badge thefts more than double
The theft of Blue Badges has more than doubled in the past 12 months, councils reveal recently.
The Local Government Association said thefts in England soared from 656 in 2013 to 1,756 in 2014 – a rise of 167 per cent.
More than two million disabled people use Blue Badges for free parking in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines. In London, badge holders are exempt from the congestion charge saving them around £2,500 a year.
Anyone fraudulently using a Blue Badge could con more than £6,000 a year in free parking by avoiding paying an average hourly on-street city centre parking charge of £3 per hour for 40 hours a week.
Over the past 12 months, thieves have smashed their way into cars and broken into retirement homes to steal Blue Badges and cash in by selling them for thousands on the black market or using them to obtain free parking.
Fraudsters have been prosecuted by councils in the past year for using stolen or lost badges and even using a dead relative's pass in order to scam free parking to go shopping or travel to work.
Councils continue to crackdown on Blue Badge fraud, prosecuting 565 offenders in 2014 and seizing badges suspected of being used illegally. Some local authorities have set up specific enforcement teams to tackle Blue Badge fraud.
Examples in the past 12 months include:
- A Watford man admitted using his grandmother's Blue Badge to park illegally for four months after her death. He was prosecuted during Operation Clamp – a joint crackdown initiative by Watford Borough Council and Hertfordshire Police.
- Five drivers received a combined bill of nearly £2,000 in fines and costs following prosecution for fraudulent use of Blue Badges by Sutton Council. Three of the Badges belonged to close relatives, another driver had used a lost Badge and another had belonged to a deceased relative.
- Since the setting up of Wigan Council's Blue Badge Enforcement team in April 2014, they have issued 100 warning letters, four formal cautions, had one successful prosecution and 90 badges have been confiscated and destroyed. The council has also created an online reporting tool for people to report Blue Badge abuse.
- Operation Bluebird – a joint initiative fun by East Sussex County Council, Brighton and Hove City Council and Sussex Police – held an amnesty for people to hand in illegally held Blue Badges and saw badges seized from drivers not entitled to use them. The crackdown also saw a woman given a community order after being caught using her dead father's badge a year after he died.
Cllr Peter Box, LGA Transport Spokesman, said:
"Illegally using a Blue Badge is not a victimless crime. For disabled people, Blue Badges are absolutely essential in order to get out and about to visit shops or family and friends.
"Callous Blue Badge thieves and unscrupulous fraudsters using them illegally are robbing disabled people of this independence. It is staggering how low some people are stooping simply to con a few hours of free parking and alarming to see thefts rising so significantly.
"Despite limited resources, councils will continue trying to crackdown on this crime and will not hesitate to prosecute drivers trying to abuse the system.
"It is important to catch these criminals in the act. To win the fight against Blue Badge fraud, residents must keep tipping councils off about people they suspect are illegally using a badge."
1. A Blue Badge can only be used in a vehicle when it is being driven by or used to transport the Blue Badge holder. Misuse of a Blue Badge is a criminal offence under the Road Traffic Act 1984. The maximum fine on conviction is £1,000.
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