Elderly couple from Sheffield risk losing freedom after changes to blue badge scheme
An elderly couple from Sheffield have been left in limbo after changes to the blue badge scheme left them facing months of despair.
Keith, 70, and his wife Kathleen Dyson, 69, from Shiregreen are facing uncertainty as they risk losing their freedom due to not having access to a blue disabled badge.
Kathleen received a blue badge six years ago, after suffering from crumbling discs in her back, and fused vertebrae in her spine.
She also suffers from epilepsy and is asthmatic making walking very difficult and long distances impossible.
Under the current scheme, the blue badge is up for renewal every three years, with successful applications being classed as either automatic or discretionary depending on the condition of the applicant.
If the applicant is not automatically eligible, they face independent assessment as part of the application process.
Three years ago, Kathleen did not face a problem when it came to the renewal of her badge, but this year it is a different matter.
Her pass expired in March this year, but is not something the couple thought would be an issue.
Keith says that the blue badge gives the couple freedom, as they enjoy many trips to Skegness, where when they drive, they need a disabled badge to park to unload Kathleen's mobility scooter.
"We have a mobility scooter, but we can't use it because we have a trailer which requires a larger parking bay," he said.
"Normal parking bays are just not big enough, and the door has to be fully open to be able to get my wife out."
The elderly couple have now been told that they could face a four month wait to see if they will again be eligible for a disabled pass.
Kathleen is facing a physiotherapy review, with an appointment booked in August, which was the first one available.
According to the Government website, around 60% of applications fall into the 'with further assessment' category meaning that applicants need to undergo this type of review.
Under this category, a person might be eligible if they are more than two years old and have a permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking.
Keith said: "Apparently the criteria has changed, I think it was last October when it happened. There are now more stringent checks which I agree with totally, but at this stage we've been without it for two months now and she can't walk too far.
"She's got a walker and we are restricted as to how long she can walk. After 15 minutes we have to stop and she has to rest.
"I sent out forms on March 28, but I didn't realise it was so close to it expiring. I sent the application form first class recorded and they confirmed they'd received it. Nothing happened. I expected it back in a few weeks.
"I should have sent it beforehand but even that wouldn't have made any difference, I'd have had to have done the application four months before it ran out."
In the past, a GP could provide an assessment of the applicant, but this is no longer accepted by the Department of Transport, instead a system of independent assessment has been introduced.
Sheffield Council have said it is normal practice to offer applicants the option to provide consultant evidence to support applications.
Keith now faces not being able to take his wife out, as without the badge, they can only park in areas which can potentially block a road.
"It happened last week at Meadowhall. I had to stop to get my wife out the car, and there was a guy behind blowing his horn and waving his hands about trying to get me to move.
"It's a crazy situation, it wants looking at further."
Mark Holmes, Customer Services Delivery Manager at Sheffield City Council, said: “We understand that the blue badge is a necessity for many people and would like to resolve this as quickly as possible for the customer.
“Some blue badge holders have automatic eligibility that does not require assessment for renewal, for example if they receive a qualifying disability benefit. Badge holders who do not have automatic entitlement are assessed each time they reapply.
“In this case the badge holder is not in receipt of any disability benefits that would enable us to automatically issue a new badge, and the last two badges were renewed by telephone assessment. Because of this we have asked for an independent physiotherapist assessment to ensure that they are still eligible.
“These assessments are carried out by NHS staff, who are under significant pressure, and we understand that appointments are limited. However, if the customer has a consultant, we can contact them directly to see if they can provide further evidence to speed up the renewal.”