Stoke-on-Trent City Council is set to launch an operation to protect blue badge holders in the run up to Christmas.
Civil Enforcement Officers and Investigation Officers will be patrolling council run car parks paying specific attention to blue badge bays.
It is a criminal offence to misuse a blue badge, and doing so can lead to a £1,000 fine. If the badge holder is using the parking concessions as a passenger (as opposed to driving the car themselves), it is their responsibility to make sure that the driver is aware of the rules governing the scheme. The badge is for the sole use of the person named on it. It must only be displayed if the badge holder is travelling in the vehicle as a driver or passenger. The badge may not be used by other people to do something on the badge holder’s behalf, such as shopping or collecting something for them, unless the badge holder is travelling with them.
In Stoke-on-Trent there are currently around 13,000 valid blue badges in issue. The Cabinet Office, National Fraud Initiative estimates that 20% of blue badges are being used by someone other than the badge holder. Therefore, in Stoke-on-Trent alone, potentially up to 2,600 blue badges are being misused, denying those in genuine need of priority access to parking spaces or special wide bays and defrauding the council out of parking revenue.
Councillor Abi Brown, Leader of the Council said: “We understand everyone needs to shop at Christmas; however unlawful misuse of blue badges means that the genuine badge holders are the ones that suffer.
“Local authorities are no longer responsible for the investigation of Housing Benefit fraud and so are now able to focus on non-benefit frauds which have a far greater direct financial and social harm impact on local people and local taxpayers. The council has a zero tolerance approach towards fraud and will apply the full force of the law to prosecute where appropriate.
“Whilst we are currently focusing specifically on blue badge fraud over the festive period, this forms part of our wider campaign ‘Spot the Cheater’ to tackle all forms of fraud throughout the city.”
More than £1.7m of public money has been saved from fraudsters in just six months in Stoke-on-Trent. Between April and September there were 19 prosecutions, 17 of which were for misuse of blue badges. A further 11 cases of blue badge misuse were settled by issuing a formal caution as an alternative to prosecution.
Spot the Cheater will continue into the New Year with a focus on housing tenancy fraud – including unlawful sub-letting and non-occupancy. Anyone can report suspected fraudulent activity by the council’s hotline 01782 236800 or online at stoke.gov.uk/cheater
All reports will be treated confidentially and can be made anonymously.