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22 October 2013, 07:14 | Updated: 22 October 2013, 07:15
Extra checks are being carried out on drivers using disabled badges in Southampton to make sure they're not being misused to get free parking.
Heart's found out several people have been warned or taken to court this year, with some even using the badges of their dead relatives.
Blue Badges give parking concessions for people with severe mobility difficulties who travel either as drivers or passengers and is intended to help people park closer to their destination. Southampton City Council has currently issued 8,262 Blue Badges.
They say to enforce the proper use of this scheme, regular blue badge inspections are carried out with the assistance of the Civil Enforcement Officers and sometimes the Police.
Once a vehicle has parked and a blue badge is displayed, the driver is approached and asked to produce the badge for inspection. The driver is informed that checks are conducted to protect the integrity of the scheme. The name and photograph on the reverse of the badge are checked against the occupants of the car.
Councillor Jacqui Rayment, Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, said:
“These are vitally important to genuine users and any Blue Badge misuse deprives spaces to the people who really need them. Proactive work is being undertaken to eradicate this problem and we have found that genuine badge holders are very happy to see that we are actively checking the use of blue badges.”
A Southampton City Council statement says:
'If the badge holder is not present, or the badge is cancelled for being lost, stolen, or because the holder is deceased, a Penalty Charge Notice will be issued. The badge will be seized under section 4 of the Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges Act 2013 or section 94 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. A full investigation will then be conducted.
'Our Civil Enforcement Officers have the ability to proactively check the validity of blue badge serial numbers whilst on patrol. In cases where an officer believes they have witnessed a blue badge being used by someone other than the badge holder, we can check the holder’s records. If the description of the person seen does not match the badge holder we can contact the badge holder and ask where their blue badge is being used. This has revealed cases where the badge holder has knowledge of their badge being misused, and cases where vulnerable badge holders have been taken advantage of.
'The council recommends that blue badges are removed from vehicles when they are not in use and kept in a safe place at home. This reduces the chance of the badge being stolen, and removes any temptation by other drivers to use the badge.
'We hope that this sends a strong message to badge holders to ensure that they look after their blue badge and do not allow other people to benefit from the concessions that it provides. The Council can refuse to issue a new badge to a badge holder if we have reasonable grounds to believe that the applicant would allow it to be misused.'
So far this year, six people have been cautioned for the wrongful use of blue badge and parking permits. As a result numerous warning letters have been sent to blue badge mis-users and blue badge holders. When an out of date badge has been used in an attempt to obtain parking services, the information is passed to the Blue Badge Team who write a warning letter to the badge holder, requesting the return of the blue badge.
Among numerous out of date blue badges, two invalid blue badges have recently been recovered. One was reported lost, and one was stolen. Full investigations are being conducted.
There have been several cases of blue badge misuse which have led to prosecutions.
On 29 May, a 33 year old Southampton man pleaded guilty to wrongfully using his deceased grand mothers blue badge to park for free near Southampton Central train station on 9 occasions.
He displayed his deceased grand mothers blue badge instead of paying the £8 daily fee to park. He received five Penalty Charge Notices whilst using the badge, but continued to use it. Three letters were sent to him, requesting the return of the invalid blue badge, but these were ignored.
He was fined £800, and ordered to pay £500 costs and an £80 victim surcharge.
On 18 July at Southampton Magistrates Court, a man from Portsmouth pleaded guilty to misusing his fathers blue badge on two dates in late 2012. The man was working on the refurbishment of a new bar in Bedford place, and was using his fathers blue badge to park for free in pay and display bays.
The blue badge was seized from him by the Police, at the request of a Civil Enforcement Supervisor. He was fined £200 and ordered to pay £100 towards costs and a £20 victim surcharge.
Portsmouth City Council, who issued the blue badge, withdrew the badge from the badge holder.
At Southampton Magistrates Court on 29 August, a man pleaded guilty on 4 counts of wrongfully using his brothers blue badge.
The man had been displaying the blue badge in his vehicle when parking in Wyndham Place car park when he went to work at an adjacent office. Using the blue badge meant that he evaded paying the appropriate pay and display fees.
He was fined £500 (£125 for each offence) and ordered to pay full costs of £670.52 and a £20 victim surcharge.
Portsmouth City Council and Bournemouth Borough Council tell Heart they're also getting tough on people misusing the badges.