Huge rise in blue badges handed out after rule change to include hidden disabilities

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Thousands of people with hidden disabilities have been given blue badge parking permits since new rules were introduced, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.

The scheme's eligibility criteria in England were expanded in August to include people with conditions such as Parkinson's, dementia and epilepsy.

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In the first three months under the amended rules, 12,299 new badges - around 130 a day - were granted to people who cannot walk as part of a journey without "considerable psychological distress" or the risk of "serious harm".

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Depending on the location, the permits often enable holders to park free of charge in pay-and-display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines, while in London they exempt holders from the Congestion Charge.

This helps people access shops and services by allowing them to park closer to their destinations.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said people with hidden conditions endure the "psychological worry that others may not recognise them as disabled".

He went on: "I'm proud that our reform is already changing thousands of people's lives, allowing those in need to carry on their daily lives with more confidence and helping combat loneliness and isolation."

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Samantha Tomlin, whose son Henry has autism and is a new recipient of a blue badge, said: "When my son was younger sometimes I didn't go out because I just couldn't face trying to find a safe place to park near the shop or doctors.

"Having the blue badge just makes you feel slightly less anxious about the situation and feel your child is safer.

"It will make a huge difference to parents going through the early years and those with older children and adults that suffer with all the challenges autism brings."

DfT figures published earlier this month showed prosecutions of motorists misusing blue badges reached 1,432 in the year ending on March 31, up nearly a fifth compared with the previous 12 months.

Nearly all the cases involved someone using another person's badge.