Blue badge price hike

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DISABLED drivers will be hit in the pocket when increased charges for blue badge holders come in next week.

Hartlepool Borough Council has agreed plans to increase the application charge from £2 to £10 from January 1.

It comes after national changes to the legislation for the blue badge scheme, which offers parking concessions to people with mobility issues, were agreed by Parliament.

Among the changes was the introduction of a new-style badge, a centralised processing service and an on-line application option.

As a result, the cost to the council for processing each badge will increase to £4.60 but there are additional administration and distribution costs for the firm producing the badges.

Therefore the Government has agreed for councils to increase the current application charge from £2 to £10.

Existing badge holders in Hartlepool will not need a new badge until their current one expires, some of which are as late as December 2014.

There are currently about 5,000 blue badge holders in Hartlepool.

The nationally agreed blue badge charge is currently £2 but that does not cover the full costs.

The new badge design includes several security measures aimed at reducing the number of illegal and fraudulent badges in circulation.

They include sealed photographs, complex printing patterns, bar codes and specialist security inks and holograms.

As a result of the changes it is no longer possible for local authorities to produce the badges.

Therefore, Northgate Information Solutions have been given a five year contract to provide a centralised processing service for local authorities.

But councils will still be responsible for the application process.

Labour councillor Pamela Hargreaves, transport and neighbourhoods portfolio holder, met recently to approve the increase from January 1.

A report said the price hike brings Hartlepool in line with other Tees Valley councils.

A review by the Department for Transport said the fixed charge for each application should be increased and the council report said it was “necessary” to pass that on to the applicant.

Coun Hargreaves said she was disappointed because of the impact it would have on those less well-off.

But she added the changes had been imposed by the Government and the increase was needed to cover the extra cost.

Coun Hargreaves also said that she hoped the changes would have a positive impact on the time taken to process applications.

Nationally regulated by the Department for Transport, the scheme is locally operated by councils and a blue badge is valid for up to three years.

The report added that another benefit of having a national database was that enforcement officers could check the records for suspicious permits even if they have been issued by other councils.