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Hospitals Charging For Blue Badge Parking May Be Unlawful

December 7, 2012

As a lifelong Blue Badge holder, I’ve thought this for years! I’m very pleased to see it finally being recognised and getting media coverage. I hope this can be proved unlawful and stopped.

Hospitals charging disabled drivers to park could be in breach of the law, a leading lawyer says.

Some 37 NHS trusts charge disabled drivers to park, with some saying all drivers should be treated equally.

But disability rights lawyer Chris Fry told BBC 5 live this was a misreading of UK equality law.

The Department of Health said patients who went to hospital often or for long periods had a right to fair and appropriate car-parking concessions.

Of the 116 hospital trusts in England that responded to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the BBC’s 5 live Investigates programme, 37 said they currently charged disabled drivers to park.

For a two-hour appointment, the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro was the most expensive, charging £4.80 for two to four hours parking.

The cheapest was Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, which charges £1 per visit.

The FOI request also revealed some trusts were citing “fairness” as justification for the charges imposed on disabled drivers.

Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which brought in charges four years ago, told the programme: “All blue badge holders pay the same rate as other patients, visitors and staff.”

“The hospital forum feedback is that disabled persons wish to be treated the same, where practicable, as able-bodied persons.”

Equality Act

However, critics say disabled people often have no other choice but to drive to hospital, as they may be unable travel by foot and public transport may not be suitable or available.

Furthermore, hospital visits may take longer to complete for disabled people – which could lead them to incur higher parking costs.

Managing partner at Unity Law Chris Fry told the BBC: “Inevitably it will cost someone more to park because of their disability, and that must be clearly wrong.”

“Treating somebody less favourably as a result of their disability amounts to a breach of the Equality Act.

“That gives the individual affected by that a right of action against the local authority – either by judicial review or by way of a civil claim for compensation.”

The public sector equality duty, set out in the Equality Act 2010, explicitly recognises that disabled people’s needs may be different from those of non-disabled people.

It says: “Public bodies should therefore take account of disabled people’s impairments when making decisions about policies or services.”

The act – which applies in England, Scotland and Wales – suggests that this might mean treating disabled people differently in order to meet their needs.

Medway NHS Foundation Trust introduced fees for blue badge holders in July 2012 – a two-hour stay currently costs £2.50.

Its website states their charges are to “create fairness around concessions”.

But one local resident has begun legal action against Medway NHS Foundation Trust, describing it as “another tax on the disabled”.

‘Fundamental right’

Sue Groves, from Chatham, told 5 live Investigates the hospital’s policy meant there were additional barriers in place for disabled people.

“It takes longer for disabled people to get from A to bee, so they’re likely to incur higher charges,” she said.

“The public transport links aren’t great to Medway Hospital. There’s a distinct lack of accessible taxis and if you’re a wheelchair user the buses are quite difficult at times. – they’re not all accessible – which means that disabled people and blue badge holders haven’t got the choice that other people have.

“They’re also likely to be attending the hospital more often and more frequently, so basically they’re going to be paying more than other visitors to the hospital.

“I think they’ve looked across the board and said ‘equality is about equal treatment, so we’re going to make it fairer by charging blue badge holders’.

“But they haven’t actually thought of the implications of that.”

A Medway NHS Foundation Trust representative told the BBC: “The decision to implement this change to concessions was not taken lightly. Its purpose is to create fairness around concessions, which are now based on affordability, rather than purely on entitlement to blue badges.

“Patients who are entitled to specific benefits will continue to receive free parking.”

A Department of Health representative said: “Patients who need to go to hospital often or for long periods of time have a fundamental right to fair and appropriate car parking concessions, and we expect hospital trusts to provide them.

“All NHS organisations should support equality and ensure that there is no unlawful discrimination.

“They must produce evidence that the relevant equality issues have been considered. This can be done through an equality impact assessment, but can also take other forms such as engagement with local groups, or data analysis.”

You can listen to the full report on 5 live Investigates on Sunday, 9 December, at 21:00 GMT on BBC 5 live.

Listen again via the 5 live website or by downloading the 5 live Investigates podcast.

 

 

One Comment leave one →
  1. John Hargrave permalink
    December 20, 2012 9:02 am

    Hi Sarah. Have you heard any more about the Blue Badge charges made by most hospitals, has Stephen Fry, the solicitor, been able to progress it further? It is obvious they are breaking the Equality Act by giving unequal treatment to disabled people but it may need a day in court to make them change their minds. Take care. John.

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