Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Lack of Support for Blue Badge Applications

This is the letter I sent to my MP Stephanie Peacock, the Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis, and the Cudworth councillors Steve Houghton, Joe Hayward and Charlie Wraith today.

Dear Sirs and Ms Peacock,

I have a Blue Badge. It is due for renewal in July. Several years ago, when I was first awarded PIP I was able to get an appointment at Cudworth Library with a helpful lady who photocopied my PIP letters, my proof of Address & ID and my photo. She filled in the form for me and sent it into the proper department.

Yesterday I was in the queue in Cudworth Library. The gentleman in front of me, who was enquiring on behalf of a relative, asked about getting help to renew a Blue Badge. The librarian apologised but said applications had to be done online now. The man explained that he had no computer skills, even if he came into Cudworth to use a library machine he would need help. Then he stormed out saying he would (swear word) pay for parking in future.

I was next, and as this had reminded me that I needed to renew my badge I asked for more information. I was told that their support service had been (or was about to be) taken away from the library. However it might be possible to find someone to help a customer use a computer in the library. I imagine this would have to be an appointment as they have very few staff.

I have computer skills, as you can see. I came home and looked at the online site.
The site did not tell you all the documents you needed before you started the process or explain that they needed to be scanned or digital images.

The process could be stopped and saved to continue later.

The Barnsley Council website  gives no other option but to engage with the site.

Please take note that I am concerned for other Blue Badge holders and potential Blue Badge holders in Cudworth and area as well as myself. I have computer skills but I know that most people my age (57) and older do not.

It took me nearly three quarters of an hour to complete the online process. I had to stop the process to find and photograph my driving licence, I had to stop the process to photograph my PIP letter, I had to get my husband to take a photo of me with his phone and then get it to my computer so I could attach that. I had to use the PIP letter as proof of address as all our utility bills are in my husband's name and anyway they are paperless these days.

This is a long and complicated process for someone with computer skills. Someone who can't even operate a mobile phone has no hope.

It seems the administration will take six to eight weeks ... I am on the limit of that now as my current badge runs out on 19 July. There was no warning about this on either site and I have not received a reminder letter, which was alluded to at the start of the online form.

The Council site says you have to pay £10 in advance and put a number in a box on the form. There is no such box on the online form, so I can only assume this refers to the old paper form.

I tweeted about my concerns last night and got an answer this morning. I was told to ring "the Blue Badge team on 01226 773555, who can provide guidance. For example, they could make an appointment at one of our libraries for assistance with IT."

I rang the number. I was on hold for 31 minutes being #9 in the queue initially. Finally a lady spoke to me. She confirmed that Cudworth Library could no longer give support with Blue Badge Applications and suggested I go to Central Library, Wombwell, Goldthorpe, Mapplewell or Hoyland. I explained that I am disabled, I no longer travel alone, can't manage bus rides by myself, am not allowed to drive, it would mean a long taxi ride with my elderly mum-in-law for support, there and back. She eventually offered to send out a paper form. When pressed she confessed that their paper forms were in limited supply and that when they ran out there would be no more. So if I get one I will post it back for someone else to use! There was no mention of an appointment with someone in Cudworth Library who might be able to help with the IT side of things.

I would like to appeal to you, Stephanie, Dan, Steve, Joe and Charlie, to reinstate support at Cudworth Library for Blue Badge applicants. Facilities to help with scanning documents to digital and taking photos of customers are essential. Help for the elderly and less able with engaging with the complex online form is essential. Prior notice and clear information needs to be given to applicants about what documents they need to apply so they don't need to make multiple trips to the Library. Imagine if I had gone to the Central Library in town, for an appointment, but not know I needed proof of ID and address as well as my PIP letter and photo.

Please take some action on this matter.


Linda Hutton
[email address redacted for this post ... contact me via Comments below or via Twitter]


BarnsleyHistorian said...

Over the weekend I had an email from Barnsley Council asking for a new photograph of myself with my name and date of birth written on the back - how? they are submitted digitally. They also wanted all the pages of my PIP letter, not just the page saying I had been granted the enhanced mobility rate (which means I must have been given over 8 points for moving around). And the £10 fee of course.
I have rung them and surprisingly got through almost immediately. It seems they received no photo from the site at all, so what it says in the letter about the photo received being the same as my old one is tosh!
On a happier note it seems I might get my badge within 10 days, not the 6 to 8 weeks I was expecting.
This does not alter my stance that the system, being almost totally online (with a phone call to pay via credit/debit card afterwards) is confusing and a barrier to older and less able people with poor computer skills. Especially so when the letters sent out as a follow up can be misleading. Something needs to be done to support our vulnerable disabled and elderly residents.

BarnsleyHistorian said...

Another update: I was in Cudworth Library on Tuesday and I let them have my unwanted paper form for reference. It seems they had some but once they ran out they were told there would be no more - sound familiar? The librarian was happy to take my form as it had a list of the acceptable documents that the applicants would need to supply for proof of address, proof of disability, and an up to date photo - passport style.
We went on to discuss how people could use the library computers to apply. I had not realised that the staff can't scan items for customers - there is no facility for getting images from their computer system to the public computers. There is one computer in the library with a scanner attached, but the librarian wasn't sure if it could be used for the purpose of scanning documents to attach to an online form! The librarian suggested the customers could bring in the digital documents on a data stick - but if they had to computer skills to scan or photograph their documents and save them to a data stick then they would probably have a computer at home (or a family member/friend to help them use a computer) and wouldn't need to use the library!
This is a dreadful situation. Disabled and elderly people with a need for a Blue Badge to maintain their independence are being neglected and disenfranchised by Barnsley Council. Something needs to be done!

BarnsleyHistorian said...

Update: Happily two months later I have heard that support for Blue Badge applications has returned to Cudworth Library. A disabled pensioner friend was able to make an appointment with a support worker who filled in her online form and made digital copies of her photo and documents. Only three appointments available per week, on one morning. She had to phone a central department to get the appointment. Less helpfully the central Barnsley Council office processing the applications appears to have not received the digital images ... I'll post again if I hear an update on what caused this.