Merton hotbed for blue badge cheats – but the fight is on – South London News

By Harrison Galliven, Local Democracy Reporter

Almost 20 cases of blue badge misuse have been discovered in Merton in the first week of the council’s inaugural drive to tackle disabled parking fraud.

One councilor likened the fraud to “stealing from a charity donation box”.

Merton Council has announced it has completed its first week of working with the Blue Badge National Fraud Investigation Agency (BBFI) in an effort to clamp down on misuse in the borough.

Initial findings by the BBFI revealed that Merton has an unusually high number of people misusing badges issued in a neighboring borough.

The BBFI has also revealed the worrying trend of criminals using Snapchat to distribute fake and stolen badges to people in the neighbourhood. This discovery helped them in their goal to successfully track down criminals in the neighborhood.

Paul Slowey, chief executive of the BFFI, said: “The incorrect use of badges is a bit of a lose-lose situation as it means disabled people can’t park and the council loses money. So applying it is a win-win, it’s what councils should be doing.

“We have found misuse that we would find anywhere, but one thing that is interesting is that people come from all over to use the badges in Merton. Of the badges we have found to have been misused so far, 29% were issued in Merton.”

According to Mr Slowey, badges issued by councils in Wandsworth, Sutton, Kingston, Croydon and Surrey were used in Merton. This is in stark contrast to neighboring Sutton, where the BBFI found that 63% of the misused badges found were issued in that borough.

He added: “Seventy-two per cent of the badges we’ve dealt with so far have been misused by friends and family, with the remaining 28% being stolen, lost and deceased badges.

“The deceased tend to be relatives and family members. It could be grandma’s badge who doesn’t need it anymore because she’s dead and now you have free parking.

“I don’t know where the stolen ones come from, people always say ‘my partner gave it to me’ or ‘I found it on the street’, they never say where they bought it, they just shut up.”

Merton Council cracks down on blue badge fraud for the first time (Image, left: Rawpixel), while Snapchat has posts from people offering fake blue badges (Image, right: Paul Slowey

Mr Slowey believes the relative lack of enforcement action since the introduction of the Blue Badge scheme is part of the reason for the increase in misuse. He said: “The scheme has been around for 50 years. Why didn’t people follow? But at the same time, I’m doing it now, which is brilliant.”

According to Mr Slowey, counterfeit badges now make up a sizeable part of the BBFI’s caseload and that they are mainly sold on Snapchat.

He said: “We seized one of these badges in Merton which was being used by an estate agent. We approached him and he said he got a badge from his partner and used it in his car.

“Back in the day, stolen badges were bought in pubs, if there are any pubs where you can buy stolen things, I don’t know. I don’t know if it was all online, or on the dark web, or on social media.”

According to Mr. Slowey, the counterfeits are generally of high quality and would be difficult to spot without proper training. In response, the BBFI posted a series of videos on its official you tube channel to help the public identify the difference.

This pilot investigation with Merton council represents the borough’s first ever effort to tackle badge misuse.

According to Councilor Stephen Alambritis MBE, the decision to act came as a result of an increase in public complaints about the issue.

Cllr Alambritis, Merton cabinet member for transport, said: “We have had a small increase in residents contacting us about blue badge fraud so we have decided to work with the BBFI.

“The Blue Badge scheme is an important asset for millions of people, enabling those with a disability or impairment to retain their mobility and independence.

“Scheme abuse is, in my view, the same as stealing from a charity donation box, it deprives those who need it most of something valuable. That’s why we’re stepping up detection and enforcement.

“If you steal blue badges, we’ll catch you and fine you, maybe go to court.”

BBFI is a not-for-profit organization with a current part-time workforce of 23 people operating across the UK. They mainly work in the capital but have also run similar operations in the Midlands and South West.

Mr Slowey said: “We ran an initial pilot in Camden in 2000, at which time the blue badge scheme had never been applied by anyone. Camden asked if it could be enforced, if it was misused, if there was fraud and if there were stolen badges and the answer was yes to all of that and we continued to pursue people and take them to court.”

He subsequently set up the BBFI in 2008 and now takes on around 1500 cases a year. While the current scheme in Merton is in a pilot phase, both the council and the BBFI are keen to make year-round enforcement permanent.

Top image: Paul Slowey (Image): Paul Slowey

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