11 September 2012

Blue bodges (sic)

and by contrast, a Blue Badge
Here are two interesting statistics from the Office for National Statistics, via the Arbitrary Constant blog:

Half of all people who have never used the Internet are disabled people.

1 in 3 disabled adults has never used the Internet.

Now moving on to Barnet Council, who are "responsible" (using the term solely in its administrative sense, as in Barnet Council are responsible for the administration of the blue badge scheme within the borough, not as in Barnet Council senior officers are responsible people) for the blue badge scheme we can conclude therefore:

- in the light of the access problems that an appreciable portion of the disabled have to the latest technology,
- that Barnet Council has an "Insight" section (just because you have a title like Assistant Director of Insight doesn't mean you actually have any Insight) and
- that every action they take is based upon a long and supposedly detailed and acted upon Equalities Impact Assessment

that provision would be made to ensure that there would be a plentiful supply of forms for manual completion across the entire borough in places that the disabled and their family, friends or carers are likely to visit.

If that is what you would conclude then you would be wrong.

Mr Mustard has a friend who has sadly suffered a stroke. Their life would be made easier if they had a blue badge so that when any of their friends visited and suggested a trip out there would not be any worries about getting near enough to the destination for the short walk that can be managed.

Mr Mustard popped into his local library (Chipping Barnet) to see what information was available. There was nothing on any of the notice boards he looked at. There were no leaflets scattered about. Mr Mustard has read lots about this new-fangled Customer Service Organisation that is supposedly going to save us all £millions over the next 10 years. He telephoned it.

Mr Mustard politely asked for a Blue Badge form for a friend (if Mr Mustard's details are on a government computer somewhere, and might get passed on to Barnet, then apart from his name and address all of the other information is fictional, he just had to fill some fields in to make progress through the system) and was told that it was a "Government decision that all blue badge applications are done on DirectGov (now Mr Mustard's alter ego has been a debt collector for 25 years and has been lied to a lot, he knows when he is being lied to and the customer services operative was easily identified as a complete, and poor, liar). Mr Mustard said that his friend didn't have a computer and was told that they would have to get someone to help, family or a friend.

Mr Mustard went off not at all happy. The thing about the form is that it requires the date of the birth of the applicant to be stated (not every lady will want a friend to know this) and the medical history and the mobility ability of the applicant (again a person who has gone from 100% mobile to about 2% mobile may not want to admit this to themselves, never mind to a helpful friend who whilst helpful might not be discrete) and might prefer to fill in the form by hand and place it in a sealed envelope so their dignity, at least, remains intact.

Firstly Mr Mustard went to DirectGov on the Internet. Look at this page. What does it say?

The quickest and easiest way to apply is online. However, you can also apply for a badge by contacting your local authority directly.

Blue Badge Screen DirectGov for if You Don't Want to Do Online

Not what Barnet Council told him.

Just to double check Mr Mustard rang DirectGov on 0844 4630213. Mr Mustard was going to say "Go on, go off and do it (please)." but then he read this thread and it costs to call the number so don't. Mr Mustard did call the number. Option 1 was "How to apply" and on pressing option 1 (Mr Mustard also noted down what options 4,5,6, & 7 were but not 2 & 3 - the slacker) discovered that Option 1 was if you want a form "contact your local authority who will send you an application form". Oh dear, he thought.

Now bear in mind that Mr Mustard is about as robust an individual as it is possible for officialdom to meet. He is not a disabled person who might have trouble speaking, or operating a telephone and he has unlimited capacity for arguing with stupid officials which Barnet Council haven't yet realised. He has now spent 18 months writing the blog and feels fresh as a daisy and knows that he hasn't uncovered even 1% of their gaffs yet.

Mr Mustard phoned the Customer Services Organisation again (020 8359 4131 if you have nothing better to do with your time) and got connected to a different person, a callous and uncaring individual. He said that he wanted a blue badge form for completion at home by pen and that DirectGov had directed him to his local authority. The "adviser" said that the form wasn't done yet and she didn't know when it would be ready. The form had to be created (utter tosh, there is a standard form which could easily be used) and it would take a month or so. Mr Mustard politely enquired who was designing the form and was told that the adviser didn't know, it wasn't that simple. Besides, if a paper form were submitted it would take about 4 weeks and would delay the process. The adviser didn't give a hoot for the disabled person and so Mr Mustard finished the call before he told the adviser what a miserable apology for a human being they were.

At this point Mr Mustard started to write emails. Here is the first one, to the Assistant Director of Customer Services, a Town Hall Tax Dodger (© Eric Pickles MP):

Dear Mr Murphy

I am assuming this is your responsibility but if not please tell me which AD you have passed this message onto.

I want a blue badge form for a friend who has had a stroke and my friend, a very private lady, does want me to know her date of birth so would prefer to have a form that she can place inside an envelope rather than have me do the application on-line (she is not au fait with computers ).

Unfortunately I have made 2 calls to the Assisted Travel team and endured two appalling and unhelpful service experiences.

In the first call I was told that it was central government policy that all applications have to be done on-line at DirectGov. I am not amused when people blatantly lie to me. I did not argue but went off to the DirectGov to check.

I telephoned 0844 463 0213 and option 1 says "contact you local authority who will send you an application form" if you don't or can't do it online.

I phoned 020 8359 4131 again. This time after insisting I wanted a form I was told they have "not been done yet", "we have to create them", "it will take a month or two",  "it's not that simple" and "if a paper form is used there will be a delay of 4 weeks so why not do it on-line".

Please do tell me when this most basic of forms will once again be available. There are many people who would rather fill out forms or don't have computers especially amongst the group of people who have disabilities and thus need a blue badge to make their life a little less difficult.

Yours sincerely

and a reply came 5 days later

Good afternoon Mr Mustard,

I am sorry for the negative experience (experiences plural actually) you have had when you phoned the contact centre, this is certainly not the level of service we aim to provide to any of our customers.

The forms are available for us to send out to you and if you could provide me with the correct name and address I will happily arrange for this to take place.

What should have been explained over the phone to you is that we are trying to encourage customers to complete applications on-line or where that is not possible we will happily complete the application over the phone with the customer, we find this does help with the process and stops with any unnecessary delays if paper forms are not completed correctly, but if either of these methods does not suit the customer we will send out a paper application. This was not explained. (Soft soaping Mr Mustard in this way does not wash.)

Should your friend wish us to call and take them through the application over the phone I will happily arrange a suitable time for us to call and complete the form this way.

Once again I am sorry for the negative experience you have had on this occasion and should you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards


Iain Hamilton
Contact Centre Transformation Manager (and suspected Town Hall Tax Dodger)

Mr Mustard did have further questions and wrote back the same day.

Dear Mr Hamilton

Thank you for responding quickly.

Please post one of the forms to me. As it is instantly available there is no doubt that I was lied to in both calls.

I think that the forms should be widely available across the borough in libraries, day care centres, council buildings that are open to the public, care homes, doctors surgeries, charities for the elderly or disabled and in all public buildings that the disabled are likely to visit and downloadable from the council website for those that prefer to fill in forms at leisure. (Guess what, the form is not available to download from the £700,000 council website, but it is at the bottom of this free posting)

I think that it is shameful that forced channel shifting is going on to the degree where the wishes of the public are put behind the administrative convenience of the council. The council exists to serve the public and not the other way around. It clearly wasn't the case when I telephoned that the staff tried to nudge me in the direction of the Internet but to bludgeon me in that direction with the blunt instrument of no choice. (This type of channel shifting will come to every area in the end)

I am going to arrange further mystery shopping next month to see if the proper message has been given by management to the staff. I do hope to be helped and not hindered next time.

Yours sincerely

and back came the reply to the easy part of Mr Mustard's email, the rest being disregarded. Don't think Mr Hamilton that Mr Mustard didn't notice that you didn't respond to all of his message.

Dear Mr Mustard,

We will get an application out to your home address tomorrow.

I would welcome your feedback following any further communication you have with the Council's Customer Services Contact Centre both negative and positive, but I can assure you the team involved in the issuing of Blue Badges have been spoken to.

If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards


Iain Hamilton
Contact Centre Transformation Manager

There were two more quick emails

Dear Mr Hamilton

Thank you for the original form which has now reached me. I would appreciate an electronic copy also please.

I have a further question that has arisen since the form arrived. I see that you insist on claim forms being handed in personally. I know it is guidance that the actual badge should be collected in person by the applicant and I am wondering if Barnet Council force applicants to visit the council twice and if you do so the reason for that as by their nature the applicants have more trouble in getting around.

Thank you

Good morning Mr Mustard,

We insist on claim forms being handed in, in person so we can confirm the ID that is required to be provided, but we don't ask for the individual to collect the badge in person as this is sent out to them. (This is OK, it is an anti-fraud measure)

I will arrange for an electronic application to be sent out to you shortly.

Kind regards


Iain Hamilton
Contact Centre Transformation Manager

So here for anyone who needs it is the manual form. Feel free to print it out as many times as you like and to put it in every building that is visited by anyone who might want to make an application by hand from the privacy of their own living room.

Words fail Mr Mustard for the despicable way that Barnet Council officers (i.e. jumped up overpaid senior managers, interims, consultants or whatever you want to call yourselves today, certainly not compassionate souls) have treated the disabled as a nuisance to be forced to act at your convenience when it is you who are the public servants.

Have you learnt nothing from the Paralympics?

In fact Mr Mustard was so disgusted that he wrote to the Department of Transport so that they could push Barnet Council back into line. This is their response:

I note your comments and can inform you that new online facility for applying for badges has recently been introduced. However, it is important that people who are unable to, or who do not wish to, complete an online form should be offered other ways of applying by their local authority. There may be implications under Equality Act legislation should a local authority not offer an alternative for disabled people who are unable to use online facilities. In March 2012 (before Mr Mustard's mystery shopping call) the Department reminded all local authorities of their duties to provide application facilities for those who can’t or won’t use computers following a number of complaints.

Disabled people who think they may have been discriminated against can contact The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for information on what they need to do.
Barnet Council. You cannot just try and force the cheapest method for you to operate onto an unsuspecting public. 
You are sacrificing the disabled on the altar of administrative convenience.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard.

Download the following form and print it out and paper the borough with it.
Blue Badge Form Barnet Council 05 September 12

1 comment:

  1. On behalf of a reader:

    1.The forms being delivered personally by the applicant....but you cannot park without a permit at NLBP can you? So how are people with mobility problems supposed to get there? It is a long walk from the bus stop.

    I agree the abuse of blue badges is appalling but I suspect that not many applications are fraudulent, just that the badges get used by people who are not the badge holder.

    This is made worse by the fact that the photo is placed face-down on the windscreen so difficult to tell if the person parking using the badge is the rightful owner.

    2. As parent/carers of disabled children, we are advised by those with bitter experience, NEVER to fill in forms over the phone unless you really really have to. Then ask them to post the completed form in hard copy to you to make sure they are a true reflection of what you said. Otherwise you never know what they are writing down in your name. Until you find out the hard way when things go wrong.

    Keep up the good work.

    Mr Mustard noted that you can't hand in at NLBP anyway. The two options are Barnet House and Burnt Oak Library. He has not used that library but it looks to be on busy corner with lots of yellow lines, single & double and for the first appplication parking will have to be paid for.

    This is what Barnet Council say about Barnet House

    "There is very limited staff parking and only a small visitors car park. On street parking is very difficult in this area, so please allow time for this."

    Not the prefect location then. Mr Mustard has been there out of hours. The car park truly is tiny.


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