DRIVERS using disabled parking badges have been spied on by a council – in a bid to catch out fraudsters using them illegally.
In a crackdown, five council traffic officers watched motorists using the badges to park on Portsmouth’s streets, then challenged those who they suspected of breaking the law.
They spoke to 450 people in two days last week, and plan to prosecute as many as six for offences which include using a badge which belongs to a dead person and altering an expired badge’s expiry date.
Michael Robinson, the council’s parking operations manager, said: ‘It’s a serious problem, and we estimate it costs us up to £100,000 per year.
‘There are genuine misunderstandings, such as people not being clear if the badge belongs to an individual, or a car. In those cases we issue a warning and a penalty charge notice for £35. But others commit deliberate fraud, like using a pass which belonged to someone who’s died, and we take their passes away and prosecute those people.’
Blue badges have been issued to 10,000 disabled people in Portsmouth, and allow them to park for free.
The council’s officers patrolled Slindon Street and Charlotte Street in the city centre, and Palmerston Road and Osborne Road, Southsea, last Thursday and Friday.
As well as the six who may be taken to court, they handed out fines to seven drivers, and took away the badges they used, though they will be returned to their owners.
Mr Robinson said: ‘If the officers suspected the person wasn’t disabled, they waited for them to come back to the car to challenge them. We can tell from the badge what age and sex the owner is, but we waited for them to return because in some cases it could turn out to be someone picking up a relation.’
Despite concerns the crackdown could have been seen by genuine badge users as ‘snooping’, Lynne Rigby, of Portsmouth Disability Forum, said: ‘We’re very happy this happens.
‘Anyone who uses a badge properly has nothing to worry about, and we work closely with the council to help stop this fraud.’