At a meeting today we were kicking around thoughts about services that should be online and easy to use and that probably weren't or, at least, aren't consistently available. We quickly alighted on the disabled persons blue badge. Instinct said that if anything was going to have a consistent national process, this would be one (after all, many e-government ships have foundered on the rocks that are housing benefit processes). I was grateful that direct.gov let me type a post code and then routed me to the right place to see how to apply. So:
My local council, Hammersmith and Fulham says you qualify if you:
- receive mobility allowance or the higher rate mobility component of disabled living allowance
- receive a war pensioner’s mobility supplement
- are registered blind
- have a permanent and substantial disability which means that you are unable to walk or have very considerable difficulty in walking
- have a severe disability in both upper limbs and are unable to turn by hand the steering wheel of a vehicle even if that wheel is fitted with a turning knob
- children under 2 who use bulky medical equipment
Somerset has slightly different criteria - very similar but more detailed and these distinguish between automatic and following assessment:
You can get one automatically if you:
are registered as blind under the National Assistance Act 1948
you receive mobility allowance, or the higher rate of the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance
you receive the War Pensioner's mobility supplement
you are a severely disabled service person or a veteran who is compensated under the new Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS)
You can get a badge subject to further assessment if:
you have a permanent disability that means you can't walk or find walking very difficul
tyou have a severe disability in both your upper limbs and you regularly drive a motor vehicle but cannot turn the steering wheel by hand, even if the wheel is fitted with a turning knob
you are a child under the age of 3 who needs to be accompanied by medical equipment which cannot easily be transported, or who is affected by unstable medical conditions and may require emergency treatment.
Their process can be completed fully online - I didn't have details of a local address so couldn't try it out but it looked like it would work, if that means anything.
I then went to Buckinghamshire's site (I'm running out of post codes that I know) and was impressed. They have an eligibility test online. I failed the test the first time because I didn't confirm that I actually lived in Buckinghamshire. There follows an online form that looks very much like that in Somerset.
Finally I arrived at the Lambeth site and, at last, found the 20 page form I would need to fill in were I actually eligible. A 20 page form. For a Blue Badge. It's not even the large print version.
The interesting bit is how the checks on eligibility are carried out. Lambeth requires proof of all sorts of things - address (the usual utility bill etc), pension etc - as well as photographs, a cheque for £2 (soon to go up to £10 I gather - another hit to inflation).
It strikes me that with some up front authentication, it wouldn't be hard to test all of the other criteria from a single central capability (let's start with England, I get the sense that the rest of the UK will be more challenging). Yet here we are, 6 years after "2005, 100% online" with a service that could be used by up to 2 million people - perhaps the very ones who would most benefit from a simple way of getting hold of something that would be genuinely valuable to them ... and it's not there.
I then found this statement, from February 2011:
We are establishing, with local authorities, a common service delivery project which could deliver operational efficiency savings of up to £20m per year, help to reduce and prevent abuse and improve customer services. The project will also make available an on-line application facility which should result in faster, more automatic renewals for people whose circumstances do not change between renewal periods.
I haven't heard that anyone is actually doing this. £20m of saves sounds worth having, assuming those saves can be delivered for less than £40m! Anyone know if this is underway?