Volunteer drivers hit out over ‘red tape’

Back to square one: Richard Higgs and Malcolm Jones are battling again to save their blue disabled badge status for Heckington Area Voluntary Car Service. EMN-140909-132426001
Back to square one: Richard Higgs and Malcolm Jones are battling again to save their blue disabled badge status for Heckington Area Voluntary Car Service. EMN-140909-132426001

A band of frustrated volunteer drivers are facing having to turn down certain calls for assistance due to what they see as Government red tape.

Heckington Area Voluntary Car Service (HAVCS) has always been able to apply for a Blue Badge to display in their drivers’ car windows when dropping off patients without other access to transport at hospitals and clinics.

But four years ago their application was declined by Lincolnshire County Council due to changes in rules.

Instead, the authority insisted every passenger should apply for their own Blue Badge.

After Sleaford MP Stephen Phillips contacted the secretary of state for transport over the matter, the decision was overturned.

However, on reapplying this year, HAVCS has again been refused following further changes to the rules.

Richard Higgs, from the service, said without the badge, the volunteer drivers risked being clamped.

He said passengers often had to be assisted to reception by drivers, who now fear to leave their cars unattended.

He added it was important for them to be able to access drop-off points and disabled bays because patients may be disabled through injury or operations or weakened by treatment.

Only permanent disability is deemed eligible for a badge, he said, adding the only alternative would be to turn down calls.

Mr Higgs argued that the lengthy wait for Blue Badges can often see patients having to go without one when they actually need it.

He said: “The drivers and coordinators of the HAVCS willingly volunteer their time to help those who need our assistance not to have to endure the stranglehold of bureaucratic red tape.

“Without the Blue Badge, it will be our passengers who will suffer as we will not be able to provide the service we have up until now.”

A county council spokesman said the tighter regulations had been brought in to counter abuse of the system and pointed out Heckington’s was the only car service which had a Blue Badge.

He added: “We only assess applications against criteria set by the Department of Transport.”