HALF of the region’s councils have no policy in place to crack down on blue badge fraud, with just five people prosecuted in the North-East last year.

A man who displayed a dead person’s parking permit was among those hauled before the courts following investigations by Durham County Council.

The authority is one of six in the North-East with an established policy for prosecuting abuse of the Blue Badge Scheme, which provides parking concessions for people with severe disabilities.

It was responsible for bringing four out of the five prosecutions recorded in the region last year, with the other taking place in Northumberland.

All of the prosecutions were linked to non-badge holders using permits belonging to other people, according to Government figures released this month and analysed by the Echo.

While the vast majority of permits are thought to be used appropriately, a third of councils across the country – including Darlington, Hartlepool and Stockton - have no policy in place to tackle abuse, suggesting that the scale of the problem could be greater than is reflected in prosecution statistics.

The impact of blue badge misuse can lead to people with disabilities being prevented from going about their business and being ‘deprived of essential access’, according to Durham council’s strategic traffic manager.

Victoria Armstrong, CEO of Disability North, said it was important for councils to have in place methods to tackle fraudulent activity relating to the scheme.

However, she warned that fraud prosecutions were extremely difficult to obtain and suggested councils would be better directing funds to the support of disabled people in general, than the policing of a limited problem.

She added: “We deal with more problems relating to people struggling to obtain a blue badge when they are entitled to it.

“Fraud does not come up day to day and there seems to be relatively little to gain from it.”

Earlier this year, Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court heard four cases linked to the council’s crackdown on illegal blue badge parking, including that of Anthony Reay from North View, Bearpark.

He initially claimed the blue badge he had misused was his but later admitted it had belonged to a man who died months previously.

The 57-year-old said he had been in a hurry and unable to find a parking space but pleaded guilty to the offence and apologised for his actions. The court imposed a conditional discharge and a contribution towards costs.

Sarah Jones of Stephenson Street, Ferryhill, admitted using a blue badge belonging to someone else, who had reported it lost. After being caught parking illegally in Bishop Auckland, she was eventually fined £300 and ordered to pay costs after telling officers: “Well, it was worth a try”.

The North-East has the highest percentage of blue badges issued in the country, with the 132,000 issued representing around five per cent of the population.

The five successful prosecutions represent the equivalent of less than 0.01 per cent of issued permits being used fraudulently.

Dave Wafer, strategic traffic manager for Durham County Council, said a strict approach to enforcement contributed to offences in the area being relatively low.

He added: “We provide parking spaces for people with a blue badge as close as possible to important destinations; their misuse deprives those with a disability of essential access and can prevent them from going about their normal business.

“For this reason, we take a strict approach to enforcement, carrying out regular operations to check for misuse and prosecuting anyone we catch in the act. In addition to the 2018/19 figures, three more offenders were successfully prosecuted in October and we have a number of people due before courts for blue badge abuse in the very near future.”

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council, one of the authorities with no blue badge misuse policy, said the issue fell instead under the council's corporate fraud and anti-corruption strategy.

He said that prosecutions would be carried out in accordance with existing legislation so a specific policy would not be required in order to take action, adding that there had been no reports of fraud to the authority within the past year.