Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Inaccessible Accessibility

I am, and have been for some years, a holder of a Blue Badge. The Blue Badge is a wonderful thing for access. My badge is up for renewal in a couple of months, and Warwickshire County Council have very helpfully (credit where it's due) sent me a renewal form and some guidelines.

They need proof of:
  • My name, in other words my marriage certificate.

  • My address, in other words my council tax bill.

  • and my eligibility, in other words my letter confirming my award of Disability Living Allowance including the High Rate Mobility component.

So far no problem.

BUT!

They don't want the responsibility of handling original documents. They want me to send certified copies.

Okay, that's fairly sensible too. I prefer to keep my original documents in my own posession and I appreciate the effort to reduce the risk of losing them.

According to most of the UK, a certified copy is a photocopy of a document that has been verified as being true by a person who holds a certain position of responsibility. A doctor, a policeman, an MP, a civil servant, you get the idea. The Jobcentre made a certified copy of my marriage certificate when I went in to change my name. Or, that proud institution the Post Office will make certified copies of up to three documents for the fairly reasonable sum of £7.15 as part of their passport and identity services.

These certified copies are good enough for most institutions and can be used for opening bank accounts or getting mortgages, but apparently they're not good enough for Warwickshire County Council's Blue Badge scheme. Warwickshire County Council insist that the certified copies must be made by someone who not only fits the usual criteria, but also knows me personally and is not a relative.

(Amusingly, however, I can self-certify my own photograph for the badge as a "true likeness" without it having to be corroborated by anyone.)

I couldn't quite believe it and phoned them to check. The conversation went a little bit like this:
(Me): I'm a blue badge holder. I don't drive. I'm written up as "socially isolated" on my care plan. I don't know that many non-relatives. Can I bring in my original documents to your offices and wait while you copy them?
Only if you know someone here who can confirm that you are who you say you are.
Oh. No, I don't. Well, can I send normal certified copies from the Post Office?
Do they know you personally at the Post Office?
No, but they do proper legally acceptable Certified Copies...
They have to actually know you and be able to confirm that you are who you say you are. We've had to introduce these measures to combat fraud.
But you seem to have made it difficult for precisely the people who the scheme is aimed at! The reason I don't know people is because it's difficult for me to get out and about!
I can't discuss policy. There must be someone. Your best bet is someone who owns a local business. Do they know you at the local shop?
No, they don't know me at the local shop, because I'm a blue badge holder and as such I don't walk to the shop.
Or your bank?
I bank online. I shop online. I work online. I do most things online, because it's really difficult for me to get out and about and that is why I have a blue badge!
If you're working, how about your boss?
I am self-employed. I don't have a boss and I doubt you'd let me self-certify.
Anyone you know through work who runs their business?
Clients? Some of them would be eligible, but most of them have never met me, because I work online, what with the whole being eligible for a blue badge because it's difficult for me to get around issue. They only know me on email and phone calls.
But they know that you're you - they can do it!
May I ask you a question? Imagine you have a business. Imagine you try to project a professional image to your clients of being capable and self-sufficient. Would you feel comfortable placing yourself in a position of need? Giving one of them your disability benefits confirmation letter to thoroughly examine?
er... I see the problem but it looks like that's what you're going to have to do.

Warwickshire County Council, ladies and gentlemen. Recommending that I go whimpering to my clients. Advising me that I am obliged to do this in order to obtain an access tool. Refusing to accept the perfectly accessible and inexpensive identity-checking service offered by the Post Office. Creating additional barriers. Well done, boys and girls.

There is a happy ending. Another disabled person is helping me out. That doesn't make Warwickshire County Council's attitude acceptable.

Now, to take a deep breath and try to rewrite this post in a less ranty form, in the hope that explaining their error to Warwickshire County Council might lead them to change things in future.

8 comments:

Maggie said...

Aaarrrggghhh what a nightmare! Might a letter to your local Counsellor and your MP be in order? Glad you've got it sorted anyway. My badge due in a few months, am sweating over getting photo done, plus need to change address and driving licence etc since now moved since last one.

erasmus (aka jiva) said...

I have another alternative, scan in your document, mail it to me and I will sign it and hand write a letter with it and mail it back recorded delivery from work.

Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

Have a look at, and point the council at, the provisions of the Equality Act related to Indirect Discrimination. There's a get out there for "proportionate means of achieving a reasonable aim", but there are two arguments to be made in that case.

Firstly, that it's not proportionate - they only need to know these documents are real, not that you're the one getting the copies. If they want to verify your ID, there are other ways of doing that. In fact, they don't seem to care about your identity so much, as they aren't bothered about the photo. If they wanted this scrutiny of the photo, that might be proportionate, as it would match the passport office's rules for photos.

Secondly, even if it isn't indirect discrimination due to being a proportionate means of achieving a reasonable goal, they still have a duty to make reasonable adjustments. The only get out for that is to assess what the adjustment would have to be, and justify that it isn't reasonable.

Finally, they could try to get out of it by saying that they make allowances for all sorts of other disability issues. That doesn't matter. For the purposes of demonstrating lack of discrimination by comparison, every separate set of relevant impairments are considered a separate protected characteristic. So they can't say "there's these 5000 disabled people who are fine", they'd have to point to people with the same sort of problems, and demonstrate that they didn't have difficulty. Not that they overcame it, but that they didn't have the difficulty at all.

If that doesn't get anywhere, then yes, get your MP and/or councillor involved. I think it's polite to challenge the office in question first, though.

Mary said...

Maggie - try Jessops. They're a bit more expensive (just under £10 for 6 photos) but they do it by pulling down a screen in the store (so you can stay in your chair if you like), and then a human takes a picture with a handheld camera rather than the stupid automated thing.

Jiva - thanks, but it's under control.

Sam - that's really useful information, thank you. I'm working on the letter. I've made sure it includes a polite request for a reply that includes answers to several very specific questions.

I've also made reference to the ONS Life Opportunities Survey to demonstrate that social isolation of this kind is a problem that particularly affects disabled people as a group - data rather than anecdote, and that as such, it should be considered when developing policy for disabled people's services. Oh, and WCC's own Public Sector Equality Duty web page, which included a PDF of "Equality Objectives" many of which are being crapped all over by this nonsense.

Carie said...

I'm woefully late in catching up on my blog reading but just wanted to add any time you need something certifying give me a call - it's a perk of the profession!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mary

I am David Hurst, Customer Services Manager Face to Face at Warwickshire County Council (Warwickshire Direct)I manage some of the One Stop Shops on behalf of Warwickshire Direct.

I have just picked up on your Blog post and apologise for the experience and advice you have been given. The advice we have given to our Warwickshire Direct teams regarding certified copies is:

Certified copies
A certified copy is a photocopy of a document (above) that has been verified as being true by a person who holds a certain position of responsibility. Local government officers qualify and we would ask that if a customer presents original documents to be submitted with their application that the advisor takes copies, stamp and initial them and send them with the completed application to the Customer Service Centre.

We would therefore be able to assist you with the problem that you have had getting the copies certified.

Just to confirm:

Acceptable proof of identity:

Certified photocopy of your birth/adoption certificate, marriage/divorce certificate, valid driving licence or passport.

Acceptable proof of address:

Certified photocopy of one of the following documents, showing name and address: a current Council Tax bill, a utility bill or bank statement dated within the last 3 months

I am not sure of your location within Warwickshire but if you would like to contact me my email is davidhurst@warwickshire.gov.uk and I would be happy to help locate your nearest Warwickshire Direct one Stop Shop. Alternatively
our One Stop Shops can be found via:

http://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/onestopshops

(If Whitnash or Lillington are your nearest One Stop Shop please let me know we we currently have a part time presence at those locations)

I hope this helps and apologise again that you were not made aware of the assistance we can provide at the One Stop Shops.

Kind Regards
David Hurst

Mary said...

Hi Carie! I've pinged you on Ravelry :)

Hi David. Thank you for responding. I will email you later today and I'll include a scan of the Blue Badge guidance notes to confirm that I didn't imagine this "must know you personally" criterion.

sad times said...

Our local library offer service 1 morning a week for blue badge renewal. Going to try it out. Apparently you talk into a machine and they take photo free. Staff have offered me assistance with entry to library if problem. Lancashire (east)
Really hoping this works well!