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.


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.