More than 7,000 people in north on waiting list for blue badges
THERE are 7,000 people on the waiting list for a blue badge in Northern Ireland, around a sixth of the total number of people who were issued with one last year.
The backlog means that applicants are faced with an average wait of three months, according to the infrastructure minister.
Blue badge holders are able to use disabled bays, park free in paid-for spaces and for up to three hours on yellow lines.
The figures were released in response to an assembly question by DUP Upper Bann member Carla Lockhart.
She told The Irish News: "I had a couple of calls from constituents who were waiting for badges. I think it is unacceptable for a very important service, a service which is being used by the most vulnerable in our society.
"It is a £2 fee to make an application and I would like to know how the £2 is being used.
"There have always been issues with getting them quickly but I will be writing to the minister to find out why there is a problem here."
Minister Chris Hazzard said that those whose badges had expired within recent months would be exempt from penalties due to the delay.
"The Blue Badge Unit is currently dealing with a 12 week backlog of applications. All applications are being processed as quickly as possible," he said.
"Badge holders can continue to use their existing badge provided it has an expiry date after 1st March 2016 and they have submitted a re-application form.
"Our traffic attendants are aware of this and have been instructed only to enforce contraventions where blue badges are out of date before 1st March 2016. However, this only applies in Northern Ireland and does not apply on private roads and car parks."
The Irish News reported in 2014 that there had been more than 5,000 complaints about fraud and abuse of blue badges in the preceding six years.
More than 600 people were fined over the period after being caught misusing blue badges, which are only meant for vehicle users with severe mobility problems.
Penalty notices of up to £90 can also be issued for vehicles caught abusing the scheme while a criminal conviction can attract a £1,000 fine.
While most applications - around 43,000 per year - are processed, figures show 5,000 applications for blue badges in 2014-15 were not approved.
More than 110,000 blue badges have been allocated in total across Northern Ireland.