Three-fold rise in fines for blue badge abuse
THE number of non-disabled drivers caught using blue badges trebled in a year.
A total of 224 motorists were fined in 2015 for 'improper use' of the badges, according to figures disclosed by infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard.
Blue badges are reserved for drivers with a disability, to allow them to visit shops and other places more conveniently.
Holders are able to use disabled parking bays, park for free in paid-for spaces and stop for up to three hours on yellow lines.
The number of motorists fined last year represented a steep rise from 87 fines issued in 2013 and 77 in 2014.
So far this year 137 motorists have been fined.
The figures were released following a written assembly question from DUP Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Lord Morrow.
Penalty notices of up to £90 are issued - reduced to £45 if paid within a fortnight - for motorists caught abusing the scheme, while a criminal conviction can attract a £1,000 fine.
In July, it emerged that there were 7,000 people on the waiting list for a blue badge in Northern Ireland, with applicants facing an average wait of three months.
The Irish News reported in 2014 that there had been more than 5,000 complaints about fraud and abuse of blue badges and 600 fines issued in the preceding six years.
More than 110,000 blue badges have been allocated in total across Northern Ireland.
In response to a separate assembly question from Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA Declan McAleer, the minister confirmed that "the vast majority" of temporary staff working in the blue badge unit were released in 2014.
"The decision to cancel the vast majority of temporary staff contracts was taken in 2014 at a time when the then Department for Regional Development was facing an overspend and a ministerial direction had been issued to continue provision of safety-critical front line services."
Mr Hazzard added: "The decision was taken by senior management in the department. This led to a backlog and agency staff were recruited in July 2015 once the overspend situation had ended."