DISABLED drivers in the Capital have been left waiting up to 16 weeks after applying to renew their Blue Badges.
The backlog emerged after tough new assessment criteria were introduced to tighten up Blue Badge access as part of a crackdown on high levels of fraud.
Vital to disabled motorists’ day-to-day mobility, the special permits, held by around 17,000 city residents, provide exemption from some charges and enable holders to use dedicated parking spaces.
But amid a surge in the numbers subject to mobility assessment, the council’s system has buckled, with transport leaders admitting under-pressure staff have taken up to 12 weeks to process applications.
Anyone waiting for a badge to arrive is entitled to a five-month dispensation but this is only valid within Edinburgh.
The delays have been slammed as “not acceptable” by critics, who say they have heard of disabled drivers waiting nearly four months for a new badge.
Keith Bell, secretary at Sighthill, Broomhouse and Parkhead community council, said: “If someone has a Blue Badge they have it for a reason – to leave them hanging like that is just not on.
“If someone can only walk 50 metres and they go to a shopping centre where the nearest space they can find is 100 metres from the door and there’s not a Blue Badge space they want to risk using, it’s going to have a serious impact.”
When the new code of practice was introduced in January 2012, council leaders anticipated that 30 to 40 applications would be sent for a mobility assessment each week.
But the number submitted quickly soared to more than double that figure, with the time needed to process some applications rising to 12 weeks.
Disability campaigners at Capability Scotland have welcomed efforts to tighten up access to the Blue Badge scheme but said delays in getting much-needed permits out to drivers were “unfortunate”.
A spokeswoman said: “Many disabled people rely on their Blue Badges every day to enable them to access facilities such as shops, medical appointments, employment and leisure opportunities both locally and further afield.
“It is very frustrating for people to find that they can only use their badges in Edinburgh, even if it is only for a temporary period.”
Transport chiefs said they were working hard to improve the situation.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport leader, said: “Due to the new, more stringent application process introduced nationwide, some applicants now need to be assessed, when this did not previously happen.
“We make sure application forms are sent out to Blue Badge holders at least 12 weeks before their badges are due to expire, to help speed up the process.
“In addition, a dispensation of up to five months is given to anyone who’s waiting for a badge renewal or assessment so that they can still use their expired badge in the interim.”