The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued new guidance to councils in England on Blue Badge parking permit eligibility, along with a new online eligibility checker to make the scheme clearer for people before they apply.

In the biggest change to Blue Badges since the 1970s, the DfT has been working with specialists to expand the eligibility criteria for the badges, which now includes people who cannot walk as part of a journey without considerable psychological distress or the risk of serious harm.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “We know that for some people, the possibility of not being able to find a parking space can make even leaving the house a challenge, which is why the Blue Badge is so important.

“The scheme, which is already a lifeline for so many disabled people, will make a huge difference to those with non-visible conditions such as autism, dementia, Parkinson’s and arthritis. It is my sincere wish that these changes will improve even more people’s lives.”

The Blue Badge scheme already means people with physical disabilities can park closer to their destination than other drivers, as they are less able to take public transport or walk longer distances.

Plans to extend the scheme to those with non-visible conditions were announced last summer following an eight-week consultation.

Minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson said: “The changes we’re making will be life-changing for these disabled people, allowing them to go about their daily lives without experiencing unnecessary stress or worry.”

The expanded scheme coincides with the launch of a review intended to improve enforcement, and help councils tackle fraudulent use of the badges.

At the end of 2018, the Local Government Association estimated that the theft of Blue Badges had risen by 45 per cent in 12 months and was up six-fold since 2013.

The review will look at ensuring Blue Badges are used correctly and improving public understanding so that those with non-visible disabilities can use the badges with confidence.

A task group will also be set up with key organisations to gather ideas and evidence on how to improve the consistency of council enforcement to tackle fraud and misuse.

But new data suggests that Blue Badge holders in many local authority areas could struggle to get parked.

Research by confused.com suggests that there is an average of 30 blue badge holders per council-owned parking space.

There were around 2.4 million permit holders in the UK prior to the new broadened eligibility criteria coming into play. According to some reports, experts predict that around another million people will apply for badges on the back of the changes.

Disabled Motoring UK, a charity which campaigns for disabled drivers and blue badge holders, said in a statement: “The end result may mean it will let down the people it was originally intended to help as well as disabled people with hidden disabilities.

“The charity predicts that when the number of blue badge holders increases from August 2019, we will be contacted more and more by disabled people who find their blue badge completely meaningless as they will be unable to find adequate parking because it will be so oversubscribed.

“We implore all local authorities and private parking operators to take this change seriously, review their disabled parking provision and stress the importance that they all enforce disabled parking properly so that disabled bays are kept free only for genuine blue badge holders.”