Thank you for contacting me about pavement parking and discrimination against guide dog owners.
As you will know guide dogs play a vital role in allowing someone who is blind or partially sighted to still be independent and live their lives to the fullest and the guide dogs charity is an invaluable service that is always there to support the blind and partially sighted as much as they can before they get a guide dog, and even after when their dog has passed away.
I appreciate that people parking on pavements is an issue for everyone but is particularly challenging for those who are blind or partially sighted, wheelchair users and the elderly. I was disappointed that the Pavement Parking (Protection of Vulnerable Pedestrians) Bill was withdrawn from Parliament in 2015. This Bill would have given local Councils greater powers to manage parking on pavements more effectively, replicating the law that is currently in place in London.
Current laws on pavement parking are often costly for Council who are having to repair damaged pavements, but are extremely dangerous for vulnerable road users. The Government’s position on this is that they believe that pavement parking is better addressed on a local basis than through new laws. The Department for Transport is looking at ways of improving and simplifying the process for local councils to use their current powers. The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, which was published last year, said that the Department will look at an alternative pavement parking regime.
There are ways that local Councils, along with the Police, can act to tackle on-street and pavement parking, such as under legislation governing obstruction and dangerous parking, and designating limited areas of ‘no pavement parking’. However, with the Government cuts the Police and local Councils are struggling to get the resources they need to tackle this issue. I would like to see laws in place that would help local Councils to make decisions about parking more simply, with reduced costs. We need to be able to protect vulnerable pedestrians and all those who use out roads and pavements.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Westminster Hall debate on 5 September due to prior diary engagements. I completely agree that the discrimination shown towards guide dog owners needs to end. In August 2018, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of Transport wrote to all licensing authorities suggesting that all licensed drivers should undergo some a form of disability awareness training. It is likely that most local licensing authorities will be adopting a form of mandatory disability awareness training for all licensed drivers soon.
In relation to the discrimination of guide dog owners, I am extremely disappointed to hear of cases where guide dogs owners are being refused entry to a shop, or restaurants and cafes. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for any service to turn away assistance dogs as it goes against their rights. It is very concerning that this law isn’t enforced as much as it can be as it does cause distress for guide dog owners. It limits their independence greatly and therefore must have a staggering impact on their wellbeing.
Currently the consequence of breaking this law is a £1000 fine. However, I will press the Government to do more to enforce this law so that no one is made to feel uncomfortable and face a confrontation for just going about their daily lives. In the debate on 5 September, the patchy follow through of this law was mentioned. During the discussion, it was recognised that this law isn’t enforced as much as it should be and therefore there must be a change.
I will continue to show my support for the guide dogs charity for the invaluable work that they do and I will continue to make sure that more is done to protect guide dogs owners from discrimination.