A new task force has been launched to tackle fraudulent use of the blue badge scheme, which offers free parking for disabled people.
More than 4,000 badges were stolen last year and councils prosecuted over 1,200 cases of misuse.
But 60% of councils did not pursue anyone for fraud, research found.
The crackdown comes as the scheme is being extended in England to some “hidden disabilities”, such as autism or mental illnesses, from 30 August.
The task force will bring together organisations to work on improving the consistency of council enforcement against blue badge misuse.
There will also be a review of public awareness about the rules on eligibility for a badge, when it can and cannot be used, and how to return a badge when it is no longer needed, such as when the holder dies.
The government wants to improve public understanding so people whose disabilities are not visible will be able to use the badges without fear of being challenged unfairly.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, said the task force would help it “crack down on dishonest motorists” but council enforcement had been hampered by “limited resources”.
In 2018, the number of blue badges reported stolen was six times the theft rate in 2013.
Martin Tett, the LGA’s transport spokesman, said: “People can help councils win the fight against blue badge fraud, by tipping us off about people they suspect are illegally using a badge, bearing in mind this new eligibility and that people’s need for a badge might not be obvious.”
About 2.35 million people in the UK have blue badge permits because they have physical mobility difficulties or are registered blind. In most areas, it means they can park for free in council-run pay-and-display spaces and for up to three hours on yellow lines.
The government could not say how many more people will be eligible under the new rules on hidden disabilities, which include:
- people who cannot travel without risk of serious harm to their health and safety or someone else’s (such as young children with autism)
- people who cannot travel without “very considerable psychological distress”
- people who have very considerable difficulty when walking, meaning “both the physical act and experience of walking”
Drivers and passengers with dementia or anxiety disorders are expected to benefit from the new guidance, but the final decision on granting a blue badge will be made by the local council.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “As a society, we don’t do enough for people with hidden disabilities. I hope this change to blue badge guidance will make a real difference to people’s lives.”
An extra £1.7 million has been set aside for councils to cope with the expected increase in applications.
Scotland and Wales have already implemented similar rules to include some mental impairments, where people cannot follow the route of a journey without assistance, but the criteria is yet to be altered in Northern Ireland.