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"Despite our disappointment that the Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill was unsuccessful, it has led to a positive change"

01 November 2015

Kayleigh McGrath
Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Carers UK

On Friday MPs debated the Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill, a Private Members Bill put forward by Julie Cooper, Member of Parliament for Burnley. The Bill proposed to exempt carers eligible for Carer’s Allowance from hospital parking charges in England, however disappointingly, it failed to win enough support from MPs to progress into law. 

We backed the Bill because we know that hospital parking charges are a significant issue for carers- one of those day-to-day things that just make life that bit harder. Carers UK has long argued that hospital parking charges place an unfair burden on carers and asked for a ‘carer friendly hospitals scheme’ including free or discounted hospital car parking for carers in our 2015 Manifesto.

Since we launched the ‘Park the Charges’ campaign in support of the Bill hundreds of carers have come forward to share their experiences, telling us that hospital parking charges are draining family finances and putting pressure on already tight budgets.

We know that when people take on a caring role they often face a steep drop in income if they have to leave work or reduce their hours to care – sometimes a double loss of salary if they are caring for a partner who also has to give up work as a result of their illness or disability. This is often coupled with a steep rise in expenditure as a result of the additional costs of caring and disability, including additional travel and parking costs.

During our year-long Caring and Family Finances Inquiry, carers raised the specific issue of hospital car parking charges. Many noted not only the high cost but the impact of the termination of benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments for the cared-for person during longer hospital stays  which, in turn, can mean that Carer’s Allowance is stopped for the carer, despite the fact their caring role continues, even if the person they care for is in hospital.

Jackie, who is the sole carer for her husband, David, who has secondary progressive MS and hairy cell leukaemia, explained how parking charges had an impact on her life. Jackie relies on benefits as her sole income and said the impact of hospital charges was huge, exhausting the little savings she had. She said

The last thing I needed was to be worrying about car parking charges when I was anxious about whether my husband was going to make it or not. Carers are at such a disadvantage already, car parking charges are one extra penalty they do not need.

As Jackie highlights, it’s not just the cost that is problematic. Hospital charges are an unnecessary source of stress and anxiety at an already very difficult time.

We also know charges can also be a source of real anger amongst carers, with the disparity in parking policy across the nations. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland  provide mostly free hospital car parking, a point that many carers see as fundamentally unfair.

Despite our disappointment that the Bill was unsuccessful, it has led to a positive change from the Department of Health who have updated the guidance on hospital parking charges in response to the Bill and the campaign. It will now specifically include carers – for the very first time – as a group for which concessions, such as free or reduced charges or caps, should be available – a change the Minister labelled the “Julie Cooper amendments”. Whilst these are guidelines and not legal duties on hospitals they are certainly a step forward and we will be encouraging carers and MPs to write to their local trusts to see if, and how, they are implementing the new guidance.

You can read the text of the Parliamentary debate here or watch the full debate online here.

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