A BBC investigation has found that people with non-visible disabilities such as autism or Parkinson's disease face disparity when applying for a blue badge parking permit.
Blue badge permits help disabled people to access goods and services, by allowing them to park close to their destination.
People with non-visible disabilities have been eligible to apply since August 2019 in England. The scheme was changed to include disabilities such as autism, dementia, and anxiety. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland already considered applications for people with cognitive impairments.
Around 2.3 million disabled people in England have a blue badge, with 28,000 blue badges issued to people with non-visible disabilities in England in the first 12 months.
Scores of councils have lower approval rates for non-visible disabilities applications compared to those for physical impairments. 216 councils across the UK responded to the BBC’s Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request. Of the 109 councils who gave full responses, eight out of 10 had higher approval rates for people with physical impairments. For ten of those councils, the difference was greater than 50 percentage points.
Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK, said: "These lower blue badge approval rates for people with non-visible disabilities show how some of the most vulnerable people continue to be left behind.
"For both family carers and people with dementia still able to drive, a blue badge permit could help to minimise any safety risks by allowing closer parking to entrances. It can also decrease feelings of anxiety around going out."
James Taylor, from the disability charity Scope, said: "This new data shows a shocking disparity between the allocations of blue badges to people with invisible and visible impairments. Councils need to understand the devastating impact their negative decision can have."
Crohns and Colitis UK said access to toilets was an extremely important issue for people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, but many callers to its helpline had been refused a blue badge permit by their local council.
Tim Nicholls, head of policy and public affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: "These figures highlight the postcode lottery that has developed around blue badges.
"This must change. Getting a blue badge when you need one shouldn't depend on where you live."
The removal of accessible parking bays next to shops and amenities "overnight, without any consultation" to allow for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic had also had a "massive impact" on disabled people, Scope said.
In August 2019, Scope urged councils to create additional disabled parking spaces to cope with the extra demand the expanded scheme would bring.
While the charity welcomed the expansion, they commented that if spaces are scarce, the badges "are not worth the paper they're printed on.”
Councils with the largest disparity between approval rates told the BBC that they had followed government guidance.
The DfT said its review of the new criteria would include considering feedback from users of the online application service.