Most drivers do not begrudge disabled people the right to park their cars in designated prime spaces close to supermarket entrances. Quite the opposite is true. But an unempathetic, non-disabled minority are always likely to disregard the signs and use the bays themselves. Infuriating though that is for everyone else, what does UK law say about it?
The Equality Act 2010
Supermarkets do not provide disabled parking spaces purely out of compassion. They are obliged to make provision for disabled customers under the Equality Act 2010. No specific number of spaces is stipulated, but guidelines suggest 5% of total parking should be set aside.
A controversial aspect of disabled parking arises when supermarkets insist that a Blue Badge be shown by drivers wishing to use the parking bays. This has no legal standing on private land, so any fines that are issued or contractual demands made on that basis, are outside of the law if the driver is genuinely disabled.
Under the Equality Act, anyone with a physical or mental impairment that has a long-term effect on their everyday life qualifies as disabled. Those persons should apply for a Blue Badge to use public disabled bays. For the sake of stress avoidance, it's wise to display the badge outside supermarkets, too.
Since some supermarkets reinforce the false idea that all disabled people must display a Blue Badge to use designated spaces, legitimate users of the spaces may occasionally be subject to abuse from other drivers if they don't conform with this.
The way a supermarket enforces disabled parking is often through fines, either directly or via a parking management company. This is possible through contract law. Nobody has to sign anything for a contract to exist. As long as the supermarket clearly displays disabled parking signs and notices, the driver accepts the conditions of the contract by using the services.
Only when disabled parking signs exceed their legal scope, as might be the case with disabled non-badge-holders, can the driver legitimately contest a fine. On private land, it's always the driver of the vehicle who is liable for a fine and not the registered keeper. In England or Wales, the car-park operator can obtain the fine from the keeper if the driver remains anonymous. Different rules apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Preventing abuse of disabled parking is not optional for the supermarket. That, too, falls under the Equality Act 2010. But how it's done varies significantly from one supermarket to the next. Some use outside companies to patrol car parks and enforce fines, while others take a more passive approach. The latter is sufficient as long as facilities are not abused continuously.