Thefts of parking permits for disabled motorists have increased by 45% in the past 12 months, figures show.
Some 4,246 blue badges were reported stolen in England in 2017/18 compared with 2,921 in the previous year, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).
The latest total is the highest since records began in 2008/09 and represents a six-fold rise on the 656 recorded cases in 2012/13.
The permits are issued by councils, who described the increase in thefts as “alarming”.
Around 2.4 million disabled people in England have a blue badge.
The badges allow holders to park free of charge in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines, while those in London are exempt from the congestion charge.
Councils in England took legal action against 1,215 motorists for blue badge misuse in 2017/18.
Almost all cases (99%) involved drivers using someone else’s blue badge.
Martin Tett, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, representing councils, said the permits are a “vital lifeline” that help disabled people visit shops or family and friends.
He continued: “Callous thieves and unscrupulous fraudsters using them illegally are robbing disabled people of this independence.
“Blue badge theft is clearly a soaring crime and it is alarming that incidents have risen by more than 45% in the past year alone.”
Mr Tett added that councils “continue to work hard” to tackle the thefts, and he urged people to report motorists who illegally use the permits.
Phil Talbot of disability charity Scope said: “This steep rise in thefts is shocking.
“The police and councils need to ensure they are serving their disabled residents by cracking down on this abuse.”
A DfT spokeswoman said: “Whoever fraudulently uses a blue badge takes that space from someone who really needs it, and it is good to see more local authorities than ever before taking action against misuse.”
Earlier this year the DfT announced plans to make people with hidden disabilities entitled to blue badges, to help create parity in the treatment of physical and mental health.
The department said councils have different interpretations of existing rules with only some recognising hidden disabilities.
The new policy is designed to provide “clear and consistent” guidelines.