Campaigners call on council to sell paper parking permits to over-60s

Activists from Age UK say the council’s decision to stop selling paper parking permits leaves out people who do not use the internet and will worsen loneliness, reports Sebastian Mann, Local Democracy Reporter

Campaigners made a tearful plea for Waltham Forest Council to reconsider its move to stop selling paper visitor parking permits, a move they say excludes older residents.

Activists from Age UK say moving parking permit sales online will leave out people who do not use the internet and worsen loneliness. 

The council has said that any paper permits bought before the policy was implemented will continue to be valid and a dedicated helpline, active between 9am and 5.30pm Mondays through Fridays, has been set up. 

However, Terry Day, the befriending manager at Age UK Waltham Forest, says these measures are not good enough.

Addressing the council’s adult and social care scrutiny committee on Wednesday (6th March), she said the “cruel” move online was already causing “huge anxiety” among older people. 

She said the apparent assumption that visitors would be tech-savvy younger people was “ageist,” adding: “God forbid that one 85-year-old – not online – who relies on a car, might want to visit their 87 year old friend who isn’t online on, God forbid, a Saturday or Sunday.”

According to 2021 data from Age UK, 45% of Londoners older than 75 do not use the internet. 

Terry added that the effects of loneliness had been shown to be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, based on a 2010 study.

AgeUK befriending volunteer Christine Finn delivered an emotional speech to the committee, choking up as she explained the plights of older people she works with. 

She spoke about a 90-year-old suffering from depression and memory loss, who often forgets to take his medication and even to eat. 

Christine said he, like many others, did not “have the ability” to cope with new systems. 

The new scheme would “effectively bar him” from having visitors, the Age UK volunteer said. 

She added: “Some company at home is not a lot to ask.”

Both Terry and Christine were speaking as members of the public, so the committee was not obliged to reply. 

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The parking permits stopped being sold after 26th February. When the online move was first announced, the council said paper scratch cards would cease to be accepted from 2025 onwards.

However, following backlash, deputy council leader Clyde Loakes said paper permits would be accepted “indefinitely”.

Announcing the policy U-turn on 31st January, Cllr Loakes said: “I know many of you are worried about the scratch cards that you have purchased and the stock that you may have built up.

“We had originally proposed that they would no longer be valid after 31st December, following concerns raised about the short notice of that end date in just 11 months’ time, we have decided that all scratch cards held by residents will remain valid and can be used indefinitely.

“Waltham Forest is discontinuing its remaining paper permits and moving toward a 100% virtual permit system. This affects two products – scratch cards for visitors to use bays in controlled zones, and paper vouchers for Pay by Phone bays – which will now be purchased through the RingGo app, in the same way as every other parking product we offer.

“Moving all our products to the same system saves taxpayers’ money and staff time as we operate from one standard model. It also reduces the amount of paper waste that is created, helping protect our environment.”

The council expects to save around £214,000 in the first year of the new scheme, which would reinvested into concessionary transport. 

Residents and charities were not consulted about the change, though a council spokesperson said a consultation was not required and an impact assessment had been carried out. 

The issue of digital exclusion will be discussed in-depth at a meeting of the separate climate scrutiny committee later this month, committee chairman Richard Sweden said ahead of last night’s meeting. 

Later in the meeting, Conservative councillor and committee member Catherine Saumarez said she would be keen to see Age UK and similar charities consulted during the development of ‘Mission Waltham Forest,’ a new series of council directives that aims to flatten inequalities among the borough’s residents. 

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