Campaigners clash with Waltham Council over ‘visitor badge’ alternative to parking permits

Campaigners calling for elderly Waltham Forest residents to be offered ‘visitor badges’ in lieu of online parking permits say the council isn’t listening to them.

Paper parking permits, which allow visitors, carers or tradespeople to park near residents’ houses, stopped being sold by the council on February 26.

Although slips bought before that date won’t expire, new ones can only be obtained digitally via the RingGo app.

Representatives from Age UK, who say the move online will exclude the less able and worsen loneliness, have proposed the introduction of an alternative visitors’ badge.

It would function similarly to a Blue Badge, or disabled parking permit, and would be available for certain residents, the Waltham Forest service manager for Carers First, Charlotte Hepburn, said.

They could give it to a visitor for them to display in their windshield, removing the need to go online.

Charlotte added: “It can be incredibly taxing being a carer and we want to make it easier for people.”

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council said the matter was “currently being looked into” and officials will be in touch with Age UK soon.

Rupert Williams and Barry Coidan, two older people involved with the campaign, had planned to speak in favour of the newly proposed badges at a climate scrutiny meeting on Wednesday evening (March 27).

But their request to speak was declined, with a council officer saying the same topic cannot be discussed more than once within six months.

However, a frustrated Terry Day, befriending manager and AgeUK activist, contends that Rupert and Barry should have been allowed to speak.

Neither has addressed a committee before and the topic is materially different, she said.

She called the situation “bizarre and disappointing,” adding: “Surely, if the council’s commitment on paper to equality means anything, it must mean that practical steps are taken to meet everyone’s needs, including those who are differently-abled from the majority?”

The issue of digital exclusion was raised by Terry at an adult social care meeting on 6th March.

During her allotted three minutes, she said the “cruel” move online had caused “huge anxiety” among older people and implored the council to introduce mitigating measures that would benefit everyone.

The possibility of a visitors’ badge was not mentioned by either Terry or the committee.

During his speech, a copy of which was provided to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Rupert had planned to say the proposed scheme would be “essential” for elderly residents who are not online, housebound, or disabled.

He wrote: “It is wrong to ignore the needs of some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents.

“They may only be a minority – maybe even only a small minority – but that cannot mean their needs don’t matter.”

Though the council says 80% of transactions are done digitally, around 45% of Londoners aged 75 and older do not use the internet according to Age UK data published in 2021.

Several mitigating measures have already been introduced since the controversial scheme was announced.

A Waltham Forest Council spokesperson said: “The council has listened to the concerns of our more vulnerable residents and has put in a number of further measures to support them including in person sessions at local libraries, a phone line support service, and the option to put other friends and members of the family on their account to purchase permits on their behalf.”

Following a wave of backlash, deputy council leader Clyde Loakes said paper permits would be accepted “indefinitely,” having initially announced they would be invalid from 2025 onwards.

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.”

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

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

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter