COUNCIL chiefs have climbed down over their refusal to take over-the-counter payments for the controversial new garden waste charge.
When they first asked residents to sign up if they wanted to continue receiving brown bin collections after the £25 annual fee comes into effect in October, they insisted payments should be online unless there were “exceptional circumstances”.
But after complaints that the process was too complicated and vulnerable people were struggling to pay via the internet, the council has now given in and agreed people can make card or cash payments over the counter in local council offices.
The original tough line was set out in a briefing not for councillors last month: “Consistent with the online nature of the service registration process, the council are not actively taking cash or cheque payments. Where customers are genuinely unable to use the online form then payment can be made by debit card via the telephone service, or in very exceptional circumstances the telephone team will discuss other payment options.”
The council’s website still urges online payment, but it adds: “You can also pay over the counter in locality offices by debit / credit card or cash.”
Tory councillor Jason Rust, who represents Colinton/Fairmilehead, said: “The process is in complete chaos. It seems there are changes by the day and it is completely reactive to the numerous problems which have been identified, rather than having been proactively thought through.
“It is welcome if there are further ways to make payment easier and without risk of scams. However, the conflicting and changing advice is of serious concern and a waste of residents’ time. If the council cannot even get the implementation right, it does not bode well for operation of the policy.”
Scott Arthur, Labour councillor for Colinton/Fairmilehead, said he was no fan of the charge and now wished he had asked more questions about its implementation and the possibility of running a pilot.
He said: “I welcome this latest u-turn on how residents can pay from the Garden Tax. Many older and vulnerable people in my ward have really struggled with the systems originally put in place and I know local librarians have been inundated with requests for help. In Edinburgh around 95 per cent of people have internet access, but it feels like somebody forgot that many of our most vulnerable citizens are in the other five per cent.”
A council spokeswoman said: “While we would encourage residents to sign up for garden waste collections online as the quickest and easiest way to do so, we appreciate this may not be possible for everyone.
“For this reason we’ve set up payments in our locality offices, where people can pay by card or cash, as well as being able to register and pay at one of our self-service kiosks. As the registration period continues we have fine-tuned the process so that, where payments can’t be made online, they can be done over the phone or face-to-face.”