Fears that fraudsters could cash in on ‘garden tax’

CHARGE: The �25 a year fee comes into force in October.
CHARGE: The �25 a year fee comes into force in October.
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VULNERABLE people could become victims of fraud thanks to the council’s controversial new “garden tax”, the Tories have claimed.

Householders are being told to register online if they want to have their garden waste collected once the new £25 a year charge is introduced in October. But special arrangements for people who cannot do so are said to be open to abuse.

The council has taken on extra staff to cope with calls about the new charge.

Free collection of brown bins will end on October 5, except for people on council tax benefit. Everyone who wants to continue to receive the service must register by July 22.

The council says people without internet access should use self-service kiosks at local council offices or computers in libraries.

However, council guidelines say in exceptional circumstances staff may complete the registration process over the phone for customers who struggle to do it themselves online.

In these cases, formal terms and conditions have to be posted to the resident for approval and the council will then contact them to take payment.

But Jason Rust, Conservative councillor for Colinton/Fairmilehead, said apart from being inefficient the system was “fundamentally flawed” in terms of security.

He argued anyone could phone residents, pretending to be from the council and obtain their card details.

Cllr Rust said: “I have a had a number of concerns expressed to me about the system for registering. It seems that if a resident is not online, it is an extremely time consuming and cumbersome process. There is incredulity that it works in this way and I have serious concerns about the potential for malpractice or abuse of the system.

“I don’t see how I could advise any constituent to do other than decline to make any payment to the council over the phone after receiving a call, but instead suggested they call back using the number on the letter to make payment.”

Cllr Lesley Macinnes, transport and environment convener, said: “The quickest and simplest way to register for the new garden waste service is online, but residents who don’t have access to the internet can use the self-service kiosks at their local council office or visit their local library for free internet access and assistance.

“Anyone who is unable to do this can ring us and our dedicated garden waste staff will arrange for terms and conditions to be posted and returned, so that we can register new users to the service.

“The registration process is designed to protect customers at all times and we will only take payment over the phone once we have confirmed customer details and that they are comfortable with the process.”