Edinburgh council accused of discrimination over ending of cash payments

THE city council has been accused of discriminating against poorer and elderly people by announcing it will no longer accept cash over the counter for rent, council tax and other payments in most of its offices.

Tuesday, 21st May 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 21st May 2019, 7:00 am
Critics say some people may not have bank cards and rely instead on cash

From next month, only the council’s centres in the High Street and Wester Hailes will allow cash payments.

The SNP-Labour administration claims the move will make payments safer and more convenient and says 90 per cent of people have cards they can pay with.

But anti-poverty campaigner Willie Black, of North Edinburgh Fights Back, said the council’s refusal to accept cash payments would have a big impact on many people, especially elderly people and those in the city’s poorer communities.

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He said: “If people are paying by cash there is a reason for that - maybe they don’t have an account and don’t have cheque cards. It’s clearly discriminating against people who don’t have any other means of paying.

“They may say 90 per cent do have payment cards, but 10 per cent of all the people making payments to the council is still a lot of people. People have enough problems to worry about without this.”

The council will stop taking cash payments at Kirkliston, South Queensferry, Captain’s Road, Pilton and Drumbrae offices on June 7. Craigmillar office has already halted cash payments, but the offices at Wester Hailes and the High Street - which together account for more than half of all cash transactions - will continue accepting cash for the time being.

Kevin Lang, Lib Dem councillor for Almond ward, which includes South Queensferry and Kirkliston, alleged the council was guilty of double standards.

“The whole point of having local offices in places like Queensferry and Kirkliston is to reflect the fact people face a long and sometimes expensive journey to come into the city centre. I don’t understand why people in the centre of Edinburgh will be able to continue to use cash to pay their council tax bills, for example, but people in Queensferry and Kirkliston won’t be allowed to.”

But finance convener Alasdair Rankin defended the move. He said: “We’re encouraging more people to switch to better, safer and more convenient ways to pay, such as Direct Debit, online payment, PayPoint or automated payment lines.

“This change will help us make much better use of our technology and services and it will free up staff in the locality offices to engage face to face with customers and give advice on council tax, benefits, rent or homelessness, or to help them to use PayPoint if they’re not familiar with that.

“A survey of customers carried out as part of the planning and consultation phase for this project, however, found that 90 per cent already had a payment card, so the vast majority are already accustomed to paying that way.”

He said people unsure of how to pay would be given full advice and support in local offices.

“Assisting the most vulnerable customers is always a top priority and by freeing up staff time and resources in this way, we’ll be much better placed to do that.”