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Dame Esther Rantzen has called on ministers to stop elderly people being forced to pay to park their cars using an app.
The broadcaster said many were put off leaving their homes because they were unable to use the technology.
And the 81-year-old urged the Government to introduce a minister for older people to deal with such issues.
‘Because parking your car means independence,’ Dame Esther said. ‘It means that somebody can get out and about who otherwise might be imprisoned at home.’
In England and Wales, 13 councils have made their car parks totally cashless, leaving drivers who struggle with an app or do not have a smartphone with them unable to pay.
Dame Esther Rantzen (pictured) has called on ministers to stop elderly people being forced to pay to park their cars using an app
The 81-year-old urged the Government to introduce a minister for older people to deal with such issues [File image]
Since the start of 2021, council car parks that are cashless or have limited cash-accepting machines have collected £257million in fines. In comparison, £158million was raised in areas where all the parking machines take cash.
Dame Esther admitted that, on occasion, she had simply not paid for a parking ticket because doing so through the app was ‘just too confusing and difficult’.
She said: ‘I have been slightly irreverent and thought, well, if they don’t care about me, I don’t care about them.’ Consumers, in particular those who are older, need a choice, she said, adding ‘there must a method of payment that is comfortable to them’.
The campaigning journalist added: ‘If you’re making a demand for payment without offering any alternative or someone on the end of a phone, then if the other person is 55-plus, they should not be liable to prosecution.’
The issue was first raised on Twitter by British journalist Pete Paphides, who revealed how his father had been unable to work out how to use the mobile payment system when parking at a friend’s memorial service.
The 84-year-old had asked his son to contact the parking firm to explain what had happened, but Mr Paphides said the process was fully automated and he was unable to speak to anyone.
His father, Chris, died not long afterwards and a parking fine later arrived on the doorstep. Mr Paphides said a debt collection firm was now chasing him and refused to believe that his father had passed away. Other social media users told of similar stories.
Since the start of 2021, council car parks that are cashless or have limited cash-accepting machines have collected £257million in fines. [File image]
Dame Esther said she would always say on the BBC’s That’s Life! show, which she presented for more than two decades, how important customer service was.
And it remained as important as ever that companies still offered a phone number with a person on the end of it, she said.
‘I think it’s terribly important that there are people who are trained to lead people gently through the intricate maze of the digital world – to help those that find themselves in a car park completely baffled by an app.’
She said introducing a minister for older people would be a ‘vote winner’ for the Government, adding there was no department to deal with parking complaints and older people were ‘sliced up into different kinds of problems, be it health, pensions… and nobody is looking at us holistically…
‘So I just don’t know which department would be interested in the fact that it’s become more and more difficult for older people to park cars, which for many is their only means of getting out at all, meeting other people and being in the outside world.’
The Silver Line, the helpline which Dame Esther set up to offer advice to older people, received thousands of calls telling them how ‘crucial’ this was, she added.