council has sparked widespread anger by introducing higher parking chargers for drivers who pay by cash instead of using a mobile app.
Liberal Democrat-run Sutton Council in south London was urged by the Government to reconsider its policy, while the RAC described the measure as “discriminatory”.
The local authority increased its car park prices in June for people using machines to pay but froze them for those who use an app or automated telephone line, analysis by the PA news agency found.
We ask that Sutton Council reconsiders their policy
The council said this was in response to the rising cost of providing the machines.
Following the change, using the borough’s council-owned car parks for an hour costs £3 if paid for at a machine but just £2 via the RingGo app or phone service.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “This practice unfairly penalises those who choose to pay at parking machines, and we ask that Sutton Council reconsiders their policy.
“Councils have a duty to ensure that they do not discriminate in their decision making against older people or those with vulnerabilities.”
The department’s Secretary of State Michael Gove wrote to councils in April expressing concern about drivers being “digitally excluded” through parking machines being replaced by apps.
Several councils have introduced parking surcharges for diesel vehicles as part of emissions-based schemes, but several motoring experts were not aware of local authorities previously setting higher prices for cash payments.
Conservative MP Greg Smith, who is a member of the Transport Select Committee, said: “Councils should not seek to rip off those who still want to use a pay and display machine.
“Whilst the vast majority of us now use parking apps, there are many who can’t or don’t want to.”
RAC spokesman Rod Dennis described making the cheapest parking available only to those who use a service such as RingGo as “nothing short of discriminatory”.
He said: “While there’s no denying that parking apps can make drivers’ lives easier, as everyone with a mobile phone knows, the technology is far from infallible.
“If the signal fails or isn’t strong enough, drivers who have made every effort to pay to park are left in an impossible position.
“It can’t be right that those who find themselves in this situation, or who struggle with technology in the first place, end up having to pay more just to park their cars.”
Mr Dennis also expressed concern that Sutton’s “promotional parking” prices could be a “precursor to the council removing machines for good”.
Nearly a fifth of drivers who responded to a recent RAC survey said their local authority had either scrapped parking payment machines or was consulting on doing so.
Caroline Abrahams, a director at charity Age UK, said: “Charging considerably more for parking if you pay with cash unfairly penalises people who aren’t online or who don’t have a smartphone, hitting older generations particularly hard.
“There are hundreds of thousands of older people who depend on their cars but who don’t use computers.
“Hiking their parking costs is a disincentive to them getting out and about, and engaging fully in society.
“We know that councils are under huge financial pressure but we hope this one will reconsider its approach, which has the unfortunate effect of clobbering some older motorists more than everyone else.”
Barry Lewis, who chairs Sutton Council’s environment and sustainable transport committee, said the borough has “some of the lowest parking charges across London”.
He continued: “In order to keep our prices low, we are encouraging all our residents and visitors to go cashless when paying for parking, with the incentive being a discounted rate.
“Maintaining the cash machines and collecting the money from our car parks has become more expensive.
“The charge for paying for parking by cash has increased to cover these costs.
“We understand concerns about people who don’t have a smartphone but you can also pay using a dedicated phone line.
“This means that those who do not have a smartphone are not excluded from benefiting from the discounted rate.
“Unlike other councils who have completely removed the option for people to pay by cash, residents and visitors to Sutton still have the option to pay by cash at our parking machines.”