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CASHLESS COUNCIL: Maidstone BC has not finalised PayPoint contract - details

Friday 17th January 2020

MAIDSTONE Borough Council will allow residents to use the cash payment service, PayPoint, at shops after the Link paying-in machines are scrapped in April.
Tax-payers will have 55 outlets in the borough to choose from although an MBC payment can be presented to a PayPoint anywhere in the UK providing the document has a valid barcode.
But we have also learnt PayPoint has confirmed its contract with the council has not been "finalised" and system-testing continues.
MBC's controversial decision to go cashless was made in a press announcement during the festive period and caused fury from some elected members who said they had not been properly consulted about the change.
It later emerged the decision had been taken by unelected officers under "delegated powers".
Three of the four political group leaders - John Perry (Con), Malcolm MacKay (Lab) and Eddie Powell (Ind) - said they feared 2,000 tax-payers, many vulnerable or old, could be adversely impacted by the move.
A press release of December 30, which announced MBC's decision to go "cashless", made no mention of an alternative cash payment service, but encouraged taxpayers to set up a direct debit or go online.
A letter, dated December 2019, sent to cash-paying residents also had no reference to an alternative means of payment. There is no visible information about PayPoint on the council's website.
But we understand a further letter, to be circulated in February, will tell those affected of the PayPoint option.
Downs Mail asked MBC where PayPoint is mentioned in the 2018 digital strategy documents. The council refused to answer.
We have also asked when the alternative cash payment service was approved, for supporting dated documentation and the name of the officer with final sign-off. The council has not responded.
But on January 16, MBC director of finance Mark Green wrote to elected members explaining the advantages of the PayPoint system.
He added: “The actions being taken are consistent with the digital strategy, which has been agreed by members and decisions have been made at all times in accordance with agreed delegations.”
But we have learnt Maidstone Borough Council’s contract with PayPoint has not yet been finalised.
In fact, the council is still at the testing stage with the new service, according to PayPoint spokesman Sam Holl.
He said: "We are now finalising our contract and testing the service and aim to implement in the coming weeks."
Conservative Cllr Jonathan Purle said: “I have questioned why the the PayPoint option wasn’t mentioned in the digital strategy documents and now we know why. It wasn’t there then and still isn’t there now, evidently.”
Cllr MacKay said: "The strategy seems to be to scare people into taking out direct debits, because that's more convenient for the council, and then mop up those who don't with PayPoint at the end. It's a cynical strategy."