Financial pressure sees council end free garages for Blue Badge holders

The severe pressure on Lambeth council’s finances has led to the end of its policy of not charging rent for garages it owns to car owners with disabilities who are Blue Badge holders. It will charge them a discounted rent.

It had been the only borough in London with a no-charge policy, which was introduced as part of a drive to transform the use of council-owned garages.

When it began in 2007, more than half – 60% – of council-owned garages were unused. In 10 years, this was reduced to less than 1%.

A council spokesperson said: “There are 206 garages in Lambeth rented to Blue Badge holders, 135 of which are council tenants, 21 leaseholders and 50 private residents.

“In the past we have not charged rent for these garages, and will continue to provide Blue Badge holders with garages at a significant discount.

“We were the only London borough to not charge, and will still be among a minority that offers a discount.

“We are taking this step because of our difficult financial position, and also because of our obligation to make best use of publicly owned assets.”

The council said it is supporting residents through this transition and that anyone with concerns or wishing to discuss how the change mightaffect them should email or call 020 79266000.

When it recently approved a five-year budget plan starting with the financial year 2024/25 that begins next month (April 2024), a meeting of the full Lambeth council said it would “continue to take every opportunity to support vulnerable people in our communities and deliver on our residents’ priorities”.

But it said it had to be honest about its ability to do so “in the face of reduced grant funding, rising inflation, and ever-increasing demand on our essential day-to-day services”.

The council said the budget is its blueprint for dealing with “stubbornly high inflation and increasing demands on essential services”, alongside central government funding that is “far short of what Lambeth and councils up and down the country have been calling for”.

Councillor David Amos, council cabinet member for finance and cost of living, said that Lambeth had been facing a funding gap of £38m over the next four years and, after the latest government announcement on funding for local authorities, would need to find an additional £8.7m of savings.

Cllr Amos told the full council meeting: “We know that our communities face enormous challenges in the years ahead.

“We know that local government, right across the country, faces difficult decisions as a result of a funding crisis 14 years in the making.”

After more than a decade of austerity, central government was forcing councils to pass the burden of funding essential local services on to residents by raising council tax – rather than provide sustainable, long-term funding, Cllr Amos said.

“We have been on our residents’ side throughout the cost of living crisis. We’ll keep working hard to balance the books and we’ll keep fighting for the fair funding Lambeth needs.”

He said that, despite funding restrictions, the council’s work to protect key priorities and support residents, included:

  • More than 9,000 of Lambeth’s most financially precarious residents receiving targeted pay-outs
  • An additional £5.5m brought into the borough through unclaimed benefits and income for residents and schools
  • The council tax support scheme which reduced the council tax bills of more than 16,000 households to zero.
  • Investment in services to reduce violence against women and girls
  • Continuing the council’s work to prevent homelessness.

Council leader Claire Holland said she had spoken to many other councils which faced being overwhelmed by by the rising demand for statutory duties that councils must fulfil, from temporary accommodation to the increasing number of children requiring care.

“Make no mistake – local government is at breaking point,” she said.

“It is a source of pride to me that, despite these national challenges, Lambeth council has a robust financial position thanks to years of strong management and progressive choices by this administration.”