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Couple threatened by debt collectors after emergency GP visit

By Anna MacSwan

An elderly couple have been threatened by debt collectors after making an emergency visit to their GP.

Margaret and Colin Lofting, who live in The Charltons in Boughton-under-Blean, have been fined after breaching the new one-hour car parking limit at Newton Place Surgery in Faversham.

Mrs Lofting, 81, who uses a wheelchair and suffers problems with her heart and lungs, attended an emergency appointment on April 20.

Colin and Margaret Lofting with their parking notice and fines which have caused them so much stress
Colin and Margaret Lofting with their parking notice and fines which have caused them so much stress

After undergoing numerous tests, she left after two hours and four minutes.

Despite leaving their vehicle registration number at reception, as patients are required to do to avoid being fined, nearly two weeks later the Loftings received notice of a £60 penalty from Smart Parking, a private firm which now manages the surgery car park.

Mr and Mrs Lofting appealed straight away, only to receive a letter from Debt Recovery Plus, increasing costs to £160 and threatening court action if not paid.

The couple’s son, Andrew Lofting, said: “My father wrote a letter to Smart Parking on May 1, detailing everything, and there has been no response whatsoever until a letter came from debt recovery service.

“They do the bully tactics first, just to scare people and to get them to pay the fine. Not a lot of people, especially the elderly, will understand how to fight this, so they get bullied into paying.

“My mother has been suffering. We’ve just literally got back from hospital for some heart tests and she has got really bad lung problems.

"My dad has just had a cataract operation and is recovering from a hernia operation. And they’re not financially secure.

“They’re really upset. They just went to the doctor, they did everything they were supposed to do, and now this.”

There have been parking issues at the surgery
There have been parking issues at the surgery

The GP practice put a one-hour parking limit in place after congestion became intolerable, partly due to members of the public using spaces reserved for patients.

Staff, including doctors who carry out home visits, were regularly blocked in and minor traffic collisions were taking place.

However the Loftings are not the only patients to have fallen foul of Smart Parking, and another retired couple from Lynsted also received two separate £60 fines after attending appointments at Newton Place on April 23 and May 5.

The couple had on both occasions booked a double appointment with the same GP so they could be seen together.

They have now been given a slip confirming they were there for medical reasons and have appealed the fine.

Newton Place Surgery has confirmed that Mr and Mrs Lofting should not have been penalised.

Assistant practice manager Chris Calver said: “I can confirm that this couple did add their registration number to the exemption list on that day and they should not have received the parking fine.

“I have, today, emailed Smart Parking and requested that they cancel the fine as it appears to be their error.

“They’re really upset. They just went to the doctor, they did everything they were supposed to do, and now this" - Andrew Lofting

“It is not our aim to penalise genuine patients; indeed, it is to ensure that patients have a parking space that we have passed the management over to Smart Parking.”

Patients are also now being asked to input their registration details via a smartpad, to avoid fines being issued if a handwritten number is misinterpreted.

Helen Whately, the MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, said: “I would have thought [the practice] would be up in arms about this and would sort it out for them. It sounds like some kind of mistake.

"I wasn’t surprised, as a local, when I saw that they were planning to restrict parking.

"I would hope that this is a one-off, and not a regular occurrence.”

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