SWINDONCARD FEATURE: WHEN the SwindonCard was introduced, it was described by the council as a good way for people to access services at keen prices. But, as Anthony Osborne discovered, some users are not happy.

IT has not been a smooth start for the council's new SwindonCard since its introduction on February 11.

The SwindonCard is not dissimilar to the old cards it replaced, offering discount prices for services through subsidies. It does differ in that it is available to everyone rather than concession groups such as senior citizens and the unwaged.

But the new card has angered users because of the extent of the information demanded on the application form, the fact that it now needs to be paid for, and the price increases the council brought in shortly after the card's introduction.

On its launch, the new card replaced a range of other subsidy cards used by the council including the GoldCard, Staff Card, Booking Card and Student Cards, in an attempt to simplify the system using credit card technology.

Those cards were first introduced around 12 years ago and were only given to people on benefit or on a fixed income such as pensioners. They were also available to council staff.

The cards provided discounts on the price of sports and leisure services as well as environmental services such as allotments and pest control.

The use of the card for sports and leisure was often limited to off-peak times, depending on the activity.

Some pensioners became concerned about the new SwindonCard's introduction in December, two months before it was launched, when it was revealed they were to lose their entitlement to the free GoldCard.

Under new rules both pensioners and under-16s would have to pay £5 for the new card, while all others in the borough would pay £15 and those living outside £22.

There are three different types of SwindonCard the basic version and the Concession One and Concession Two cards. There is also a family card for up to two adults and three children.

Sports and leisure services discounts for the SwindonCard range between 10 and 30 per cent, while discounts for those in the concession bandings can go up to 90 per cent off the full price.

At Coate Water, cardholders can receive discounts of anything from 23 to 75 per cent for day tickets and permits for fishing, the nature reserve or cycle hire. Users of the allotments and leisure gardens can also receive discounts of between 23 and 75 per cent.

Some discounts are available for those in the Concession One and Two bandings for users of Swindon Dance, while people requiring pest control can apply for SwindonCard price reductions if they have either the Concession One or Two bandings.

For pensioners, the GoldCard was provided free and valid for up to 10 years. Conversely, the SwindonCard, which has to be renewed every year, costs up to £220 over the same 10 years.

Recently a series of amendments were made to the cards, which allow people over the age of 75 to have a SwindonCard free. They have been given the Concession Two banding which means they can receive up to a 90 per cent discount on some services.

Coun Ian Dobie (Con, Haydon Wick), who was on the charging policy task group in 2000-1 and worked on plans for the SwindonCard, said its introduction had not been perfect.

He added: "We brought in the card because we felt that anyone from anywhere would pay the same prices to use the town's facilities as the people in the town."

"I think the main concerns are the amounts of information that have to be given to order a SwindonCard, and that many people are blaming these quite large price rises on the card."

Coun Maureen Dilley (Lab-Covingham and Nythe), lead member for leisure said: "It's a new card and there were bound to be a few anomalies and problems when it was first introduced.

"We are aware of these problems and are working to put them right, and particularly prior to the elections we were looking at amendments to the swimming prices."

Gavin Calthrop, spokesman for Swindon Council said: "There may be isolated instances where people feel they were better off under the old system."

"However Swindon Borough Council believes the SwindonCard is succeeding in targeting subsidies more effectively so that those with real need can use the numerous council facilities in the borough."