26 February 2015

Spy Thriller

Not sure if you are too late to enrol. Go online if interested or to see if there are other interesting courses coming.

25 February 2015

Visitor Vouchers do not expire

Yesterday Mr Mustard and his co-director were puzzled by the ridiculously difficult processes which exist at Barking & Dagenham and Barnet councils when it comes to the simple task of buying visitor vouchers.

In the Barking case the prospective purchaser is 88 years old and has never touched a computer keyboard and although pretty with it she is happy with her life as it is and doesn't need a new challenge. Of course, she needs vouchers if she isn't going to be isolated by having no visitors. Barking have CPZs which are nowhere near the town centre but whose hours extend late into the evening for no obvious reason (@publicnaylor the Chief Executive has been contacted about it but did not respond although he is probably busy having just started in Barking).

This is what the website says

so having clicked on the link for Visitor Vouchers you would expect to be taken to a form to complete with your address and credit card details. Not so. You get a pdf form which opens, which you have to print out (which rather assumes everyone has a printer at home) complete and then post to the council with a cheque. Many people no longer have cheque books. You can go to the one-stop shop in the library to do this but they won't process the form and give you the Vouchers, they will merely print out the form for you to complete and pass it on. Councils are restricting choice to one method which they find the most convenient rather than providing a number of methods to suit their many residents, young and old. The tail should not wag the dog.

Might Mr Mustard mention at this stage that Barking & Dagenham Council has many services which are run by a joint venture with old friends Agilisys who are neither agile or systematic if this process (one presumes it is provided by them as it is IT) is the yardstick. Mr Mustard thought that one of the justifications for such a venture was the supposedly cutting edge technology they provide. 

Transformation can leave you worse off than before
About as sharp as a beachball.

Then on to Barnet, where permit renewals are done by Crapita.

Visitor vouchers can be purchased on line (and by phone). The bit that caught Mr Mustard's eye was the requirement to set an expiry date 3 year's hence. Being Mr Mustard he tried to bend the system and get future dated vouchers, that failed with a maximum 7 days forward dating being allowed. He then tried to short date his vouchers and was allowed to steal a year of validity from himself, viz:

Mr Mustard knew this was not council policy, as he and others had been over this particular matter with councillors and parking management, so he tweeted the Chief Executive but the tweet seems to have gone into a black hole. He also contacted parking management who responded that Crapita's system has to have an expiry date. The expiry date of their contract can't come soon enough.

So the council sign up for 10 years with Crapita because ruling councillors think they are the answer to all their prayers and we get clunky software foisted upon us, probably because they have already written it for another council which does use expiry dates, and is not tailored to our specific needs. Mr Mustard will henceforth refer to software from capita as Crapware. Doubtless Crapita will argue that you can just ignore the expiry date, it isn't printed on the front of the vouchers and no harm is done but it sows doubt in the mind of the person, probably causes people to order fewer vouchers more often so they don't get stuck with ones which have "expired" (except they haven't) causes phone calls to the call centre and makes think people think that Barnet Council are an incompetent bunch of t*ssers which doubtless ruling councillors would prefer not to be the case (add own joke here).

Councillors need to actually experience what residents do in order to find out for themselves how Crapita things are. They won't because they won't want to know the answer. Crapita could probably press the nuclear button and councillors would say that lessons have been learned and it won't happen again going forward. They would lose too much face to admit what a disaster the outsourcing is.

Buy how ever many visitor vouchers you need and don't worry residents, they do not expire, whatever the council website tells you to the contrary.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

24 February 2015

Blue badge renewal inefficiency (Crapita deal with blue badges)

A recent PATAS adjudication on a PCN.

The Appellant is a disabled badge holder who parked on a yellow line without displaying a badge. It was at the time in the process of being renewed; and, in the absence of any evidence from the Council to refute it I see no reason to doubt her evidence as to the renewal process. She made her application on the 16th June, the day before the old one expired (not having received a reminder) but nevertheless a month and a half before the date of the PCN. She was informed there would be an 8 week delay and that it was not possible to provide any sort of temporary cover note. The badge was not issued until the 11th  August. No explanation has been provided for what is on the face of it an extraordinarily long delay.

It is the case that in the absence of a disabled badge on display the exemption in the TMO for that purpose does not apply (and the Council in its case summary quotes from a number of my own previous decisions to that effect). However this is effectively a case of a Council demanding a penalty for the failure to display a document which the Council's own inefficiency had prevented her from displaying. It seems to me that  doing so amounts to the equivalent of an abuse of process; and in such circumstances no enforceable contravention can be said to have occurred ( see the dicta in Camden v The Parking Adjudicator  and BHS t/a First for Food Service Ltd [2011] EWHC 295 Admin [2011]EWCA Civ 905).

In addition the Appellant raises the question of the clear and correct signage of the restriction. The location clearly lies within a Controlled Zone; and I see no reason to doubt the evidence of the Appellant's representative, Mr Dishman, supported by photographs that at the entry point to the Zone which she used show there is only a single Zone sign positioned on the far side of the carriageway. This seems to me to be in be breach of the requirements of Direction 8 Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions; and even if some authorisation for a single sign had been given it seems to me it should be located on the left hand side of the carriageway. I would not be satisfied that the signage relied on was clear and correct.

The Appeal is therefore allowed.

If you have a blue badge the renewal of which was not processed efficiently do challenge the PCN all the way to PATAS and quote PATAS case number 2140524281 in support (not a precedent but should be persuasive). If you need help, send an email to mrmustard@zoho.com

Blue badges are only meant to be given to people who cannot walk more than 50m. What are they meant to do for 8 weeks whilst Crapita faff about, stay at home?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

18 February 2015

Oranges don't bear fruit for the council

Last week a reader (who had reluctantly paid his PCN) asked Mr Mustard to write about how he had been caught out by the orange lined spaces in the Woodhouse Road Car Park which spaces had already featured twice in PATAS reports and so have obviously caused a bit of confusion. Then along comes a suberb critique of those same spaces in the Castle Road Car Park (these orange spaces seem to be only in North Finchley - unless you know otherwise) and Mr Mustard doffs his cap to the motorist concerned:

The main question to be considered is whether by virtue of the exceptional nature of the car park, which contains within it permit holder only spaces, it was necessary for the authority to provide extra signs in order for the restrictions to be fair.

The appellant says that he accepts that the notice board in the car park displays information that there are permit holder only spaces in the car park and that the spaces are marked out in orange. His case is that he has not known of a car park that contained permit holder only spaces before and that these were an exceptional feature. He submits that the authority ought to have displayed, in addition to all the other signs, extra signage adjacent to the spaces marked out in orange to show that these spaces were not ordinary pay by phone spaces but in fact permit holder only spaces.

The case of the authority is that the permit spaces are marked out in orange and details of the permit restrictions were outlined on the car park notice board.  It submits that the onus is on the driver to be aware of the restrictions as set out on the notice board.  It further submits that the car park restriction sign indicates that the orange bays are for car park permit holders only - (although it does not seem to have produced evidence of this sign - unless it is the same sign as the notice board: but this has not been made clear to me). The authority accepts that the appellant would have paid for parking had he parked in a non-permit holder space. It submits that it is not a justifiable reason to allow an appeal on the basis that motorists are unfamiliar with the area because it submits that the responsibility lies on motorists to familiarise themselves with the restriction in force prior to making their way.  It also submits that the contravention is one of strict liability and so unusual circumstances cannot be taken into consideration. It submits that motorists should check the signage in place before stopping.

I find as fact that: reasonable and adequate information was not made available to the appellant in the particular and exceptional circumstances of the car park; the authority has not acted sufficiently fairly to the appellant in all of the circumstances of this particular car park.

I accept the evidence of the appellant that he believed at the time that he was legally parked and that it is unusual to have permit holder only spaces in a car park.

I am unable to be satisfied that the authority has acted within the concept of fairness in the lay out of the car park because I accept the evidence of the appellant that the placing of permit holders parking places in a car park is unusual. The exceptional nature of the car park requires that the authority needed to display additional and appropriate signs in order for it to have discharged its duty to bring to the attention of the motoring public (including the appellant) reasonable and adequate information.

I am unable to accept the submissions of the authority that it is not a justifiable reason to allow this appeal because the circumstances are unusual. I am satisfied that the exceptional circumstances of the car park were not made sufficiently clear to the appellant who was not familiar with the lay out of the car park.

I am unable to accept that the contravention is merely one of strict liability and does not accommodate unusual circumstances because I find that further considerations can also apply to those merely of strict liability, and that they do in this appeal.

The authority also states that motorists should check the signage in place before stopping, however it has not supplied any evidence of signage that is sufficiently clear to warn motorists of the exceptional presence of permit holders only parking spaces before they stop.

The authority has raised further points which I have considered but which I do not find to be material.

Hopefully some signs will go up adjacent to the bays now. They could also usefully appear next to disabled bays and the red market day bays in Lodge Lane Car Park (some exist but insufficient & not adjacent enough)

If you have been caught you too can use the above information to help you write your challenges. The PATAS case to quote in support of your argument (decisions are not precedents) is number 2150011443. You can search their public register here.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

17 February 2015

No compassion; no goodwill

A truly sickening state of affairs.

Here are the bare bones of the facts.

Day 1. An elderly lady (80+) parks in a 4 hour limit disabled bay, displays her blue badge and forgets to set the clock. It shows 11.00 and the PCN is issued at 15:30 for staying beyond the time allowed. The contravention is for code 30(o): Parked for longer than permitted (blue badge holder).

Day 15. The lady's husband (aged 100) dies.

Day 19. Mr Mustard files a challenge to the PCN & mentions the bereavement.

Day 24. The challenge is rejected. Mr Mustard tweets about it, the Tooting Twister is alert and the Parking Management at the council immediately email Mr Mustard for the details. They subsequently request a copy of the death certificate.

Now for some more detail and comment. Here is the gist of the challenge that Mr Mustard sent in:

Dear Sirs

I represent 80+ year old (Mrs Redacted) of (redacted address) as attached authority.

She received a PCN on 2 January 2015 for being parked longer than permitted. I cannot discern the time set on the blue badge clock and whether it is correctly set or not but even if it isn't that does not prove that the car was parked for longer than the permitted time, it only proves the time that the clock was set at.

I attach statements from the lady herself and a relative who was in the house and can confirm the departure and return times on that day such that we know that the vehicle can only have been parked for a maximum of 2 hours and 15 minutes.

I draw to your attention to the very recent death of her husband, at the age of 100, on (redacted date), and whether or not you agree with my argument I suggest and request that this PCN should be cancelled as a gesture of compassion and goodwill in any event.

Yours faithfully

It is very unusual but NSL decided upon, typed and posted their response to Mr Mustard in just 5 days. A pity they didn't stop to think for longer or refer the matter to the council (which it is thought they didn't but Mr Mustard can't be 100% on that point)

Here is the main part of it:

(proving one of the perils of outsourcing; a complete loss of control)

Mr Mustard wonders about the individual who personally signed this letter and whether they are a fit & proper person to do their job (they will have to be redeployed soon because the handling of challenges is going to be brought back into the council and not a day too soon) or whether they should perhaps do something else that doesn't require any compassion to be shown. Perhaps they are too young to have yet lost someone close to them and so don't understand about life? Certainly, some training is in order.

So officially, the council (but actually NSL and this highlights the loss of control which comes with outsourcing) don't think it appropriate to cancel a PCN for a recently bereaved person.

The NSL employee says a contravention had occurred. It had, but not the one they ticketed for. It should have been this one

and if repeated at the formal representations change the failure to consider the point of challenge would have been counted as a procedural impropriety by the PATAS adjudicator. For that reason alone the PCN should have been cancelled.

So the council sympathise with you having a bereavement of your husband of 60+ years but still want you money. The council didn't even offer the 50% reduction which they sometimes do even if you challenge more than 14 days after the PCN was issued and even sometimes when they have sent you a PATAS form. They usually offer the discount late when they feel that the council's position is weak (is Mr Mustard's feeling). They evidently didn't think so in this case.

The council are unable to issue a goodwill cancellation. Oh dear, Mr Mustard can hear adjudicators seething with annoyance at that remark and writing a decision which puts the council straight about the use oif discretion in no uncertain terms. Mr Mustard's experience is that adjudicators show compassion where it is due (even though they have to apply the law, they will try and find a justification to enable them to cancel the PCN).

The council are happy to continue with enforcement action Mr Mustard doesn't blog the words of the parking manager but reading between the lines he is not a happy bunny. The next monthly management meeting with NSL is going to be a fraught affair (predicts Mr Mustard who, despite being professionally rather busy, has piled the desk of the parking manager high with complaints this month).

Mr Mustard has been asked for a copy of the death certificate. He has in turn asked the grandson for one and then remembered that the contravention code used was the wrong one. Thus the council don't need to see the death certificate no matter how delicately they ask Mr Mustard who then has to ask the family at a time when he does not want to intrude upon their grief. The reason the council ask for the death certificate is that, apparently, lots of people lie to parking about someone having died.

The fact remains that the council have a wide discretion to cancel any PCN for any reason they like. Mr Mustard thinks they should exercise it in this case. Generally his customers tell him the truth (although he may be about to blog about a case where he wasn't - everyone gets it wrong sometimes).

Yours, sadly

Mr Mustard

p.s. Mr Mustard is offering parking management the right of reply.

Update Tuesday 24 February.

Mr Mustard produced a copy of the death certificate yesterday to satisfy parking management's requirement, even though it pained him to ask the family, and they have now cancelled the PCN which is an exercise of their discretion for which they have been thanked. Mr Mustard is still debating with them whether the PCN code used was the correct one. That argument will start again the next time that a blue badge clock isn't set by someone else.

15 February 2015

Grand Arcade

Mr Mustard met the amazing octogenarian Keith Martin on Saturday, having co-incidentally, just exited the balloon shop. Keith's wife had painted this card and full of energy as ever Keith was taking the direct approach to sales and visiting local shopkeepers.

The A5 sized card with envelope costs £1.50 (+ postage if ordered from keith.martin18@btinternet.comkeith.martin18@btinternet.com which Mr Mustard, who gave Waitrose £3.50 for a birthday card the other day (emergency purchase and the newsagent was closed otherwise it would have been 89p) thinks that is very good value as thank you cards or for writing short notes to friends.

Keith is a local publisher, and you will find interesting books on local history and other subjects here.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard