23 July 2014

(PO) Boxed into a corner

no value in writing to Worthing
The above address is the return address from an envelope that came with a Notice to Owner in the last few days. It is very odd as the Notice has an address to send your challenge to of PO Box 197, Lowton Way, Hellaby, Sheffield S98 1LW and so we could reasonable expect the envelope to bear the same address.

Now either NSL haven't told their printers (they outsource bulk printing of documents as far as Mr Mustard can see, to a company called Infinity Print?) or NSL or the printer has acted like cheapskates and decided to use up the existing stock of envelopes rather than waste them (they could be given to charity to find a use for).

Why does it matter? It matters because if a document is sent to you by NSL on behalf of Barnet Council which you don't receive it will take an age, if ever, to be returned via the special sorting office for undelivered post at Royal Mail Belfast to the Sheffield address inside. If you end up filing an out-of-time witness statement due to non-receipt of a vital document the council, acting by their agent, NSL will file a statement of truth that mail sent by them was not returned undelivered. It was impossible for the item to be returned if the PO box on the envelope was no longer in use. This is the sort of truth which is not the whole truth.

Mr Mustard thinks that the Worthing PO Box has been quietly abandoned as the test item he sent there by the 1st Class Signed for service on 17 July 14 has not yet been delivered.

If you have written to this Worthing address in the last month send your letter again to the Sheffield one as it is going to go into a black hole. If you have had an item returned please send copies to Mr Mustard so we can work out when the PO Box was closed as Mr Mustard suspects it has been for some time. Mr Mustard also asked the Royal Mail to confirm the delivery address and they couldn't find a live record for the PO Box in Worthing.

He rather thought that this was just an NSL (or their agent) failing but finds the council to be equally behind the times. He looked up their website and look, no mention of Sheffield! The address on the link will change as soon as Barnet Parking read this blog page so Mr Mustard has cut the address out of it as it stands today:

So you are not getting 100% consistent information from either NSL or the council. It's a poor show.

What should have happened is that the council should have had a pop-up box or flashing information panel about the new address on the PCN web entry page and a cautionary note should have been enclosed with every communication on a piece of coloured paper so it doesn't get missed. It isn't too late for the council to make partial amends by doing this now. The council also need to accept as valid any representations that were sent to Worthing in error when the motorist didn't see that their PCN said Worthing and the Notice to Owner said Sheffield.

Silence which leads to motorist error is simply not good enough. A Rabbi fell foul of the fax machine being withdrawn overnight in 2012 and he sent 4 faxes for all of which he got delivery receipts and the council denied receipt of all 4. He ended up paying the bailiff. Don't find yourself in the same boat.

If the entire parking service was managed in-house Mr Mustard feels sure that this change of address would have been carried out in a more joined up manner.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

They looked like lost pet notices!

Barnet Council, and their sub-contractors, have a lot to learn about the art of communication. Seeing a yellow PCN envelope on your windscreen is enough to bring many people out in a cold sweat or cause their heart to miss a beat. That feeling isn't forgotten when you open up the envelope to find, not a wretched PCN, but a notice of road lining works, the damage has been done.

Was it Advance notice?

Just. The PCN plastic envelopes were stuck to every car at the weekend in advance of works on the following Tuesday so 2 or 3 day's notice was given. Luckily Mr Mustard's informant came back from holiday just in time or they would have been given a PCN for not having moved their car.

Were the works really only decided upon at the last minute? Of course not. There will have been an interminable number of surveys, meetings, emails, quotations etc. working out which roads would be done when and at what cost. It should have been possible to give advance notice of at least 2 weeks to residents.

Was it adequate notice?

No, as only those people with vehicles parked in the road at a weekend would have been notified. The set of vehicles parked in the road at a weekend could very well be quite different to the set who park there in the week. No consideration has been made for the occasional visitors of residents as these notices were not put through letterboxes.

What should the council do?

Two weeks before the chosen day they should put signs up on all posts.

At the same time they should put letters, in envelopes, preferably by street address, through letterboxes. Having just rolled out individually labelled blue bins across the borough the council should have a good database of home addresses that they could make more use of.

In the two days before the chosen day they should put warning notices on cars of the proposed lining works. These should be in envelopes marked "Useful information about street lining works on dd/mm/yyyy".

If on the day there is the odd car in the way they should knock on a door or two to see if they can locate the owner and ask them to move as there may be a good reason why that car has not moved (hospitalisation, working abroad, on a long holiday etc) rather than just issuing a PCN for being innocently in contravention.


If you are going to apologise, at least spell it correctly. Apologise does not have two "p's".

NSL really do need to be a lot better at communicating; not just by PCN how they usually do.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


Mr Mustard asked his informant about signs on lampposts and this is what they had to say:

There were some photocopies sellotaped around lamp-posts. None of them looked official or professional. They looked like lost pet notices. And they were wrapped round rather than flat and prominent. It would have been very easy to miss them or not understand what they were.

I've written to Barnet asking for an explanation. I'm yet to hear.

In any event, none of these things were there on Friday morning. I was away for the weekend. Came back Monday lunchtime and the fake PCN was there. I wasn't given any notice that a yellow line was about to appear outside my house
(a separate matter, a new yellow line which has never been there before, no consultation, no advance warning).

There were no cones out.

22 July 2014

Calling all thespians

This is a surprise guest blog by one of Mr Mustard's shy and retiring PCN customers - Mr Mustard was emailed with this information and thought it was well worth sharing with you all, thespians and philistines alike.

Fellow Thespians

Hampstead Theatre are again streaming one of their current productions called Wonderland on Saturday 26 July 7.30pm over the internet and free on hampsteadtheatre.com and theguardian.com

An on demand version of the Wonderland live-streaming will be available for 72 hours immediately after the live stream on Hampstead Theatre and the Guardian’s website.

It's written by a lady named Beth Steel (daughter of a coal-miner) and it's about the miners' strike in 1984 which in my my view changed British society forever.

Sophie et moi will be at the theatre in person, so if you start the stream early, I'll give you all a wave (I'll be the one wearing a gold lame jacket and Speedo shorts, so that you'll be sure to pick me out!).


PS If you can't work out how to stream, you should be deeply ashamed. Don't ask me how, because I won't help you.

20 July 2014

Are you being served?

Strangely enough; this isn't over the entrance of Hendon Town Hall
Mr Mustard was pondering about service of a PCN for a man up north who, as he drove away from his parking space, saw the traffic warden throw the PCN through the open window and so he threw it back out again (in some boroughs he could have had a littering fine as well?). Mr Mustard remembered two PATAS cases he had read on the subject and so here are the relevant extracts for your enjoyment (cases are 2130205720 and 2140141941 for parking experts who want to read the complete originals). One PCN was cancelled and the other was upheld.

The snatcher

The Appellant denied that he was served with a PCN at the road side. The Authority said that the PCN was handed to the driver.

The enforcement officer's notes indicated "HTD" i.e. handed to driver but also stated that the Appellant snatched the PCN from the printer and threw it to the floor before threatening to run her over. While the Appellant taking the PCN from the printer amounts to good service, I do not see this as likely nor can I see how this can be described as handed to driver.

I am not satisfied that the PCN had been properly served. I am allowing the appeal.

The thrower

Miss N's second point is that the Penalty Charge Notice was thrown at her when she was inside her car. For a Penalty Charge Notice to be enforceable, it has to be affixed to the vehicle or handed to the driver. "Handed" can extend to it being given to the driver in any other way. The Civil Enforcement Officer may have acted impolitely and in an unfriendly manner but I am satisfied that the PCN was issued to the driver to the driver, as indeed is acknowledged by Miss N.

I dismiss the appeal.


Don't have your car window open anywhere near a traffic warden who might be about to give you a ticket. 

Don't get into a dialogue or a heated dispute.

Just drive calmly away and make a note when you get home of what happened. If you think the traffic warden has behaved badly get in first and make a complaint about their behaviour. Send it to first.contact@barnet.gov.uk and a copy to one of your local councillors who you can look up here using your postcode. You will need to put your car registration in the email.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

19 July 2014

No need to be bugged - official

You do know your blue bin is bugged don't you, it is the black circle in the bin above (which is on its side and you are looking at the underside of the top lip). All those leaflets you were sent about the new recycling system and not a single one told you that your every discard would be weighed.

The council claim this is for a points scheme in order to encourage recycling but that sounds like a bonkers idea which will cost more in administration than it will save in landfill tax. Far better to educate people who don't recycle to do so or to actually getting around to giving blocks of more than 5 flats the necessary bins. Shouldn't that have started in January? A friend of Mr Mustard's, who lives in one of 8 maisonettes, has no way of recycling at all.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Cllr Alan Schneiderman asked a question about the bugs (RFID) and here is his question and the answer from the "leader" of the council, Richard Cornelius

So you can ask the council to "deactivate" the microchip although given that it doesn't have a power source Mr Mustard isn't quite sure how that could happen. Mr Mustard's view of deactivation is to unscrew it if you can Heath Robinson a tool to do so, or to take his direct approach: gloves, safety spectacles and a large screwdriver and simply lever it out and put it in the back of a drawer somewhere. Mr Mustard's approach doesn't require you to trust the council not to sneakily weigh your blue bin anyway, doesn't allow the council to change their mind and saves on administration.

Bin that bug!

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

18 July 2014

Armchair Auditor Objection

The council's TMO had one fault (not 4)
Mr Mustard and Mr Reasonable have been separately busy pouring over a tiny fragment of the Annual Accounts of Barnet Council and looking at the backup documents. Our work continues as we struggle with Capita to get what we are entitled to see (they are trying to fob Mr Mustard off with a draft of a contract when he is entitled to see the actual contract with anything top secret crossed out - if Mr Mustard doesn't see a contract with redacted signatures and actual dates, how does he know a contract was signed?). The struggle is well worth it as some juicy stuff is to be found if you know which stone to look under. The bloggers also look under several decoy stones!

Mr Mustard tries hard to point the external auditor Paul Hughes (of Grant Thornton) at what he sees as terrible wrongdoing but Mr Mustard has yet, despite trying 5 times last year, to get him to issue a public interest notice or apply to the Courts. Mr Hughes is currently sunning himself, is Mr Mustard's guess, as he has an out-of-office set up (one of those infuriating ones which says if your enquiry is urgent do something about it yourself as they couldn't be bothered to make sure your emails are even glanced at whilst they are away) so you can read the Objection before he does.

Dear Mr Hughes

The London Borough of Barnet
Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2014
Notice of Objection

I am told by Barnet Council that in the year ended 31 March 2014 they issued 4,827 Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) within the Saracens Event Day zone with an estimated income of £217,215 which I believe they have collected unlawfully.

I request a public interest notice as per section 8 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 that Barnet has unlawfully derived income of £217,215.

I request you apply to the courts under section 17 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 to have the income derived from the £217,215 of PCN declared as illegally derived income.

The reason why the income is illegally derived is that the Traffic Management Order did not contain a definition of what constituted an Event Day and consequently there were no days whatsoever on which a PCN could legally be issued for failure to comply with Event Day signs. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not claiming that the TMO was invalid, as it has to be contested within 6 weeks of being made and that did not happen, but on the contrary that it is valid but does not permit enforceable PCN to be issued.

The council are well aware of the deficiency as on 13 March 2014 they made TMO 2014 No. 28 in order to completely replace the defectively worded TMO 2012 No. 70.

All income from PCN issued inside the Saracens Event Day CPZ prior to 13 March 2014 should be refunded to the public.

A copy of this Notice of Objection has been sent to Mr C Naylor.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Should you still have an unpaid PCN issued inside the Saracens Zone before 22 March 14 then do feel free to get in touch with Mr Mustard as they are a doddle to defeat. Later ones might prove to be a little harder but properly approached, they too can be beaten.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update 18:07

Unlike the Capita man who had left halfway through the afternoon one of Mr Hughes's staff is still hard at it in his central London office and has thanked Mr Mustard  for his objection. So polite.