6 March 2013

Permit me to give you a parking ticket dear resident

More than 10,000 residents have a permit to park within their local CPZ (controlled parking zone). They pay at least £100 each year for this "service" which is intended to enable them to be able to park more easily near their residence. The council use the existence of CPZs to issues tens of thousands of penalty charge notices (PCN) and make sackloads of money. The least that a resident can expect is that they will receive a reminder in the post about a month before the renewal is due and that if for some reason something goes wrong (Mr Mustard gets other people's post all the time for example which could be your permit renewal reminder, don't worry he would pass it on but your mail could get delivered to an empty house next door?) then the least they can expect is a quick resolution of the problem at no cost. Does this happen? Not all the time. Some cases end up being heard by the independent adjudicator, like this one:.

Mrs G does not dispute that her car was parked at the location in Mill Ridge in a residents bay.

The alleged contravention is parking without clearly displaying a permit or pay and display ticket. The location was a residents bay. The Appellant has explained that she had problems with the holder for her residents permit. When she wrote to the Local Authority on 1.8.2012, she stated  that she realised that her permit had fallen from its place on the windscreen. The Civil Enforcement Officer, who observed the car in the residents bay noted that there was no valid residents permit.

A contravention occurs if at any time during which the vehicle is parked in a parking place the permit is not clearly displayed.  I am satisfied that no valid permit was clearly displayed at the relevant time.  

As an Adjudicator I am not empowered to exercise discretion or to mitigate penalties. I am satisfied that the contravention occurred and that the Penalty Charge Notice was correctly issued. The Appellant drew attention to the fact that a similar Penalty Charge Notice had been cancelled . The fact that the Local Authority exercises discretion to cancel one Penalty Charge Notice does not mean all Penalty Charge Notices for the same contravention should be cancelled. Although the Local Authority would have a record of resident permit holders, this does not excuse a driver from the responsibility of ensuring that permits are clearly displayed. I do not find that the Local Authority acted in any way unreasonably. (Mr Mustard does think that the local authority has acted unreasonably. All tickets with the same facts should have the same outcome; another adjudicator described such behaviour by Barnet Council as capricious which you will read later. The handheld equipment of the traffic warden should show that a permit exists and they could issue a PCN for £0.00 as a gentle nudge to sort out the problem as they once did for Mr Mustard in less avaricious times a few years ago.)

and another one where the permit had expired less than 24 hours previously:

Mr J attended the hearing. The Enforcement Authority was not represented.

The agreed facts are that the vehicle was parked in a permit bay displaying a permit that had expired the day before the contravention and a Penalty Charge Notice was issued.

Mr J has an annual permit. He applied to renew that permit but did not receive the replacement permit in time. The new permit started from 3 August, the day of the contravention.

The Authority rightly points out that the contravention occurs if a valid permit is not displayed, and so the Penalty Charge Notice was lawfully issued.

The Adjudicator is not empowered by law to allow an appeal on grounds of mitigation, but can make a recommendation to the Enforcement Authority to exercise their discretionary powers in the Appellant's favour. I do find that there is compelling mitigation in this case and point out the following:

1. The Appellant's permit had only expired the day before.
 2. He had already paid for a renewal and the only reason the new permit was not displayed is because it had not yet been received.
3. Had the Civil Enforcement Officer checked with base, he would have established that a new permit had been issued which covered 3 August.
4. The Enforcement Authority has not lost any revenue in this case.
5. There was no intention to avoid payment or park in contravention.

so a sensible decision by the Adjudicator that the parking ticket ought to be cancelled, Barnet Council do not have to comply though. They would be well advised to as the Code of Practice of London Councils says the following:

if the permit has only recently expired (e.g. less than 7 days) ......a warning could be issued. How on earth did this case go all the way through the system without some commonsense being applied? 

and the third recent adjudication about a resident permit:

In effect the appellant is arguing that the authority should have exercised its discretion differently.

It is not is dispute that the vehicle was parked in a residents' bay, without the residents permit, to which he is entitled and which he holds, on display. Prima facie therefore the officer was entitled to issue the Penalty Charge Notice.

The authority has a discretion as to whether or not to pursue a Penalty Charge Notice to its conclusion.

Mr D put the facts as he understood them to the authority. These are that he has been a permit holding resident for 6 years. In this instance his previous permit expired on the day in question (31 st October 2012) and he renewed it, for the first time online. He tried to display it and flew to Berlin on business. He says that he failed to attach the downloaded permit to the windscreen properly and it became detached and was no longer on display.

This is the first of 5 Penalty Charge Notices issued to the vehicle on 5 days from 31 October, for the contravention identified.  He found 4 of them when he returned from Berlin. The fifth, this PCN, (the first in time) he only knew of when he received the Notice to Owner.

There are one or two elements of Mr D's account which are not quite clear. The first is that, as the authority points out, the evidence shows that he only flew to Berlin on 2 November 2012, some 2 days after the problem began. The second is that the letter he produces of 24 October 2012 appears to be a paper letter enclosing the replacement permit ('please detach the permit below') rather than appearing as a downloaded document.  Also the new permit was valid from 1 November 2012, and it is not therefore clear why he would not have discovered the problem before he flew to Berlin.

But the strongest point in his favour, undoubtedly, is that an officer of the authority, having considered his representations, cancelled one of the subsequent PCNs, that of 2nd or 1st of November. However a different officer considered the same representations on the other 3 PCNs on which he had made representations, (and this one, of which he only became aware later) and rejected his case outright.

The authority's answer to his challenge on this basis is that the cancellation of one was "a goodwill gesture" only and does not bind the authority as to the other 3 or 4.PCNs. This seems to me to demonstrate on the face of it an unsustainable inconsistency. If the reason for the cancellation of one had been in fact because it was procedurally deficient, then pursuing other procedurally proper PCNs may have been a defensible,  even if a harsh decision. But to accept the same representations on the same facts for one of 5 PCNs and not apply that discretion to the other PCNs appears capricious and suggests that there has not been a considered and fair exercise of that discretion at all. (Barnet Council dishing out goodwill and then using it against the person they gave it to; nice move)

I allow the appeal on that basis.

Mr Mustard agrees with the Adjudicator. Parking tickets simply should not be issued during any period when a valid permit is in existence and the information should be on the handheld equipment of the traffic wardens, if they can have details of who has paid-by-phone they can equally have details of who holds a permit of any type. That would be truly providing a service.

Mr Mustard was interested in the way in which reminders are issued. he notes the statement on the application form, highlighted in yellow on the form above, that all reminders are, since at least June 12 when this form was updated, sent by email and thought that could well be why so many residents were not finding out about their renewal as they either didn't have email, hadn't told the council of an email address or didn't know this was the new policy because it had not been communicated to them. Mr Mustard made enquiry of the parking section at the council (they are getting quite used to his enquiries) and rapidly received the information that he had sought:

Dear Mr Mustard

The policy is to issue reminders by post. They are sent approximately one month before the permit holders current permit expires. I have amended the application form to remove the references to email reminders and have requested the permits department upload a new electronic copy to the Barnet website.

Many thanks for pointing this out to me.

Kind regards

Mr Mustard suggests that you go outside now and look at the permit on your car, and the tax disc whilst you are about it, and check that you are up to date. You might as well check your insurance and your MOT as well and did you know that a photocard driver's licence is only valid for 10 years and if that has expired you are breaking the law. We don't want the twitter personage @MPSBarnet talking to you in a non-social capacity because he won't be as funny as usual.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update Thursday 7 March 2013

another case at PATAS yesterday at which you have to laugh but it could be you!

I have dealt with this Appeal throughout in the absence of the parties. I adjourned consideration from 05 February 2013 to allow the Appellant to produce evidence of Council Tax paid to LB Barnet and for the Authority to confirm or refuse the suggestion. They have done neither.

Mr M has been placed into a bureaucratic impasse by the Authority. In a letter to him in response to a request for a resident's parking permit, they informed him that he did not live within the Borough so could not be issued with a permit by them. He found this a surprising statement given that he has been paying them substantial sums of Council Tax and on 19 October 2012 they were pleased to accept £3,575 from him in connection with construction work at his premises. His documents bear this out. 

When he raised this in his representations to the Authority following the issue of the Penalty Charge Notice ("PCN") he was informed in the Notice of Rejection in a letter under the banner "Barnet London Borough" that he was advised to "report the matter to barnet council". One presumes he thought that is what he was doing.

Mr. M clearly is a resident (or else the Authority has taken considerable sums from him to which it is not entitled) and able to apply for a permit. The location here was round the corner from his house and in the Borough. I find that enforcement of this Penalty Charge Notice is an abuse of process. The contravention and its enforcement cannot be sustained and I allow the Appeal on that basis.

and another case yesterday on the subject of permit renewal

This is a personal appeal attended by the Appellant's representative, Mr S. The Enforcement Authority did not appear and was not represented.
Mr S explained to me that the Appellant, who had resided at the same address for some four years, and was the holder of a resident's permit, had regularly received renewal reminders from the Enforcement Authority, but that the Appellant had not received such a reminder for 2012. The permit had expired and was not renewed until after the Penalty Charge Notice had been issued.

It was explained to me that the receipt of a renewal reminder is an essential prerequisite of renewal, as this would have included a unique reference number which must in input on-line to trigger the issue of a new permit. The Enforcement Authority's evidence does not indicate that any reminder had, in fact, been sent.

Whilst it is the primary responsibility of the motorist to ensure that he renews his permit, it does seem that, in this case, the Enforcement Authority must assume some responsibility for the Appellant's failure to renew on time and, in these circumstances, I consider that there are compelling reasons for the Enforcement Authority to consider the cancellation of the Notice to Owner.

and further information has reached Mr Mustard that whilst Mr McArdle was here as the interim parking manager (before he wandered off to NSL of all places after the award of the contract) was when the traffic wardens were instructed to stop allowing a week or two of grace to an expired permit to allow for delays in the post and to take the pressure off the renewals department who suffered, and still do almost every week, numerous computer system breakdowns. This also affects the ability of residents to renew on-line and then they ring up and moan at customer services or the parking permit team. Time for the new temporary parking manager to give clear instructions to NSL as to how he wants them to behave. It would be so much easier for him if he was in direct control of the staff.

Outsourcing changes the council's problem, it doesn't fix them.

Mr Mustard

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