13 November 2015

Does Vicky Pollard work for Haringey Council?

You know Vicky Pollard, Yeah but no but yeah?

Let Mr Mustard tell you right from the off that Haringey Council have done something sensible. They have abolished a "Pre-Debt reminder letter" that they have doubtless issued by the shed load.

Here is the history. His client received a bus lane PCN. There is nothing in the relevant Regulations (the London Local Authorities Act 1996 as amended) that allows for a Bus Lane PCN to be challenged before the Enforcement Notice is issued (not to be confused with the Notice of Enforcement which the bailiff might send you later) and Mr Mustard was going to make the formal representations at that stage. Haringey invite earlier challenges which is probably a tactical offering as they know most people don't have staying power and so they don't then have to offer you the chance to Appeal to an independent adjudicator but do offer you the discount again as what they really want is for you to pay up. Whether at 100% or 50% both of which represent a lovely little income stream.

The Enforcement Notice did not arrive and Mr Mustard knew his reliable client had not received it as the balance had increased on the council computer from £130 to £195. He told his client the Order for Recovery would be next at which point he could rewind the process back to the Enforcement Notice. Instead, his client received a Pre-Debt reminder letter, this one in fact:

Mr Mustard was unhappy with this so he made a complaint to Haringey Council.

For brevity Mr Mustard has spared you the council's attempt to avoid his complaint about the specific PCN and the pasting he sent in return. Here is the substantive reply with comments by Mr Mustard in red.

Dear Mr Mustard

Your complaint about Penalty charge procedure not followed, our reference: LBH/*******

Thank you for giving us an opportunity to investigate your complaint. (You don't have a choice, it isn't an opportunity).

I note that you have raised concerns regarding London Borough of Haringey’s use of a pre-debt letter after a Charge Certificate has been sent to the registered keeper of the vehicle, in this case your client Mr H. (and in general for all motorists)

Our records do show that the Enforcement Notice was sent on the 21 July 2015 to the same address as to where the Charge Certificate was sent on the 26 August 2015 which Mr H clearly received. (Mr Mustard said the Charge Certificate was received but not the Enforcement Notice. Why repeat him?) The Charge Certificate clearly states if we do not receive payment before the end of the 14 day period we may register the charge as a debt at the County Court and ultimately we may pass the case to an Enforcement Agent to recover the debt. From your complaint it would seem that you must be equally unhappy and discontent with the prescribed content of the Charge Certificate, as this makes no mention of the witness procedure either and in particular no mention that your client could be sent a second enforcement notice. (Mr Mustard is grateful to Haringey for pointing out that the statutory document does not mention the Order for Recovery but that was not his complaint) Therefore your argument that the “pre debt reminder” is “procedurally unfair” must be questionable. (Not all all. The pre-debt reminder letter is as one-sided as a Mobius strip)

The statutory guidance, which the borough does give due regard to, does not state that we cannot enter into any additional communication with a debtor (indeed but if there is a statutory process with a number of pre-ordained steps then there needs to be a pretty good reason to depart from it which Mr Mustard has yet to hear.) The pre-debt reminder letter is in addition to the statutory process and is designed to allow people in a similar situation to Mr H the opportunity to avoid the penalty charge notice moving to the next stage and possibly paying an additional £7 (but not to tell them that if the process has gone wrong in certain ways that they can wind the process back). Therefore your suggestion that the Council is merely seeking to save itself £7 is incorrect s someone who simply wanted to pay the £195 and forgot has another chance (but those like his client who want to file a witness statement are being caused delay and stress whilst they wait). It’s therefore disappointing that you seem to be advocating something that may cost some people more. (One could only decide this if you have some statistics to show how many more people save £7 than needlessly pay £195)

I am sorry to hear that Mr H was upset by the receipt of the letter (who wouldn't be upset at having a debt registered against them in the County Court when they intend to fight the PCN to the end) but in general it has been found beneficial to send a pre-debt letter after the Charge Certificate (to whom? the council or the motorist?). Not only is this good customer relations practice but also experience is that a proportion of recipients will pay in response (which is why we send it. Has any research been done as to what motivated people to pay? Mr Mustard will ask). If a pre-debt letter generates a response from the owner, in accordance with best practice (what best practice?) the borough handles a response at this stage as if it were post Charge Certificate correspondence (Which is the stage the process is at so there isn't any other choice. What Mr Mustard sees all the time in response to post charge certificate correspondence from motorists is a letter from the council saying that you can't do anything now but await the Order for Recovery).

The ‘DO NOT IGNORE THIS LETTER’ heading and, I am sorry if you feel this is biased advice (Mr Mustard doesn't feel it is biased, it is biased), is merely designed to act as a prompt to encourage the registered keeper to contact the authority (the only phone number supplied is for making payment on; there is no number to discuss any possible error that may have occurred) or to make payment of the outstanding penalty charge bearing in mind that previous statutory documents had already been sent to Mr H (but not necessarily received. Mr H has written to the Royal Mail about his postal problems).

Notwithstanding the above, at the point of receiving your letter the service was already in the process of reviewing the very matter of the “pre debt reminder” (Well strike Mr Mustard down with a feather, what a co-incidence). I can tell you that the outcome of that review is to no longer use the letter (despite it being so disappointing that Mr Mustard advocated just that!). Arrangements are already in hand to discontinue it. (Not hard to not do something is it?)

We will not be cancelling the Penalty Charge Notice at this stage and our records show the order for recovery is being processed and sent out to your client today. (It has been received and will be sent to the TEC very shortly)

I hope that I have resolved your concerns to your satisfaction. (Perversely by abandoning something which the council clearly thought was wonderful, yes, in so far as no more motorists will be bullied by the receipt of the misleading pre-debt reminder letter but not in his client's case but that will be raised at London Tribunals).

A good end to the week. The Haringey PCN process is now fairer than it was.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. I can only say that the person who wrote that letter is a dog doo-doo. I hope he rots in Hell to Eternity. What wicked awful and shameless people are employed by Haringey. When will we see some council people in jail for malfeasance; that letter was ultra vires. The process for PCNs is legally defined, and councils must not deviate from it.

  2. Dear Mr Mustard I would like to say that Haringey Council is very grateful for the work you have done as - a volunteer - in assisting the motorist who received our PCN.

    I would further like to say Haringey is equally appreciative that your observations, suggestions, criticisms and suggestions were made with courtesy, detailed evidence and limpid clarity.

    Most of all I would very sincerely like to say that Haringey thanks you for the helpful and eminently sensible proposal for improving our procedures and making our systems fairer.

    However while I would truly like to make each of these points, regretfully I cannot. Partly this is because I do not work for or represent Haringey Council.

    But more important because it appears that the Haringey staff person who dealt with your emails did not have the grace to admit that you were probably right and they were probably wrong.

    One day . . .

    Alan Stanton

    P.S. Derek I'm a bit worried that you seem to be placing too much faith in improving the ICT. Did you happen to hear a discussion at the Sage Gateshead this evening? http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06p596v
    Your "co-production" tends to support Paul Mason's view. And to illustrate why the Suskinds may be wrong.


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