25 November 2015

Outsourcing to snake oil salesmen

A council is obliged, under the Equality Act, to make due allowance for the disabled. It (well its contractor NSL probably) couldn't give a fig, based upon the following paragraphs from a letter sent to a motorist which is now the subject of a complaint to the Chief Executive. Parking also has to reflect real life.

It is nearly always the opinion of NSL / Barnet Council that a PCN is valid but that doesn't mean it will survive a close scrutiny by Mr Mustard. The blue badge clock does not have to be displayed in a residents bay, that is a howler as one can park for an unlimited time in such a bay.

If the driver is on their own in a car and visiting, say, a disabled relative who cannot walk as far as the car then there is no choice for the driver but to leave their car in order to obtain the blue badge before helping the disabled person to board the vehicle. There is nothing in the law which supports the council's letter (which many people would take as, and should be, 100% accurate).

Don't just take Mr Mustard's word for it. Take that of Mr Hugh Cooper, a lawyer, who sits as an adjudicator on PCNs. Mr Mustard always finds him to be logical and thorough (the last argument took the unusually long time of 1h 10m with both parties quite enjoying the battle - Mr Mustard did prevail on that occasion) and this is what Mr Cooper had to say in PATAS case 2140052218 which did concern Barnet Council back in December 2013 (they have a short memory).

Mrs V does not dispute that her car was parked in this parking bay without displaying a permit. However she has maintained from the outset that she came to visit a resident in the street, and only left the car without a permit for the time it took to go to her house, obtain and complete a visitor's voucher and return to the car, a process she estimates as taking about 3 minutes. She points out that the Civil Enforcement Officer (CEO) issued the Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) after only one minute's observation, and suggests that he/she must have actually seen her leave the car. Mrs V has now produced a letter from the occupier which confirms her account.

The Enforcement Authority have insisted throughout that a permit or voucher must be displayed from the moment the car is parked in such a bay, and that no period of grace is allowed. Mrs V contends, by contrast, that it is not possible for a visitor to a resident to have a visitor's voucher already in her possession; it is necessary to go to the resident's house to obtain it, and so a short time must be allowed for this to be done.

I am perplexed by the Authority's stance in this case. It is self-evident that a reasonable period must be allowed for a visitor to obtain and complete a visitor's voucher from a resident, for the reasons Mrs V has clearly set out. Had the CEO observed the vehicle for, say, five or more minutes, then it would have been reasonable to assume that the owner was not obtaining a visitor's voucher, but by allowing only one minute that assumption could not be safely made. In this case I am satisfied that it was in fact wrongly made. I am not satisfied that the contravention occurred, and so I allow this appeal.

[I would respectfully suggest that the Authority give some thought to the instructions they give to their CEOs and to their decision-makers in relation to this issue.]

That final sentence is the usual under-stated way in which a lawyer slaps you round the face with a wet fish. Clearly the council (NSL?) have taken no notice of this decision and should Mr Mustard find himself, on the instant PCN, in front of an adjudicator with the identical argument he will be pointing out the earlier decision and suggesting that costs for wholly unreasonable behaviour are the order of the day. Something tells Mr Mustard that the case will not now get that far.

Will, though, NSL stop writing such misleading letters is his first question. His second question, now that dealing with representations is moving in-house is, will the in-house team be properly trained?

The other point is that an observation period should have been added for code 12 contraventions. It has not been. PCN are issued instantly and that is unfair.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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