1 November 2015

Westminster wake-up call

An adjudicator decides a case with an 18 month delay.
Knowing that delays are fatal to PCN Mr Mustard was somewhat surprised when an occasional PCN client (one who deals with the routine himself and just consults Mr Mustard on the tough cases) said he had been chased by Zinc Credit management for a debt of £180 from November 2010. Actually the letter that Zinc sent wasn't very helpful as it only quoted Westminster City Council and the vehicle registration so further information had to be sought.

Go make yourself a cup of tea, the chronology is a long one.

26 November 2010 at 15:45 a van was hired out by Mr Mustard's client until 1 December 10 to a small removals company of which the proprietor has moved back to South Africa.

At 21:39 on 26 November 2010 the van is found with all 4 wheels on a (very wide but no excuse) pavement presumably to make loading easier. A £120 PCN is placed on the screen.

On 4 January 2011 a Notice to Owner was sent. The hire company will, as they always do, have provided a copy of the hire agreement to Westminster showing that liability for parking PCN was accepted by the person hiring. Needless to say, the record of that is not available after all this time.

On 7 February 11 a Charge Certificate was issued which increased the charge to £180. There is no record of that being received.

At some point after that, the date has not been released, Philips Collection Services who were at that time the provider of debt management services to Westminster, tried to trace the vehicle hire firm and despite them having a large yard with dozens of vans in it at the address registered with the DVLA, which would have been supplied to Westminster and also being in the BT phone book, Philips were unable to trace the Limited company concerned and decided not to proceed to register the PCN as a debt at the TEC.

The PCN then went into a deep sleep until 9 January 2015 when a letter arrived from Zinc Credit Management at the address which Philips had been unable to find, the postman could & Mr Mustard didn't have any problem when he popped in there. It threatened the client with having the debt registered at the county court when further fees and costs would be added. The extra fee is £7 so really not that fearsome and there are no costs, so the letter overstates the case (of course). The letter goes on to say there will be a warrant and a bailiff calling.

On 16 January 15 Mr Mustard received the PCN number he needed and this led to him also being given the hire agreement (his client has good records).

On 17 January Mr Mustard emailed Zinc and asked for copies of the PCN, the Notice to Owner, the Charge Certificate, the Order for Recovery and Warrant (in case there was an expired one). He point out the following guidance from the London Councils Code of Practice to which councils in London must have regard i.e. they need to have considered it and have a good reason to not follow it:

On 23 January Zinc emailed asking for payment of £180.

On 24 January Mr Mustard pointed out his 17 January email

On 9 February 2015 Mr Mustard heard from Westminster about their contract with Zinc. there wasn't one but instead they had a pilot to validate PCN write-offs. They had been given 46,980 PCN to look at (Mr Mustard does not know if they were all equally historic). Their method of validation consisted of asking for payment which isn't the same thing and they were working under the misapprehension that the name and address given to them by Westminster was that of a definite debtor. There was nothing in any of their communications which invited a dialogue about who the liable party was. Strangely, there was an existing 4 year debt management contract with the Marston Group Ltd which started in March 13 and which seems to be for exactly this kind of service.

In the absence of a response Mr Mustard chased Zinc on 23 February 2015.

Zinc woke up and replied the same day to say there was an enforceable debt. Er, no there isn't. Here is the law on the matter, a debt is only created when the County Court agrees.

Zinc told Mr Mustard that the last action was the PCN (patent rubbish as if that was the case the sum claimed would only be £120) and that there wasn't a Notice to Owner or an Order for Recovery as the PCN was not appealed within 28 days (complete codswallop).

Mr Mustard was also quick to fire an email back and point out that Zinc

- didn't know enough about PCN procedures
- didn't know what a debt was
- that it was too late to issue a Charge Certificate
- that there must be a Notice to Owner
- if there wasn't a Notice to Owner that the Owner had been denied their legal right to make representations
- that he wanted copies of the PCN, Notice to Owner and Order for Recovery
- that Zinc should ask their client to explain the process.

Just 8 minutes later Mr Mustard received another email which asked why the PCN had not been appealed as it was put on the vehicle and that they didn't have access to the Notice to Owner or Charge Certificate.

A little later Mr Mustard patiently pointed out that his client was not the driver of the vehicle and that there wasn't in any event a legal requirement for a driver to respond to a PCN placed on their vehicle. He reminded Zinc of the documents he wanted to see.

11 minutes later Mr Mustard got this email:

We can certainly request the documents you requested without any issue but I feel that there is concrete evidence (the photographs I have sent to you) to support that this PCN is quite clearly valid and with abit of research I can see it is your duty as an online blogger to try and appeal PCN’s for 3rd parties regardless of the evidence provided.

I have requested the documents you requested and I hope to see this matter resolved ASAP.

Mr Mustard decided not to bother arguing about his personal motivation or the fact that he tells people to pay sums which are properly due and his alter ego, in his professional capacity as a credit consultant / debt collector, investigates thoroughly any dispute about invoices which are raised, and that the last time he was in front of an adjudicator he was thanked for pointing out something detrimental to his client's case. All that would appear to be impossible to contemplate for a Zinc collector who is hell bent on collecting a 4 year old PCN from a company that is not liable for it.

On 23 February Mr Mustard simply & calmly responded that he needed to see the documents.

On 21 March Mr Mustard reminded Zinc that he was waiting for the documents.

On 21 April Mr Mustard filed a complaint with Westminster about Zinc and adds the Audit Log to the list of documents he wants to see. They ask NSL to respond (it gets worse!).

On 24 April Westminster tell Mr Mustard to go to their system to obtain the response. Mr Mustard tells them to send it as he doesn't respond to fetch commands. Someone sensible replies.

Firstly I would like to apologise, I completely agree with you that you shouldn’t have to go and search for your response, the wording on the auto response needs to be amended to reflect actually what is provided, an email response will always be sent to the customer in the first instance. We then offer an additional service whereby customers can view their enquiry and see the progress of this. This is an optional service provided to the customer who wish to use it. 

A response will be provided to you by email and I will be making changes to the auto response to reflect what will be provided to the customer.

On 4 May Mr Mustard gets his response.

That's funny, the pilot to validate write-offs has transformed itself into a debt recovery contract without there being a contract and with 46,980 PCN to go at possibly involves fees which exceed the EU tender threshold and unless they agreed deprives Marston, who do have the contract, of income.

By not registering those 46,980 at the county court (TEC) Westminster saved themselves £328,860 in court fees. That looks like the true motivation to Mr Mustard. 

On 5 May Mr Mustard asks once again for the statutory PCN documents and the Audit log (Mr Mustard follows the scent like a bloodhound).

On 5 June he reminds NSL that he awaits an answer.

On 11 June he received a reply.

Although I provided a clear case history in my response of 4 May 2015, as a gesture of goodwill, I have attached a print out of the case history and status report relating to the PCN WM64593587 for your information.

We are unable to provide copies of the Notice to Owner or Charge Certificate as these are statutory documents which are not permitted to be copied or reproduced.

I trust this is the information you require.

Mr Mustard hadn't spotted any goodwill up to this point. He knows a lie when he sees one as the Notice to Owner and Charge Certificate have to be reprinted for use at the tribunal (not that this PCN was ever going to get there).

Mr Mustard wrote back the same day asking which law forbids reprinting (he loves asking impossible questions) and pointing out the PCN had not yet been provided and that the client was not the driver (again) and asked for confirmation that an Order for Recovery had not been issued (he knew the answer as the TEC had told him).

On 15 June he received the following information:

- There seems to be some confusion.
- They (NSL on behalf of Westminster) can provide copies but they may differ from the original due to the passage of time.
- They can't provide an exact copy PCN.
- The registered keeper is responsible for the debt.
- Philips had been unable to verify the address so they couldn't progress the case which was placed on hold.
- There are no statutory time limits except for the Notice to Owner.
- There is nothing further they can do.

Mr Mustard then became extremely busy with more pressing matters so left the PCN to age a little further before he had time to write this on 13 October

- Mr Mustard is not confused.
- Has Westminster deleted 2010 document templates?
- Westminster can't prove service of anything on his client.
- To what address were documents sent?
- They can reproduce a PCN for the tribunal.
- The Registered Keeper is not liable if, as in this instance, there is a suitable hire agreement.
- The agent Philips is not up the job.
- How long was the PCN placed on hold for an to what end?
- The Code of Practice of London Councils say they must cancel a PCN which is left untouched for 6 months.
- If the PCN has not been registered at the TEC there is no debt.

On 27 October he received a partial response

- He was given the address of his client to which documents were supposedly sent.
- He was given a perfect looking replica of the PCN (wasn't that impossible?)
- The Notice to Owner has to be sent within 56 days (actually that is guidance, the long stop date is 6 months).
- Westminster don't know why Philips couldn't find the client.
- They can find no reason not to issue an Order for Recovery (i.e. register the PCN as a debt at the county court).
- However, Westminster have decided to exercise their discretion and cancel the PCN.
- They apologise for the inconvenience.

An old person faced with a debt collector calling and threats of court registration might just have rolled over and paid. Mr Mustard isn't so easily persuaded and his clients know to consult him about anything dodgy and this ancient PCN was as dodgy as they come.

Westminster council have been incompetent in not registering these PCN at the TEC as that is the due process, that or write them off instead of putting them into limbo for 3 years.

Have you got a 2010 PCN from Westminster or even one for 2011, 2012 or 2013. Are you being chased by Zinc? Do please send a copy to mrmustard@zoho.com and your PCN will probably meet the same fate, of cancellation.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

1 comment:

  1. This is not just incompetence, it is blatant law-breaking and people should be going to jail for this for malfeasance. When will our supine government sort out these venal and rapacious councils.


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