10 August 2017

Complaints must be repeated

Here is the story of how Barnet Parking failed, at the first attempt, to properly respond to a complaint.

A man, let's call him Oliver, rented a car to use as a mini-cab and a PCN was placed on the car in January 2017 which, for some reason, did not reach Oliver, the driver at the time (there has been talk of traffic wardens putting PCNs back in their pockets after issue in order to deprive drivers of the discount but that would work against the council's hunger for PCN income and they are happy with the 50% at the beginning, so would rather traffic wardens didn't do this, Mr Mustard surmises) . The Notice to Owner was quite properly sent to the registered keeper, the rental company. They made representations against the Notice to Owner that the car was hired out under a rental agreement which included a statement that Oliver was liable for any PCNs. The council then sent a fresh PCN to Oliver but unfortunately someone copied the address down incorrectly and sent the paperwork to #25 instead of #27. Oliver lives in a large block of flats and documents sent to #25 were simply retained by the occupier and not handed on.

The PCN progressed through the usual stages of Charge Certificate, Order for Recovery, Warrant of Control, Notice of Enforcement and the bailiff tracked down Oliver and upon request sent him a copy of the warrant. Oliver immediately saw the problem and a friend helped him to submit a complaint, of which this is the gist:

I am writing to make a formal complaint in connection to the above PCN.

First of all I did not receive any PCN at all, nor did I receive any statutory documents.

The bailiff has contacted me regarding the above PCN and he sent me the attached Warrant of control. However having reviewed information provided by the bailiff, it appears that the warrant was issued for the wrong address and also the local authority have sent all the statutory notices to the wrong address.

If I had received the PCN and the statutory documents I would have made a formal appeal straight away and I would  not have let the case progress to the bailiff at all.

My address is 25 Redacted House, Redacted Road, London NW? ??? and I have never lived at 27 Redacted House.

In addition I would like to inform you that I do not own and have never owned this vehicle and it is not registered under my name with DVLA.

I do recall that I have hired the vehicle  however, having reviewed the hire agreement I strongly believe that it does not comply with The particulars of hiring agreements set out in the relevant Regulations (which quoted Regulations were the superseded ones but the requirements were the same)

In order for the hire agreement to comply and for the liability to be transferred it must comply with the relevant Regulations.

I therefore request you to review the hire agreement submitted by the hire company and you will clearly see that it does not meet the requirements.

Please kindly cancel the warrant and  this PCN and remove my details from your system.

Now at this point you would expect the council to check two things, firstly the address on the hire agreement and secondly whether they had allowed liability to be transferred in accordance with the relevant Regulations.

Instead, Mr Mustard thinks they hit the defensive button and set about justifying their actions:

Mr Mustard sees the first paragraph all the time. It is a load of nonsense designed to try and deflect complaints. The complaint is about the process having gone wrong so it must be considered as such. The council should consider complaints made at any time, in case they have done something wrong.

The 'understanding', or rather lack of, of the writer is irrelevant padding, designed to obfuscate.

Just because a PCN was affixed to the car does not mean that it reached the driver.

OK, so a signed hire agreement was received by the council and based on that, they transferred liability to the person hiring the car.

Then the council claim, in terms, to have sent the fresh Notice to Owner to 27 Redacted House but the records show that they sent everything to 25. As that was a substantive point of the complaint, it is pretty poor work, or wilful blindness, to have missed that fundamental fact.

Mr Mustard has yet to see a copy of the hire agreement but he knows the friend will have correctly analysed it and it will not meet the requirements of The Road Traffic Owner Liability Regulations 2000 which is the correct set of Regulations, not the Traffic Management Act 2004 at all.

Answers on a postcard please as to how you can respond to a Notice to Owner which was not delivered to you?

It is never too late for representations to be considered. It is the council's PCN, if they discover they have done something wrong, they can cancel a PCN at any time for any reason, even if the PCN is actually correct. It isn't ever the case that the council are unable to cancel a PCN, it is that they are unwilling to do so.
It isn't the job of Marston to mop up the council's mess.

The information wasn't helpful at all but that isn't unusual.

Needless to say a second complaint was sent to the council that their handling of the first complaint was inept and that parking had lied about the address to which documents were sent. Cue a rapid change of direction and the following email being received:

I have asked the Parking Team to further investigate and they have confirmed the following:

I have just compared the original signed hire agreement with the address NSL recorded on the system and Oliver is correct, they mistakenly put down his house number as 25 rather than 27 – accordingly, I have asked NSL Services to arrange for the bailiffs to return the Warrant as it is not enforceable. Once this is done, I will have the PCN cancelled accordingly and will write to Oliver to confirm this.

Good news but the enforcement contract isn't with NSL Services Ltd, it is with NSL Ltd. Note that NSL get given the blame and although they are to blame for the initial error the handling of the complaint should have been dealt with in-house by the council itself. Delegating complaints to whoever made the error in the first place is not wise as they will not be sufficiently critical or analytical.

What worries Mr Mustard is that less able motorists than Oliver would have paid the bailiff, especially if their car had been clamped and they needed it to go to work that day or on holiday. Monies paid to a bailiff are a nightmare to recover.

Making a mistake does happen but you are measured by how you deal with it, very badly in this case. More reputational damage has ensued for the council. Will Oliver ever trust anything the council says in the future?

There is too much automation in the world of PCN. In nil response cases sending the PCN to the bailiff is a bad idea, the case should be checked for obvious errors before a warrant is applied for, as the chances are if no response was received that the statutory documents have not been served.

Liability in rental agreement cases is transferred without proper checking in Mr Mustard's experience.

Mr Mustard thinks that complaints should not be handled by the parking department but by a dedicated complaints person, or even better, by a person independent of the council. Mr Mustard could provide that for other councils in London should they wish to improve their procedures. He can't do it for Barnet as he would be too conflicted by all the Barnet PCNs he challenges, he could decline to handle the small number he does in any other borough.

So now we await seeing the apology which Mr Mustard presumes that Barnet Council are going to send. How fulsome will it be? Will there be an offer of compensation for getting the address wrong in the first place and secondly for rejecting the valid complaint which could have caused a weaker person to pay up, that surely is maladministration?

Put your answer on the same postcard as Barnet Council never seem to regard their wrongdoing as cause for payment, it is only residents who must pay them for their misdeeds, not vice versa.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

1 comment:

  1. This goes beyond bovine incompetence, and must surely be within the definition of malfeasance. When, oh when, is somebody going to go to jail in a council parking departmen t


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