17 April 2014

It's not in the post

No notices
The council have a general duty at law to be fair. This was established in the House of Lords case ex. parte Doody which included these words by Lord Mustill "Where an Act of Parliament confers an administrative power there is a presumption that it will be exercised in a manner which is fair in all the circumstances".

The right to issue Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) for parking contraventions are conferred on councils by Acts of Parliament. Have Barnet Council been fair? quite possibly not.

In the good old days (prior to 1 May 12 when NSL took over) the printing of letters and notices was done in the council's own postroom so the parking manager could easily satisfy himself that the letters which he expected to be printed had been printed. Nowadays things are a little more complicated as the NSL back office team are in Croydon and their letters are (unless it has changed recently when the scanning company changed from RR Donnelley to PARSEQ) printed at Infinity in Croydon.

This is a note from the minutes of a meeting between NSL and Barnet Council:

Audit screen in CE (Civica Enforcement software) says Notice to Owner printed and posted on 17/8/12 however correspondence screen says Notice to Owner failed to process. Customer states Notice to Owner not received, only the Charge Certificate received in the post.

This problem was identified in January 13 and logged with Civica. It is unlikely that this was a one off event as Mr Mustard has himself seen lots of cases where the Notice to Owner was not received and now he knows why (can't blame the Royal Mail for not delivering something they were not given) and as a software support call would not be logged for something that only happened on one case. What isn't clear from the minutes is how many PCN were affected by this and what the council did about the problem.

If the council did not issue a Notice to Owner they are absolutely not entitled to the income for that PCN if it was paid at the next stage, the Charge Certificate, at which point the charge has been increased by 50%. That is clearly not fair and also as the opportunity to make representations was lost.

What should an honest council do? They should investigate the cause of the fault and rectify it and also carry out an audit of letters supposedly printed against the number actually printed (presumably Infinity charge by the item so the number actually printed each day should be easy to obtain) and then refund every PCN that has been paid in which the Notice to Owner was not printed and any bailiff's charges which have been paid.

When Mr Mustard next has occasion to speak to a parking manager he will ask them what actually happened. That will be a fun conversation.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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