30 October 2014

Parking Policy - Dear Mr Millard - #1

Following Mr Mustard's suggestion a number of residents wrote to Mr Millard, the Parking Improvement Policy Manager of Barnet Council, with their own parking policy ideas. Here is #1

Dear Mr Millard

Having read through your parking proposals I am writing to suggest that you talk with Mr Mustard since he is clearly in tune with the local residents of Barnet. I have read through his suggestions and he is most definitely 'putting the community first' which is what residents of Barnet want and your headed paper claim to do.

Since the parking system was introduced my visitors and I have been patronised and made to feel like:

liars - 'have you REALLY used up all your visitor vouchers? If you want more you'll have to POLITELY write in to ask very nicely for more’ - so you’re controlling how many friends, visitors and builders I’m allowed(?!)

cheats - visitors have incorrectly scratched the wrong day or date on their visitor voucher resulting in a fine

criminals - the carpenter who attended my house for many days once put the visitor voucher upside down on the stack of vouchers that he had law-abidingly used throughout his time working for us, Or the incident where the voucher for another builder fell on the floor of his car.

Not to mention the time when my mother stood on my doorstep to hand something to me saying 'no dear, I won't come in as I'm In a hurry' then turned around to see the parking attendant tapping into his machine. When I called the parking office and spoke to Christine I was told 'oh what a shame, why didn't your mother call you to tell you that she was coming, you could then have been standing on the roadside waiting with a ticket to hand over'!!!! I'm sure you will agree that this suggestion is quite ridiculous. I see that in your proposal there still is a zero minute wait time before issuing the ticket. Surely a few minutes grace is more realistic.

As a resident living near to Barnet hospital, who charged huge amounts for their visitors to use their car park, we could hardly ever park outside our own house. This was particularly difficult when returning home with bags of food shopping and 2 young children in tow. Since the hospital was not going to remove or reduce their charges we agreed to having parking restrictions put outside our house. This has resolved the problem, however now we live in fear of getting a parking ticket if we make one of the above errors. My friends and family can no longer call in for a couple of minutes to drop something off without needing a visitor voucher. Is this really how the system is supposed to work? For who’s benefit - I would suggest that this is not really putting the community first.

You may also wish to know that after waiting nearly 2 months for my parking permit to come through and chasing up the parking team several times, it turned out that my permit was sent to a random address in zone H (I’m in zone C). Justine was very helpful in eventually sorting this out (after others before failed). During this time my husband had received his permit straight away but after approx. 2 months received a PCN(!) It turned out that his permit was also printed with zone H on it although his one managed to be sent to our house. My husband spoke to the parking office who said that they’d resolve the problem and cancelled the PCN but when Justine phoned me back, the same day, in relation to my problem, I was told that both our vehicles were still registered against zone H(!). We have now both received the correct parking permits - Twice(!).

Finally, last week, I received a letter notifying me that a payment for visitor vouchers failed to go through due to a problem with your system. I am going to query whether this was a legitimate letter from yourselves as it suggested to make a bank transfer to a co-op bank account? With IP fraud around us I am concerned that possibly this was a scam letter as something did not feel right about the quality and style of the letter.

So there’s a brief summary of some of the problems I’ve had with your scheme and that I’d like you to take into consideration when visiting your new parking policy.

I do not tend to complain about anything however the headaches and trouble that this parking scheme has caused since it’s introduction is, quite frankly, time consuming, stressful and a nightmare! …but one that can easily be improved upon by genuinely “Putting the Community First”.

Thank-you for taking the time to read my email.

kindest regards

28 October 2014

PATAS - what is it like? Guest blog by Mrs A (no, not that one)

Confused? Bay markings = can park. Yellow line; you can't

My first appeal against a PCN

I have been driving for about 17 years in the UK and this is not the first time I received a PCN but it was certainly the first time I decided to appeal against a PCN. I felt annoyed and hard done and was determined to take the matter further.

Receiving a PCN really strikes you hard and you tend to be cautious in not repeating the same mistake again. But somehow we appear to be caught out every now and then and it almost becomes part and parcel of driving- like paying an extra car tax!

I parked my car on Park Road in West Hendon at about 1pm on a weekday. Of course in my judgment I assumed that my car was legally parked in accordance with the signs put up by Barnet council. Upon returning to my car, I was dismayed to see a PCN ticket planted on my windscreen. I immediately started to inspect all the signs on the road trying to figure out how I had breached the parking regulations.

Unfortunately despite my efforts, I could not be sure that it was an error of judgment on my part and thought that this confusion needed a second opinion. I took a few snaps on my mobile to get a second opinion from my husband.

We both agreed that the signs on the posts were misleading and it gave an impression that it was okay to park on this road except during the prohibited hours i.e. restriction applies only between 10am and 11am. However, there was another small sign placed in a rather inconspicuous place indicating that this is a pay and park zone between 9am and 5pm. My husband and I drove to the same road during the day just to reconfirm our judgment and took some photos to send with our appeal letter.

I sent my appeal letter within two weeks by recorded delivery and enclosed photographic evidence. There was no response from Barnet council for weeks and I began to think and hoped that Barnet had agreed with the points I raised in my letter but unfortunately I was wrong. About 4 weeks later, I received a letter from Barnet demanding a payment and there was no reference to my appeal letter. I attempted to phone Barnet parking section but the person answering the call was in a call centre and could not help me and simply instructed me to put my query in writing.

Eventually I did receive a response from Barnet who offered me to pay the reduced fine. Barnet stated that they did not have my address to respond to my first letter which is why it took a long time for them to respond. This sounded very bizarre to me at first but later I learnt that when you receive a PCN, the council do not have your home address and only obtain your address through the DVLA if a payment is not received by them. My understanding was that if the council are able to write to my address for payment then surely they must have my address - plus I assumed that as long as I provided the PCN number they would be able to trace my address on their database. Unfortunately I omitted to put my address on my first appeal letter because of the above rationale - remember to always put your correspondence address in appeal letters!

When I received a large bundle of paper from the appeals service - I felt a bit nervous. My appeal was scheduled for 5pm on a school day - this meant that I had to organise someone to pick up my children from school and my husband took time off work to accompany me. I really had second thoughts about going to the tribunal and even asked my husband to phone the appeals service to ask if it’s too late to pay the reduced fine over the phone. I began to regret not paying the reduced fee of £30 because after working out the payment for postage, travel costs to get to the parking centre for two people, time off from work etc. we were not really saving a lot of money. However, at the same time, I did feel quite strongly about challenging this PCN because of the confusing signage and felt it was unfair to expect me to pay.

Just one day before the date of the hearing, my husband heard about Mr Mustard and made contact with him to see if he was able to offer any advice. Mr Mustard was only given information about the date and time of my hearing and to our surprise he managed to find out so much information that it took us by surprise. He explained that all the hearings are listed on the website of the appeals service.

Mr Mustard offered to meet my husband on the morning of the hearing. My husband took the bundle of paper from appeals service as well as our own copies of document which Mr Mustard helped to organise. My husband described Mr Mustard as someone who is very friendly, genuine, knowledgeable and intelligent (and not sufficiently modest to delete the preceding line - Ed). Mr Mustard gave my husband several tips and helped to draft some key points to present to the appeal. This certainly boosted my husband’s confidence in representing me.

When we went to the appeals service, it felt quite odd and uneasy; I kind of felt like I was in trouble with the law and was being brought to face the judge! There were a few more people who were waiting to be seen. We were asked to switch off our phones and given a sheet of paper telling us how to address the adjudicator i.e. refer to them as sir or madam.

The adjudicator greeted us and went through some factual information. He then gave us an opportunity to explain why we think the PCN was issued wrongly. Mr Mustard had helped us to write three pertinent points in our defence which was presented to the adjudicator who suggested that it would be best to go through one point at a time. We chose the strongest point first which was that there were conflicting and confusing signage in place, plus there is a single yellow line going across a pay and display zone. The adjudicator listened to our points attentively and within a space of few minutes agreed that he believes that there is a conflict here and said that we do not need to go through the two remaining points and that he would ask for the PCN to be cancelled. I would estimate that we were in the room for about five to six minutes.

The feeling of winning the appeal felt so good and it made you think that justice was served. We know that if it wasn’t for Mr Mustard’s help then we would have lacked the confidence to present our case and the technical advice provided by Mr Mustard was so incredibly helpful.

We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Mr Mustard for his wonderful support.

Mrs A

Mrs A was lucky that Mr Mustard happened to be available at short notice but that isn't always the case. He does have to work sometimes and he could be anywhere in the UK. He will, however, always try to help anyone who asks.

What this guest blog shows is that if you go to PATAS with a half decent argument the adjudicator will carefully and in an unbiased manner carefully consider what you have to say and if he/she agrees, decide in your favour. Mrs A had two other arguments which weren't tested but one of those might also have worked  and you can think of the Appeal like a penalty shootout where you have, in this case, 3 balls rowed up and you only have to kick one of them into the net to get your PCN cancelled. The council will almost always not even attend the match.

So, don't be afraid of going to PATAS as you will win more than 50% of the time, so on the average it is worth fighting.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

27 October 2014

Consulting you whilst tramlining you - Equalities Act?

The council want to consult you about parking policy but only insofar as they want to hear the answer. The consultation is here and runs until tomorrow.

You would think that the council would be pleased to receive all viewpoints in any form imaginable including in writing from those who do not have a computer, but you would be wrong

So what can you do? You can get all of Mr Mustard's policies into the survey and/or complain that you don't have a computer and so have to write in order not to be disadvantaged.

Here are some of the questions from the surveymonkey survey (you can answer anonymously and use any local postcode)

Mr Mustard suggests strongly disagree to all of those so that whatever pre-decided ideas the council asked these questions to support, are stymied.

You might think that if you said Strongly Agree to Support Local Business you would be answering correctly but that might be intended to give support to the idea of,say, more shared loading and parking bays but they get misunderstood and lead to PCN so Mr Mustard suggests you strongly disagree to everything again.

You can agree with the 85% rule as that is a recognised standard. Mr Mustard suggests you remain undecided on the other question.

Please strongly disagree to both of these. The answer is to have drop off zones for those who have to drive and issuing camera car PCN will only lead to improved revenues for the council, not improved compliance (otherwise after several years of camera cars there would surely be 100% compliance already).

In this road there is a house split into 5 rented rooms. if they all need a car for their travelling salesman jobs then they all need a permit or if you have 3 grown up children who can't afford to move out.

This question is not about safety but about getting public approval to issue PCN by camera on yellow box junctions and the like and to make lots of lovely revenue. Is there a huge problem with blocked yellow boxes in Barnet? Mr Mustard hasn't seen it, most people are sensible. Best to strongly disagree otherwise go an inch into a yellow box and stop and a PCN will drop through your letterbox.

 These two questions are all about revenue raising. Strongly disagree with the first question and strongly agree with the second. Provided the width of a wheelchair remains then having  2 wheels on a kerbstone is not a heinous crime nor is parking on the concreted approach to your own gate which happens to cross a very wide (5m+) grass verge for which you can be ticketed. There questions are harder than they at first appear.

as above.

Look, no mention of cash parking meters. you can have any payment method you like which the council have pre-chosen for you. Lots of people still want to pay with cash, they visit other boroughs instead of Barnet.

Mr Mustard's preferred method when he has to pay is still cash.

Now is the chance to put Mr Mustard's policy into the frame. After all, the council asked for any extra points. Give them Mr Mustard's, they really do want to hear them.

You can go to this link and copy and paste the entire policy suggestions into box 25.

Let's make the council listen to us for once.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

26 October 2014

Barnet Hospital - parking tickets

the top sign is far too high to read
The Barnet Hospital parking problem for the disabled.

As Mr Mustard correctly predicted in the local Times newspaper back in August when it started, parking, for many visitors to the hospital isn't working out well which makes it a triumph for Parking Eye (Capita) as the profits will be rolling in, and it is the disabled who seem to be bearing the brunt of the problem.

Many regular disabled visitors didn't notice the new signs and why would they look for them as all they have to do on the street is to put their blue badges out. Technically blue badges have absolutely no legal standing on private land as the legislation that enacted them only considered the public road. What has happened is that lots of disabled people have put their blue badge on display, gone to their appointment and then a few days later received a "parking charge notice" through the post from Parking Eye which demands £100 within 28 days of the issue of the demand or the lesser sum of £60 if paid within 14 days of the date of the demand. For council tickets you always get 14 or 28 days from the date of arrival of the demand so Parking Eye are applying time pressure to people who are probably sick and thus behind with personal paperwork as they have other more important things to think about.

The other logistical point which springs to Mr Mustard's mind is that councils are not allowed to use cctv where a blue badge would be valid as the camera can't see it (the vast majority of cctv enforcement will soon be stopped on the public highway). The Rt Hon Eric Pickles who very sensibly acted to stop big brother ticketing needs to have a chat with his ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health and force hospitals to revert to a local system of blue badge checking on the ground so that the disabled don't have to traipse off to reception to register their blue badge. The disabled are being forced to register their cars when all the able bodied have to do is to pay at a meter near to their car so the disabled are being discriminated against when they should be treated better (due adjustments should be made for their condition).

What to do if you get a parking charge notice?

1.  Complain locally. Update 4 Feb 15. Reception have the power to cancel the parking charge notice.

Go to reception and ask them to cancel the ticket although Mr Mustard thinks they will say they can't as only Parking Eye can do so which, if correct, is wrong as it is the hospital's car park and they should retain the right to insist upon cancellation; a blue badge holder whose chemotherapy ran late really shouldn't have to explain their medical details to a representative of a parking company; this is distressing, confidential and personal information.

Take your blue badge with you to prove you have one although it isn't strictly necessary as if you are obviously disabled but don't have a blue badge the necessary adjustment should still be made due to your disability.

You could ask PALS (Patient Advice & Liaison Service) to get involved (bcfpals@nhs.net) although they too can probably only support you in the process. The hospital have erred. They should train PALS and reception to cancel these parking penalties in suitable circumstances.

You could tweet about it to #RoyalFreeNHS as like all large organisations they are image conscious and will fall over themselves to help in order to present a friendly public face.

If the hospital and/or Parking Eye don't deal with you sympathetically think about appearing in the Barnet Times paper as it may help other people. (Chief Reporter Anna Slater)

2.  Challenge the penalty. 

The main stumbling block for private parking companies is the fact that they have to show what their "Genuine pre-Estimate of Loss" is. In this case as you don't have to pay as you have a blue badge, once you disclose the existence of a blue badge there is no possibility of a loss. If you like to deal with these things yourselves, all well and good. You can get help by:

a. googling about Parking Eye (you will get thousands of results)
b. looking at the Parking Prankster site
c. looking at the Parking Cowboys website
d. using the Pepipoo forum (odd name but a great source of knowledge)

which will soon have you armed with strong arguments.

3. Pay for expert help

If Mr Mustard gets a request for assistance with a private parking ticket he sends the person to this website 

There are modest £5 and £10 fees to pay and the people offering this service really do know what they are doing (they know far more than Mr Mustard about private tickets)

If you can't deal with stress then this commercial and efficient service is the answer. It is what Mr Mustard would do if he got a parking charge notice at a hospital (or a motorway services several of which he stopped in for 30 minutes or so this week).

4. Do not ignore the problem; it will not go away.

On no account ignore the parking charge notice (those days are gone). Fight the penalty at every stage and keep to timetable.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 October 2014

Public housing in Barnet - Have your say. Free event but you must book.

The shortage of social and affordable housing is one of the most pressing problems facing our communities.
Is council housing the answer to the crisis? 
What can councils do to tackle the housing shortage?
What should Londoners expect?
What’s the solution: housing associations? housing co-ops? mutuals? self-builds?
Must regeneration be gentrification?
Come to this open forum to discuss with other members of the housing community – councillors, tenants and campaigners – possible solutions to the current housing situation and what actions can be taken next. Working in groups, this is an opportunity for you to give your views of what needs to be done and by whom.
For further details Click here.
The event is free but spaces limited; to secure your place, please book on Eventbrite.
Alternatively, let us know on 07534-407703 or email barnetalliance4publicservices@gmail.com or

23 October 2014

Bailiff's bluff - Isle of Wight

If there was a place called Bailiff's Bluff on the Isle of Wight, Mr Mustard wouldn't be surprised, but it seems that this location is probably anywhere in England or Wales if Jacobs bailiffs are involved.

Apologies for the poor copy.

Here is part of a letter sent out by Jacobs which is almost certainly a standard letter.

Mr Mustard thinks that would send most motorists to whom it is sent into paroxysms of fear and trembling. In the case in question, it was sent to the owner of a Motability vehicle on the Isle of Wight, whose vehicle cannot be seized.

Mr Mustard doesn't take threats idly so he submitted an FOI request to the Isle of Wight council (who responded quite quickly, 10/10 IOW), as follows:

So there we have it. Jacobs bailiffs say the end of the world is nigh if you don't pay a PCN debt and IOW council say it isn't. 

At the least this leaves Jacobs looking, take your pick here:

1   Liars
2   Optimists
3   Unprofessional
4   In breach of National Standards

Mr Mustard would suggest that all 4 of his above points are applicable.

He wonders what terms are in the contract with the Isle of Wight Council, if they have any idea what tricks their bailiffs get up to and if they properly monitor their bailiffs (he doubts that they do).

Have you had a similar letter from a bailiff acting on behalf of your local council? If so, send in the identical Freedom of Information request and then if the answers are all zero send in a complaint that the council is not properly monitoring its bailiffs.

The letter from Jacobs is designed to intimidate, purely & simply. Threatening actions that cannot take place, especially bankruptcy for which a debt of £750 is required (and therefore there should not be any mention of it for lower value debts) is unethical, unprofessional and probably unlawful.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update 24 October 14.

An email from the person who was being threatened by Jacobs, in response to the FOI info.

Wow! That's amazing. One of the best emails I've received.

Many thanks for finding this out, it makes you view the things they said they'd do very differently.

This gives me pause for thought. Thank you for your brilliance.