30 January 2016

Barnet's Boxing Day bonus

Confusion abounds as to when Boxing Day falls especially when it comes to parking. Legally it was 28th December 2015 which left 26 December as a normal Saturday although many motorists thought that it was already Boxing Day (the Boxing Day sales having started) and got caught out.

Mr Mustard thinks that someone at NSL, who manage the parking enforcement operation for Barnet Council, may have over-indulged on mince pies and festive spirit as they clearly didn't know what day it was because the PayByPhone system refused payments on 26 December. NSL then sent traffic wardens out to carry out their dastardly duties and they duly ticketed the cars of people who had tried to pay and been unable to. Mr Mustard knows of a challenge which has been made on the basis that it was impossible to make payment and the challenge has been rejected. Mr Mustard thinks if that lands on an adjudicator's desk they will not be amused.

The numbers are not huge. Mr Mustard found them in the response to a Freedom of Information request on the whatdotheyknow website.

It is not relevant what it says on the council's website. A motorist has the right to be informed by signs near to where he/she has parked.

The sum at stake isn't huge but it is clearly wrong of the council to profit from its own error (or that of its contractor). Mr Mustard was told that the council did stop ticketing that day as they, quite rightly, received howls of protest by telephone; one thing the British public will not stand for is unfairness.

Codes 11 and 73 are for being parked without payment, #11 on the road and #73 in a car park. Any PCN issued in a shared use bay is also suspect.

It is disappointing that the council are not honest enough to correct their error and automatically cancel these PCN and refund any that have been paid without awaiting a challenge which may never arrive.

Mr Mustard will give council parking management an opportunity to do the decent thing and if they fail he will make a formal challenge to the statutory Accounts of the council after the year end. That will cost anything up to £10,000 in extra audit fees and so as only £2,160 (36 PCN at £60) is at stake the council may find it pragmatic, whether they agree or not that they should be honest (they have a general duty at law to be fair), to issue refunds as they will oitherwise find that dishonesty does not pay.

If you have one of these PCN or any other PCN issued on 26 December 2015 you can enlist Mr Mustard's help by emailing a copy of your PCN to mrmustard@zoho.com

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

28 January 2016

The naughty London Borough of Waltham Forest

cute, unlike Waltham Forest council

Update 28 January 16.

Instead of sending me the FOI response Waltham Forest Council now expect Mr Mustard to go and fetch (like a dog, see above) his response CU127745 from a "MyAccount" that he doesn't have or want (Mr Mustard did look at setting one up but the council wanted his star sign, collar size and to know his favourite colour so he didn't complete the process) and they have clearly forgotten that they agreed to respond to him in writing i.e. by sending a letter. They could email it, that would be fine. They are back on the naughty step.

Councils everyhwere. Your duty is to send the response not to ask requestors to fetch it.

Update 11 January. Someone at Waltham Forest decided to accept Mr Mustard's request after all. Well done them. The council are now off the naughty step.

I acknowledge receipt of your request on 2 January 2016.

We are in the process of updating the procedures in regards to handling Freedom of Information requests which are not via our online portal.

I have logged your request under our reference number FOI 2016-0****.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, the Council has 20 working days in which to respond to your request.  Therefore, a written response will be sent to you on or by 29 January 2016.

Second update: The complaint is also being dealt with. We are cooking with gas now.

We acknowledge receipt of your complaint which will be considered under Stage 1 of the Council’s Corporate Complaints Procedure. This has been passed on to the appropriate Service for investigation and response.

The Council will respond to you in writing within 20 working days from the date of receipt, in accordance with our complaints procedure.

Original blog post

The morning started well and then Mr Mustard received the below email in response to a simple request he made on 2 January:

From: Wfdirect [mailto:wfdirect@walthamforest.gov.uk]
Sent: 05 January 2016 09:01
To: Mr Mustard
Subject: RE: FOI request

Dear Mr Mustard

Thank you for your email

Please note we do not accept Freedom of Information request via email.

As Waltham Forest Council are now going digital Freedom of Information and Complaints can be done via www.walthamforest.gov.uk

Yours sincerely,

Name Redacted by Mr Mustard
Customer Service Advisor
London Borough Of Waltham Forest

Steam started to come out of Mr Mustard's ears. The council must know the law, and expect you to follow parking law exactly, but think they are above it. That, or they don't know the law. Mr Mustard is unsure as to which is worse. He had seen reference on twitter to Waltham Forest refusing requests and he doesn't take no for an answer, when it should be yes. He emailed back:

Dear Sir/Madam

I have seen mention on twitter of the borough's wrongful refusal of perfectly valid FOI requests. I have looked at your title and decided that you are a generalist and not a specialist in this area and so my ire is not aimed at you personally. You probably don't know this but even a request on twitter could be valid so one by email certainly is. I have attached a copy of the ICO's comprehensive guidance on the subject of recognising valid requests. As it is long I have extracted the relevant part here:

My request fits with the above.

I understand why you try and straitjacket people into using (ghastly) webforms, it is because it is cheaper for you to process and administratively convenient. I find that it is quicker for me to use an email as I can automatically add my personal details, I can file the email within my own file structure (and I may not even get a copy of a webform that I complete) and can add a follow-up date. What the borough has forgotten is that it is there to serve the residents and/or other interested parties.

I have now found the relevant page on the council's website (you didn't even give me a link to the relevant page but only to the site itself thus taking up more of my time) and the page gives me no option but to apply for a 'My Account' which I have no wish to have. You cannot put such hurdles in the path of a FOI request. You also insist on being supplied with an email address and I doubt that fits with the requirements of the Equality Act as the elderly and disabled may not possess or easily have access to a computer or smartphone and may well prefer to write a letter.

You now have on your desk not only a valid FOI request on which the clock is already ticking but a complaint that you are ignoring the law. I have therefore copied in the council's monitoring officer with a request that she ensures that the borough follows the law in future.

All I require in response to my complaint is an apology for wasting my time & misleading me, and an assurance that no-one else will be mislead on this subject in the future & that requests by twitter, email, letter or other written forms will be accepted without demur.

Best regards

Mr Mustard

Mr Mustard will let you know what happens next. He is currently making a ncie cup of camomile tea and taking one of his calm tablets.

26 January 2016

ParkingHeart (formerly ParkingEye)

Mr Mustard has seen plenty of adverse publicity for ParkingEye (now owned by Capita) when they have penalised someone who stayed a minute too long in a car park and are now being hounded to death for £100, so when he sent the following email, on behalf of a rather ill client, he anticipated that he would soon be in court as a lay representative fighting a rearguard action. He was wrong.

I represent Jane Doe as per the attached authority.

My client is mentally ill as she suffers from illness1 & illness2 as per the attached report from a consultant clinical psychologist.

My client is also physically unwell. She has a blue badge as she suffers from illnesses 3,4,5 & 6.

I think there is more than one branch of Morrisons in Harrow but I do know that my client is a regular shopper with that firm (although she does not keep her receipts) and whilst I doubt she will be able to remember anything meaningful about what she did on dd/mm/yyyy due to her mental state (and I doubt that any of us could without reference to some sort of diary, if kept) I am going to accept your record of the visit for the sake of this without prejudice offer only.

My client is unfit to work and exists entirely on state benefits. If she had to pay a penalty to you she would be unable to afford the essentials of life. I know she is financially embarrassed as she has been summonsed for non-payment of council tax and should you obtain a judgment an application would be made for payment by instalments in the nominal sum of £1 per month.

I would rather see the file off my desk and so in order to see an end to the matter I am personally prepared to pay the sum of £20, and no more, which I estimate will more than cover your costs to date.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Back came the response fairly quickly.

Thank you for your recent correspondence in regards to this matter.

Please take this as confirmation that the above referenced Parking Charge has been cancelled as a Gesture of Goodwill.

Kind regards,

ParkingEye Enforcement Team

Well, strike Mr Mustard down with a feather. He thought he would be shelling out £20 of his own hard-earned but no, Parking Eye employ at least one person with a heart. Everything Mr Mustard said in his email was true and could be supported with evidence so don't try a similar approach unless it is the truth.

Please also bear in mind that it is only exceptionally that Mr Mustard will step into the murky world of private parking enforcement as he prefers the devils he knows, the ones in council employ.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 January 2016

Love & kisses from Lambeth Council

Mr Mustard thinks that Lambeth Council may not have meant to respond to his Freedom of Information question exactly like this.