30 August 2017

Barnet Group - optimistic?

The above is from a report going to the Policy and Resources Committee on 5 September. You can read the entire report, apart from the detailed financial projections which must be in the secret appendix and which would be informative, here.

Here are the supposed key benefits:

That final bullet point is ridiculous. The only way that the Barnet Group could shrug off responsibility for a loss making subsidiary would be to liquidate it and leave the creditors unpaid which Mr Mustard opines isn't how a local authority trading company should, or hopefully is likely, to behave. There is no doubt but that the money of the council tax payer is at risk. Mr Mustard has now read further through the report and found this contradictory statement:

A reduction in your balance sheet comes about by paying a financial liability.

How confident can we be that this venture won't lose more than £400,000 in the first year? (and no private company setting up in the lettings business would budget in such a way, they would start more prudently and grow organically) Let's go back to a previous venture started by the Barnet Group, Your Choice (Barnet) Ltd, the aim of which is to make money out of offering specialist care and support to adults with a range of physical and learning disabilities.

Going back to the original projections given to Barnet Council, at the end of year 4, accumulated losses were projected to be £80,000 but in fact there is a Revenue reserve deficit of £268,000 so losses are worse than guesstimated. How can we trust the scant figures that are in the public domain?

Does Barnet even need another agent in the lettings market?

Clearly not.

Should a local authority even act in this way? using their almost unlimited financial reserves to compete with businesses, many of them quite small ones?

Finally, Mr Mustard asked a contact in the field and this is what they said.

My experience of landlords who have used Barnet to rent their homes is that they have not been happy with the quality of tenants nor the condition the property is returned in.

The agenda item is though bound to be quickly voted through with nary a perceptive question being asked.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 August 2017

Zero tolerance - not the best approach.


A contact sent the above letter to Mr Mustard. Although it purports to be a standard letter Mr Mustard has chosen to anonymize it to protect the innocent.

Mr Mustard thinks that these letters are being sent to anyone who has been granted planning permission or permitted development consent but you dear reader can confirm that. He gleans this from 'Our records indicate'.

The letter is addressed to the owner/occupier. If you are going to threaten someone with damages and expenses the least you can do is to use their name Barnet Council / Capita / Re:. 

This is what the appropriate section of the Act says

Mr Mustard doesn't know the answer but the heading is about excavations, or other works, to land. Works to buildings, are they within the compass of this section?*

Mr Mustard thinks that as a first approach to a previously law abiding resident this is completely the wrong approach. The thrust of the letter should be that the council are sure that residents will want to ask their builder to be careful on the foot way and that the council would regret having to try and hold the land owner (if you have a leasehold property can you send the council to the freeholder instead?) responsible. Isn't it going to be the case that the owner will just be able to say that they haven't carried out any works to the land or building and so the council should pursue the builder in any event as the person responsible, if anyone, for any damage?

Before you have an extension or a loft built Mr Mustard advises you to take photographs and video of the pavement for 50m in both directions from your property to show the probably hideous state that the pavement is already in.

That looks like nonsense about having to put skips on the highway (kerching for the council who have large fees for that) as the wheels of the skip lorry don't necessarily have to go on the pavement in order to lift a skip in or out or a load spreader plate could be used to protect the highway.

Do other boroughs take such a confrontational stance before you've even instructed a builder?

The following document takes you to the Environment committee meeting at which this matter was discussed.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

* A general legal definition does have land as including buildings but there may be case law on this?

24 August 2017

What is the point of PCN?

What is the point of issuing Penalty Charge Notices? It is to try and force behavioural change by exacting a penalty for wrongdoing so that you learn not to do it again. 

We must also look at the purposive nature of the restriction and not penalise anyone who innocently gets in the way because rules is rules (and because councils are addicted to the revenue).

In this case white van man (actually a highly skilled tradesman; Mr Mustard has seen some of his excellent work) lives in the private road which is behind him. At the closed end of the private road there is an entrance to the back of the school which the kids use. Thus the school keep clear markings are aimed at ensuring parents don't drop their kids off at the school 'entrance' except it isn't really an entrance to the school as the road is private and no vehicles may access the school by that route. The residents have had to chain their road off as that is the only way to keep out parents in cars. Each time the residents go in and out they have to unlock/lock the chain.

On the day in question the van stopped slightly further forward than normal and the driver has just put the wheels on the markings. The council computer or an 'officer' (member of staff) saw fit to issue a PCN (the footage is supposedly checked before the decision is made to issue a PCN, Mr Mustard doubts the common sense of the person who signed this PCN off in these circumstances) which was challenged by the driver / vehicle owner (one and the same).

The vehicle is registered to an address in the private road, the circumstances were clearly explained and cancellation was anticipated. Oh no, the council maintain that a contravention has occurred. Well it has but that doesn't meet the purposive nature of the keep clear markings. Part of what they said was:

The CCTV footage shows your vehicle stopped on the marked restriction.

The circumstances do not warrant an exemption to the contravention: vehicles' (sic) must not stop on the markings. The yellow road markings are in place to keep entrances clear and safe for children coming in and out of schools. I would advise that you park off the markings to exit or enter the road.

Question. Are the children safer if the van stops 0.5m short of where it did? 
Answer. No.

Question 2. Are the children safer if the van moved forward 5m and stopped in the road?
Answer. No, and the traffic will be disrupted.

Question 3. Is the marking aimed at residents of the private road?
Answer. No, of course not.

Question 4. Is the council addicted to raising revenue from motorists.
Answer. Oh, yes.

The PCN is now going to the tribunal where an independent adjudicator will rule on the matter. Mr Mustard has now taken over, whizzed up a skeleton argument and will attend the hearing in due course.

Technically the motorist is in the wrong but this is a situation that was crying out for a warning PCN for £0.00 but the council don't make any money out of those. Although they send warning PCNs for the first 4 weeks of any new location being enforced by camera clearly white van man didn't overshoot during that time (or the enforcement may have started when the schools were closed during which time school zig zags are not enforced although the policy says they are).

This is the sort of bureaucratic pettifogging revenue raising pointless PCN which does the council's reputation no good at all.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

23 August 2017

The foresight saga

Who knows what the yellow suspension sign said? no-one.

Mr Mustard knew from the off that he was going to beat the PCN in question, it just took a while, partly because the Notice to Owner failed to arrive and so a witness statement had to be made to the TEC to drag the PCN back from £165 to £110

The trouble started on 20 January. His client, Mrs B, parked as above and made the following informal challenge in response to the PCN.

I paid for my parking and ran* to the pharmacy as I was feeling unwell due to being 8 months pregnant.

Unknown to me due to the unclear signage the bay I parked at was suspended and I got a ticket. I appealed to Barnet explaining my situation including proof of parking payment and medical proof of pregnancy and mentioned how unclear it was.

* Mr Mustard thinks a more accurate word may have been 'hurried' but as he has never been 8 months pregnant he can't be sure..

Firstly, Mr Mustard noted the complete lack of work going on in Bell Lane (as that is the location in question, which seems to have almost permanent suspensions in 2017) and questions whether PCN should even, in fairness, be given out at a suspended bay if no trouble is caused. Any fair minded person would say not.

Secondly, the terms of the suspension are not known as the traffic warden failed to photograph the sign. Thus the council have no proof that the bay was suspended, when and why. That was how Mr Mustard could have the foresight to say that the PCN would eventually get cancelled.

Thirdly, the council accepted a payment to park which validated the parking notwithstanding the suspension.

Of course the council failed to notice their glaring error and rejected the informal challenge.

'At this stage' makes Mr Mustard think they will later. The words might though simply be space fillers with no real meaning.

Now we know the dates of the suspension and the parking occurred 2/3rds of the way through the suspended period so the reason for the suspension may have been fulfilled. You can phone up and ask for the sign to be removed or put a sticker over the dates (not really naughty if you know from the council they don't need the suspension any longer, you are just helping out) or do what Mr Mustard does in his own road after a removal van has left which is to cut the sign down and leave it somewhere visible for the council to pick up later.

Mr Mustard doesn't think the suspension supersedes (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/supercede) the normal operational hours i.e. you cannot suspend a bay outside of those hours as there is nothing to suspend but he knows that adjudicators will be against him on that one as it creates practical difficulties.

This is a pay bay so permits were never valid.

It is the council's responsibility to mount clear signs and for their traffic wardens to photograph them.

The council do not mean 'cannot' be accepted as a reason. They can accept any reason they wish. What they mean is they 'will not'. Councils should not shilly shally, they should use clear & direct words.

Mrs B had not paid for "an hours parking", she had paid for "an hour's parking". If apostrophe use is beyond you, simply say "Mrs B had paid to park for an hour".

Fast forward to June 17 and the replacement Notice to Owner arrived. Mr Mustard made the formal representations:

The council cannot accept payment, as they have, and also suspend the bay and issue a PCN for said suspension. That is unfair and I rely on the persuasive support of the decision in case 2130229773. (tribunal decisions are not binding precedents).

Please also reconsider the informal challenge made by my client prior to my being instructed.

About a month later the council inevitably rejected the representations. The letter was of the usual standard, pretty woeful.

Oh, here we go, 'at this stage' again. There is just one more stage to go, the tribunal.

The 2002 edition of The Traffic Signs Regulations (plural) and General Directions was replaced on 22 April 2016 by the 2016 Regulations coming into force. The PCN was issued in 2017 and so the 2016 Regulations apply (even for old no longer used signs which are saved by the 2016 Regs if the sign was valid under the 2002 Regs). Oh, the TSRGD isn't an 'Act', the clue is in the name, 'Regulations' which are made by the Secretary of State.

Which signage? The Pay by Phone sign or the Suspension sign, or both? The compliancy of the signs was not in play so why are the council rejecting non-existent representations? To make you think you don't stand a chance at the tribunal, is why.

Was only part of a bay suspended in this case? The informal rejection said 'Nearby signage indicates the bays are suspended' so why the formal Notice of Rejection introduces doubt about only part of a bay being suspended is either lazy cut and paste or obfuscation to dissuade you from going to the tribunal. The whole bay being suspended, payment should not have been possible; in the old days the meter would have been bagged over for the duration of the suspension.

Were the signs also approved especially under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 - sections 64 and 65 - authorisation of traffic signs and special directions, which is the 'approved' which the council are vaguely referring to. Well, as it happens, Mr Mustard knows they both were so why even mention the TSRGD which cannot therefore apply, as only non-standard signs need such approval?

Oh dear, the 'payment system relies on motorists...' but motorists rely on the council to be honest and not accept payments they are not entitled to. This is what the adjudicator said in case 2130229773 back in 2013

The council claim some unproven responsibility on the motorist to check the signage for the whole bay. If an entire bay is extended and it is long and has 3 pay signs then 3 suspended bay signs should also be erected in order to meet the test of adequacy and in order to be procedurally fair.

Mr Mustard finds that Barnet Council are very keen on the responsibilities, onuses and duties of motorists.

They never seem to be keen to mention their own legal duties.

Following on from the Notice of Rejection Mr Mustard completed the Notice of Appeal and handed it in at the tribunal on 12 July during one of his vists. The case was listed for an in-person hearing on 6 September. On 21 August, Barnet Council threw in the towel and cancelled the PCN having needlessly incurred a £30 tribunal fee. Had they considered his formal representations properly, they could have cancelled earlier and saved the loss to the taxpayer.

Sorry, a bit of a saga but a lot for you to learn from and reuse.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

22 August 2017

PayByPhone - not so quick sometimes

Barnet Council imposed PayByPhone on everyone in Barnet who wishes to pay to park their vehicle with, in most places (500 cash parking meters were latterly replaced by 50 card only machines) and no other practical alternative for those who want to use cash. Being able to pay is dependent upon you having a mobile phone with some charge in it and a phone signal which although more reliable than 10 years ago can still be variable for certain providers in certain locations. There are also unexplained delays in the PayByPhone system responding to texts sometimes. Barnet Council always try to put the blame on the motorist for any failing in the PayByPhone system which is unfair as the motorist has no choice in the chocie of mobile payment system. A recent adjudication at the tribunal saw, in decision 2170163808 in May 17, the following result

This PCN was issued for the alleged contravention of being parked in Watling Avenue Car Park at 3.14pm on 5 January 2017 without payment of the parking charge. It is not in dispute that Mr M's car was parked without payment of the parking charge. I am, however, allowing this appeal because it is clear from Mr M's evidence that, in the period between parking the car and the issue of the PCN, he was actively and continuously engaged in the process of attempting to make a payment to park by phone. The evidence shows a series of text messages sent from the phone and it appears that the correct information was being transmitted by Mr M. A motorist is allowed a reasonable period on parking to make the payment to park. A period of 25 minutes would ordinarily be regarded as excessive but I am satisfied from the evidence that Mr M was prevented from making payment through no fault of his own. I therefore find that the alleged contravention did not occur.

The council can provide evidence of everything you did with your phone to try and effect payment. If you are sure of your ground you can demand this be disclosed to the tribunal. Don't though see you have just been issued with a PCN and then start to effect payment as you will look like a cheat, which you would be.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard