30 May 2018

Do Fixed Penalty Notices work?

Hundreds and thousands of Fixed Penalty Notices are being issued in the name of Barnet Council for littering, fly-tipping, dog fouling and fly posting. A 6 month trial started in July 2016 and has continued each month without a proper tendering of the contract in accordance with EU procurement law (imho).

The sums involved are large.

These are the values of paid and unpaid Fixed Penalty Notices for the first 4 months of 2018


The percentage paid column for April 18 will doubtless be up at the 50%+ level given more time for payments to be made.

The Environment Committee is meeting on Tuesday 5 June & Mr Reasonable has asked the council to tell him what income the council themselves have derived from the non-contract. Mr Mustard thinks the answer is nothing at all, as during the initial 6 month trial period NSL Ltd were allowed to keep all of the income & no-one at the council thought to renegotiate as time passed . That was a council employee playing a game of contract negotiation during which NSL had all aces and the employee had nothing as NSL have the data from other boroughs and so know how many FPNs they can issue per shift & what they cost, so naturally they wouldn't have agreed to the deal if they were going to lose money on it.

Since then the non-contract has been allowed to run on and eventually we might have a proper procurement exercised concluded.

In the meantime, did Barnet Council obtain best value? It doesn't look like it.

The EU procurement threshold, at which a contract should be tendered, is £181,302 p.a. Let's call it £15k a month. The first month in which £15k was paid was September 16 and it hasn't dropped below that since. The director in charge of street scene should have noticed this a year ago and acted. However, if all the money was going into NSL's pocket then it might not have been flagged up, although there are meant to have been monthly meetings about the progress of enforcement (Mr Mustard will do an FOI for the records).

Here are the monthly figures for the 22 months that the trial has been followed by out of contract enforcement action.

Mr Mustard thinks that the blunt instrument of a Fixed Penalty Notice does not deter, except the person who wouldn't dream of littering in the first place. This is because he thinks that over the last 2 years the amount of littering and fly-tipping in Barnet has increased and this may well be a consequence of reduced street cleaning and bin-emptying activity by the council. If the public realm looks less tidy, thanks to the council's reduced activity in that area, the public conclude that the council don't care and so why should they and down goes the litter and the dumped mattresses onto the pavement.

Amazingly the council only issued 4 FPNs for dog fouling (as in fouling by dogs that wasn't removed) and 8 for fly-posting. It looks like the target has been soft enforcement.

Mr Mustard has been contacted by two businesses who have proper arrangements with licensed waste carriers (one of them the council & the other Veolia) with one paying out £8,000 a year to ensure the proper disposal of their rubbish, who have been given FPNs for fly-tipping. The trouble with the FPNs is that unlike parking PCNs, which have a strict timetable and no additional costs for Appealing, if you want to dispute a FPN there is no formal mechanism or rules to do so (the system rather assumes guilt) and you have to wait until a summons to the Magistrates' Court arrives and then you need your solicitor together with the attendant time & expense and then somewhat summary justice is dispensed.

The committee meeting is on Tuesday, so if you want to ask any questions you need to email them in by 10am tomorrow. Mr Mustard is off to do that now.

Before he goes he will caution you against dropping a sweet wrapper or a cigarette butt or in fact anything at all and if you are a business don't let anyone you know re-use anything of yours without you first of all having removed anything which identifies the business as it will be assumed that a dumped box bearing your business name will have been dumped by you.

Mr Mustard suspects that this example is just the tip of the iceberg which was put into reasonable order after the MetPro scandal and is now back in turmoil.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Do you suppose the council is doing anything to find out why people dump, like asking the ones they have caught, and then doing anything to change behaviour? No, Mr Mustard doesn't think so either.

25 May 2018

GDPR - subject access request - good news - no fee

The right to obtain your personal information hasn't changed but what is really useful from today, is that councils can no longer charge the optional up to £10 fee unless you go overboard:

and that they also have to respond within a calendar month whereas before it was 40 days.

Currently when you challenge a PCN, or a Notice to Owner, you don't know what cards the council has in its hand, as you don't know what notes the traffic warden (CEO - Civil Enforcement Officer) made. Now you can find out fairly quickly for free. If you limit your request to that information, it cannot possibly be excessive. Then you can make a more informed decision as to whether to fight or pay.

Another time when it will be handy is when you have moved and a bailiff has popped up with a warrant for a PCN you know nothing about. Then it would be reasonable to ask to see everything.

If you have a Notice to Owner but not the original PCN from the car, you might want to ask for a copy of the PCN so that you can check how long your vehicle was observed for.

To make your Subject Access Request you simply need to write a letter setting out the information you require and send your V5 registration document as that proves identity and location (the council does not know who owns the car when they issue a PCN on street) to Information Management Team, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP or by email to data.protection@barnet.gov.uk

The above are simply Mr Mustard's suggestions as to what data you might want to ask for about yourself but don't let that fetter what you ask for.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


On 25 May the much talked about General Data Protection Regulations come into force. They are very useful. Until now if a parking department received a request for information that was outside of the General or Appeals regulations 2007 they would ignore it. If, therefore, you wanted to know what was going on with your PCN you would have to make a Subject access request, wait up to 40 days and pay £10 for the privilege.

Now under the GDPR you have any absolute right to your data, free of any charge.

What this means in practice is that you can write to the parking department and ask them about any PCN and they will have to answer, for free, within 30 days. 

How marvellous. This levels up the playing field and makes it easy for you to find out everything about your PCN.

If in doubt, ask, as it is free.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


21 May 2018

No common sense at Barnet Council

An atomic clock, not really room for it in the car
Sometimes, just sometimes, an adjudicator really tells the council quite firmly that they are bang out of order. It happened recently to Barnet Council who were being ridiculously mean spirited and mercenary & polishing their fearsome reputation for being venal and rapacious (copyright: 'Incandescent' an ace contributor on pepipoo). Hopefully someone, and the £1million spin machine do read Mr Mustard's tweets, will read this blog post, have a little think and then put some sensible leeway into the times at which PCNs are dished out by computer on school keep clears.

The below PCN was issued outside Colindale Primary School in Clovelly Avenue, NW9. The main school day finishes at 3.15pm so by 4.15pm there won't be many children exiting the premises. Thus, being miserable at 4:14:18 has no purpose other than to raise revenue. For comparison TfL apply a 2 minute leeway on congestion charge penalties.

This PCN was issued for the alleged contravention of being stopped in a restricted area outside a school when prohibited. The alleged contravention occurred in Clovelly Avenue at 4.14pm on 8 March 2018.

I have looked at the CCTV footage and also the site images submitted by the Council. These show that Mr B's vehicle was stopped on entrance markings in front of Colindale Primary School. They also show that there is a sign at the location warning motorists that there is no stopping on the entrance markings between 2.45pm and 4.15pm Mondays to Fridays.

Mr B appeals because he says that he stopped to pick up his children from school. He says that he is well aware of the restrictions and that the clock in his car showed the time of 4.15pm. The Council says that its clock is calibrated according to the Atomic Clock, ensuring 100% accuracy. The CCTV timing shows the vehicle stopping at 4:14:18.

I accept the evidence of Mr B that the clock in his car showed the time of 4.15pm. I find that the alleged contravention did not occur. There must be some application of common sense. Motorists cannot all be expected to wear time pieces calibrated to the exact second according to the Atomic Clock. A motorist reading an ordinary watch will not be able to know the time calculated to the exact second.

Only about 1% of PCNs progress as far as an adjudicator. The other 99% don't really get looked at by anyone other than the local authority and it is rather assumed that councils will apply the rules in a fair manner. We have seen enough cases like this one to know that they don't and a special parking manager needs to oversee them all to make sure that they act in a fair way and to stop their worst excesses. 

For every Mr B there are 99 people who would just roll over and pay. None of them know Mr Mustard.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

16 May 2018

Photos are secondary evidence

The invisible car (almost)
Motorists often think that if the council haven't managed to take photos of their car at the time that a PCN is issued then they will not have to pay the PCN due to the lack of evidence.

The council think that they can say the same thing every time 'the photos are secondary evidence and not essential'  and hope that will be enough to nudge you into paying.

This tribunal decision, 2180108307, shows that if the council can't produce adequate primary evidence (and are too lazy or stupid, or disrespectful to the tribunal, to produce their evidence) they can lose and the motorist gets their PCN cancelled.

The allegation is parking on a restricted street during prescribed hours. The Appellant says the contravention did not occur and asks for evidence of this from the authority.

The Penalty Charge Notice Civil Enforcement Officer’s notes states that a blue Volvo was observed from 11.52-11.53 and the notes state that all windows were checked, no notes were displayed, no loading seen, driver not seen, the Penalty Charge Notice was affixed to windscreen and photos taken (pt). I asked the authority for photos or an explanation as to why none were available and I have not received a response.
The onus is on the authority to satisfy me that the alleged contravention occurred. I accept that photos are secondary evidence. The other evidence provided satisfies me that the vehicle was parked on Alexandra Grove. The Penalty Charge Notice and Civil Enforcement Officer’s notes do not mention where on this street it was parked. The site report is not of any probative value in the absence of a contemporaneous note to show where it was parked. I cannot be satisfied that the alleged contravention occurred.

I allow the appeal.

The council in providing contradictory evidence in the case summary was just asking for trouble.

It takes 24 to 48 hours for the traffic warden's photos, if there are any, to be uploaded to the council website.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

3 May 2018

Time to stop this sort of PCN

This is the type of situation which Mr Mustard hopes will arise less often if the residents decide to vote Labour councillors into power as Mr Mustard thinks that they will be more inclined to listen to his advice and be more reasonable towards the public.

The above car was given a ticket for not being 'parked correctly within the markings of a bay or space'. The driver is a blue badge holder and that is a disabled space that his car is within. Given the large distance to the next bay, which is now an electric vehicle charging bay, no difficulty would arise for any car in the adjoining bay as there is plenty of space within which to open car doors.

One question is therefore why this sort of borderline but miserable PCN gets issued? (and this one to a client of a money advice centre which Mr Mustard assists) and the answer that Mr Mustard comes to is that ruling councillors take very little interest in day to day ticketing activities carried out by NSL, their outsourced supplier of traffic wardens, unless a resident complains and residents tend not to.

The second question is to whether the car is outside the markings of the bay at all, as the hatched area can be seen to be part of the bay, at least up until the mid-point between two bays. Mr Mustard can't see an adjudicator upholding such a PCN given the complete lack of a traffic management purpose, the only obvious purpose being the raising of revenue.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

2 May 2018

the Contractor's sub-contractor

Barnet Council can't see through this nor see what their contractor's sub-contractors are up to
Mr C made a mistake in a yellow box, it happens. He received a PCN from the all seeing computer and within 4 days, he had paid it. He received a letter confirming that the PCN was at an end.

His troubles were only just starting except that Mr C didn't know it.

2 hours later someone went into the computer record and reopened the file

Half an hour later another user set the PCN to move forward in the process the following day

The next step after an unpaid postal PCN is a charge certificate. One was generated.

The penalty charge has not increased to £195 as £65 has been paid. That is mistake number 1.

The PCN grants periods of 28 days (from issue date or receipt date respectively) for the PCN to be paid or challenged. After 9 days (the 18th is day 1) the 28 day periods have clearly not expired. The Charge Certificate is a nullity and an unlawful demand for payment. One questions why the software is not programmed to stop stupid errors like this one.

The charge certificate may well have been generated but it didn't reach Mr C who stayed in the dark.

Next up comes the Order for Recovery. The batch in which that was generated and sent to liberty by NSL contained an error.

That email, of 11 December 2017, was not processed by NSL. How many documents were in those batches? not just Mr C's?

In October 17 the details of the PCN were sent to a bailiff for a pre-debt check. This was a data breach as Mr C was not a debtor or even a potential debtor.The bailiff decided he was worth powder & shot so the PCN continued through the process.

The council's record shows that the PE3, Order for Recovery, was produced, but not that it was posted. Mr C did not receive it and that is because it was not mailed to him.

The next thing that Mr C knew was that he was contacted by the bailiff, for a PCN which he had paid months prior at the discounted rate.

This is what can happen when you contract out your responsibilities and they then get sub-contracted to another company (Liberty in this case, owned by Crapita, but not so crap in this case). It looks like a failure by NSL but the address to which Liberty sent their email has been redacted, for no good reason so Mr Mustard can't be 100% sure.

Now that Mr C has been to his councillor he has received an apology for his PCN being mishandled but no mention of any compensation for the fright of a bailiff sending a demand for payment which simply was not due.

This is why Mr Mustard is against the way in which Barnet Council outsource services. he doesn't have a problem with it per se as he himself offers outsourced debt collection, the difference being that he is staggeringly efficient and his clients receive a weekly report of progress and any problems, so they know what is happening.

Barnet council outsource and then let the outsourcer outsource some more so are two steps removed from knowing what is going on. Throw in extreme automation of processes and the lack of human involvement and injustices like this one happen.

Even then once a cock-up occurs the administration doesn't cover itself in glory by offering a fulsome apology and making a payment in compensation. No the explanatory letter which Mr Mustard has seen goes on about how correct the initial PCN was, as if this is some comfort, in order to deflect attention from how dire everything was that happened after that, and says not a word about the data breach nor offer any compensation for receiving a threatening letter from the bailiff when absolutely no money is owed to the council.

This is just one reason why Mr Mustard will Vote Labour tomorrow. Should Labour get a majority tomorrow Mr Mustard will offer his services as Parking Czar to them in order to stop PCNs becoming a revenue stream, in order to bring fairness & commonsense to the system and to reduce automation and put the human touch back to the forefront.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard