24 November 2020

Brent Council - automation, delay and morality.


It isn't really a surprise when software which is designed to track the progress of a PCN, with many automated steps from one stage to the next, goes wrong. What matters is what councils do when it does go wrong.

This adjudication decision on a Harrow case makes some serious points:

There are, as the adjudicator says, generally short time limits for an enforcement authority to adhere to and Mr Mustard thinks that the excuse of computer error would get equally short thrift as shortage of resources.
Mr Mustard had the following adjudication decision where the delay was just over 6 months.

Note the duty to act with 'reasonable expedition' which are words taken from a decision of a superior court. It isn't reasonable expedition to do nothing for over a year and then start again as if nothing has happened.

They get 6 months for a PCN served to a car to serve a Notice to Owner (effectively 5 as the PCN has to be 28 days old before they can issue one). The Secretary of State says the following in their Statutory Guidance to which a council must have due regard:

The other long time period is for a Warrant, with a bailiff being allowed 12 months to chase the debt. At that point the processing of the PCN is over, it having now become a debt. The time period of one year is reasonable given that it isn't a paperwork task that is being completed but one of locating a car and clamping it.

In Brent's case, there was no action on an unknown number of PCNs from July 18 until March 2020, a period of one year and 8 months. Once the problem was found the proper corrective action was to write off all those PCNs.

Many of the registered keepers will have moved and Brent Council will not have checked for any change of address and postal redirections of a year, a decent interval to pay for, will have expired. 

Many people will have thrown the paperwork away after a few months not having heard anything and assuming, perfectly reasonably, that the council have decided not to continue as they are not legally obliged to take every step in the available process.

If the PCN was for not paying, for example, any proof of payment, such as one of those small receipts that a parking meter gives you, will have been defaced, destroyed or lost.

Almost every PCN which went to sleep for 20 months will have prejudicial consequences for the registered keeper.

The problems were caused by automatic processing which was not checked by adequate human oversight. Upon finding the problem the lack of moral rectitude became the next problem. Councils just hate writing off PCNs it would seem.

What should the residents of Brent do? If I lived in Brent (other people from outside the borough will be affected but far fewer) I would write to 

The Data Protection Officer, Brent Civic Centre, Engineers Way, Wembley, HA9 0FJ

or email dpo@brent.gov.uk

and say this:

I live at (insert address) and attach a copy of my council tax (or electric etc) bill as proof. (If you have moved, provide proof of your previous address.)

I am the registered keeper of vehicle (insert registration) and have been since (insert date). I attach a copy of the V5 registration document. (If you have since sold the vehicle, provide proof of the date of sale).

I have become aware of a software error in your PCN system and wish to make sure I am not affected. Please provide me with a list of all PCNs by PCN number which remain unresolved for my above vehicle and a list of dates on which all statutory documents were issued in respect of each PCN, identifying the documents by name in each case.

Yours etc

If you have old PCNs, 2018 and earlier, you might want Mr Mustard's help to resolve them. Email him at mrmustard@zoho.com 

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

23 November 2020

Miscarriage of justice in Barnet

Everyone in High Barnet knows, and probably loves, the duck pond.

Just to the left is a parking bay, number 9154. The main bay sign, facing the road, shows that this is a shared use bay, for permit holders or for people who pay.


Facing the pavement, is another sign which contains some information which should be on the bay sign, that one can park for 2 hours for free (without taking any action to verify the free period).

Here are close-ups of the sign so you can glean all of the detail.

So if you read this sign, which you may not even notice as it is facing away from the road and is largely masked by the pole it is mounted on, you know that you can park there for free for 2 hours, which is most useful.

That accords with the rules set out in the map based traffic management order.

Now Mr Mustard will show you the miscarriage, it isn't in the league of this one from 1660 (chosen just because of the pond)

but it is a miscarriage of justice nonetheless. The PCN was contested all the way to the tribunal.

The contravention description is shortened in the register and will have covered the situation of not having paid (before you tell Mr Mustard that what is recorded didn't happen).

That is a decision which must be wrong. So where has it gone wrong?

The traffic warden got it wrong, Mr Mustard has seen that before (in 2015) at this location and had the PCN cancelled by the council after Mr Mustard contacted senior management. Clearly the signage, which should have been changed 5 years ago, wasn't. The traffic warden relied on the main sign alone.

The back office (run by NSL under the direction of in house parking management) didn't do their job properly. The first place they should look when they get such a challenge is the Traffic Management Order which sets the rules. The trouble is that the person who looks at this, if an NSL employee, is in Dingwall and may have no more idea where Barnet is than Barnet residents do of where Dingwall is (Mr Mustard cycled through it on his way from Land's End to John O'Groats. There is a long hard climb out of the valley which was fuelled by a macaroni pie, yum).

Mr Mustard hesitates to say the adjudicator got it wrong, firstly because he could only decide the case based upon the evidence in front of him, although that should have included the Traffic Management Order as a matter of routine (but probably didn't include a photograph of the PayByPhone sign) and secondly because Mr Mustard might be arguing in front of that adjudicator any time soon.

The PCN though should never have got anywhere near the adjudicator at London Tribunals. Barnet Council, or their agents NSL, should have cancelled the PCN as soon as the 2 hours free challenge was made as it isn't the sort of challenge that one would just make up. Alarm bells should have been ringing that it was, possibly, the truth. Mr Mustard thinks that the revenue raising imperative is so pressing that logic gets thrown out of the window along with the challenge.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


14 November 2020

Error 404

This isn't a story of the usual computer says no error but one of traffic adjudicators who have said no. Mr Mustard is sure that their Appeals handling software is set up to identify multiple Appeals for the same vehicle or the same Appellant (motorist).

In a less structured way Mr Mustard spots patterns, he had seen the name of the  particular car hire company on previous occasions and he decided to click on one of the entries whilst persuing the daily decisions (usually only looking at ones for Barnet), the decisions fairly made his hair curl.

This was the first decision that Mr Mustard clicked on. It sets out the requirements for the transfer of liability to the hirer.

A wider scheme to avoid liability.
A clear problem with enforcement. Not satisfied the agreement is genuine.

Costs are rarely awarded but look inevitable.
Mr Mustard has sat and argued (politely) with Adjudicators for the last seven years. He has been in front of thirty or forty of them. They are all experienced lawyers, some have been criminal barristers, and they are razor sharp and can spot a lie from 100 paces. Just don't expect to tell them something which isn't true and get away with it and there may be consequences.

One adjudicator once told Mr Mustard a story. He said that people accused of murder will admit to it but give them a parking ticket and they lie their socks off. Don't be that person (nor the murderer please).
The stupid thing here is that if the hire company creates compliant hire agreements it can pass on liability to the person or company who hires the vehicle (except for bus lanes). Surely that is easier than what they are currently doing?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

4 November 2020

Barnet Council's PCN bailiffs not properly scrutinised

Here is a report by the Local Government Ombudsman. The first 15 paragraphs have been omitted as they don't add anything useful to the story.

The decision catalogues a litany of errors. It seems to Mr Mustard that NSL, contracted to provide back office services to Barnet Council, aren't properly supervising bailiffs employed by Marstons and yet decisions taken by NSL affect the income up stream. Perhaps this is because NSL now belongs to Marstons. You can't properly supervise your bosses if you want to keep your job. Perhaps Marstons shouldn't be appointed by any council which already employs NSL? or vice versa.

In addition, Barnet Council haven't covered themselves in glory either. They aren't properly supervising NSL or managing their own internal processes. The trouble is that very few cases reach the Ombudsman, not because everything is perfect, but because most people give up the fight once their car is clamped, whether legally or otherwise, as depriving a person of their possessions is a very powerful action. This will not be the only case where bailiffs have exceeded their authority, Mr Mustard sees it all the time.

What is really needed is a panel of independent persons who can consider all complaints without having an interest in the PCN revenue and by that method the council could improve its procedures and reputation.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard