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

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