15 May 2017

TfL - complaint, what complaint?

What went wrong?

Readers with good memories will recall this blog post about TfL sending out a Charge Certificate (an, in that case, unlawful demand for payment of a PCN at a 50% uplift, £195 to you).

Now you would think that TfL would want to apologise, to learn from the failure and to improve their systems for the future, would you not? Well, if they have done anything at all it has been in secret and they don't want Mr Mustard or his client to know about it. Mr Mustard wonders if the statistics that TfL keep about complaints can be at all reliable given his experience.

The theory of the TfL complaints system

The system in practice

First complaint sent to TfL at PO Box 335, Darlington about PCN GT62741753

2 November 2016

You have no right to issue a Charge Certificate.

Please apologise to my client and compensate him.

I also wish to complain that you do not provide an email address (only phone, webform or letter) to send complaints to and that is ridiculously unhelpful in 2016. 

Response came there none

The PCN was cancelled on 24 November 16 but TfL did not tell Mr Mustard that, he discovered that when he checked the balance on the PCN website.

5 December 2016

A reminder was sent to PO Box 335.

Response came there none.

25 January 2017

Mr Mustard escalated the complaint in line with TfL's procedure.

Customer Correspondence Manager
Road User Charging
Transport for London,1st Floor
230 Blackfriars Road

Dear Sirs


Your modus operandi seems to me to be to ignore complaints so this is a second complaint about that on top of the substantive one.

Response came there none.

28 February 2017

Mr Mustard found the email address for the boss of TfL.

No matter how busy a good boss is he makes sure that he delegates tasks to subordinates and that proper attention is paid to complaints.

Answer came there none.

You may be shocked at TfL's lack of concern to valid complaints (if it had not been valid the PCN would not have been cancelled) but you may be even more shocked to know that TfL have never ever written back in response to any complaint made by Mr Mustard. The administration of PCN may well be contracted out (to Crapita?) but that is no excuse for failing to respond to four communications of complaint.

If you know anyone* who works in complaints for TfL, or at board level, could you please bring PCN ref GT62741753 to their attention.

Many thanks

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

*perhaps no-one does?

8 May 2017

The City of Westminster whopper

Mr Mustard's client made informal representations that he was loading on a single yellow line.

He had received a code 1 PCN. It is permissible to load and unload on single yellow line, except apparently in the area of City of Westminster ('CoW') where they have changed the rules without telling anyone (except they can't and they haven't, it is simply what they have written).

Enforcement authorities are fond of quoting the Highway code at motorists. Mr Mustard is fond of quoting it back at them.

Clearly CoW don't know the rules as if there had been a loading restriction the traffic warden would have issued a code 2 PCN, not code 1 as he/she did (after about 2 minutes of observation).

Every motorist is legally entitled to expect a public authority to be procedurally fair. What CoW have said is patently wrong. Had this motorist not known Mr Mustard he might easily have paid this PCN at the 50% rate in response to CoW's rejection of his informal challenge (the one made in response to an on-street PCN) and that would have been the end of the matter.

What Mr Mustard is wondering is, knowing the propensity for stock responses to parking challenges, if this paragraph is a standard one

used on your code 01 PCN, or if this is an isolated error (he would bet his shirt on the former). Do let him know on twitter or by email to mrmustard@zoho.com

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

28 April 2017

Mea culpa

Mr Mustard can't quite believe it, he has committed numerous moving traffic contraventions out of the habit we all have of driving on routes we know without paying sufficient attention to signs, which could have changed since yesterday. He woke up 2 weeks ago when he saw a sign, the flying motorbike sign, at the left kerb of the west entrance to Ravensdale Avenue and so he declined to break the law and drive down that road, which is the indicated route to Sainsburys.

Although 88% of motorists are meant to know what the flying motorbike sign signifies, Mr Mustard thinks they don't as otherwise many of the residents of the roads listed in the 1951 Regulations which appear above, would be phoning up the council to tell them that the signs are wrong and prohibit them from driving home. The eastern end of Ravensdale Avenue has the same flying motorbike sign (roundly ignored by all and sundry) 

The blue sign informing motorists of the lack of access to the Sainsbury car park is ineffective as the top sign means you can't drive down this road anyway, not even for access to your own home. Mr Mustard had spotted this sign years ago but simply filed the information away in his head.

Coming back to the other end of the road, the sign has a plate below it, which is intended to indicate any exemptions from the prohibition on all vehicles. The signs at all the roads adjoining the High Rd are the same, like this one:

This plan shows where you cannot enter, marked by a red arrow


So what is the problem Mr Mustard hears you ask? The bottom plate is intended to reflect the 1951 Regulations, prohibiting vehicles which weigh more than 2.5tons unladen (which is a lower weight than 2.5 metric tonnes but never mind about that). The problem is that the round statutory sign at the top has already prohibited all motor vehicles so the plate cannot exempt vehicles which weigh more than 2.5T by prohibiting them afresh. The sign which should have been installed is this one

with the 7.5 amended to 2.5 and with an exception plate 'Except for access'.

Here is another example of the sign, chosen to amuse a certain councillor who has probably himself been driving in contravention to his home for many a long year

The plate angle needed correcting in any event
Mr Mustard thought the signs were new, they certainly looked new, but then he rolled back time on street view and found that the signs have been there for at least 9 years.

So who has been driving in contravention past these signs, apart from Mr Mustard?

Every motoring resident of & visitor to & people who have driven down:

Avenue Road
Britannia Road
Derwent Crescent
Finchley Park
Fredericks Place
Friern Watch Avenue
Highwood Avenue
Limes Avenue
Mayfield Avenue
Ravensdale Avenue
Woodside Grove
Woodside Lane

Local ward councillors, if they drive.

Every mobile traffic warden (scooters, cars & vans) because this sign has to be passed in order to access the car park of Solar house

Every visitor who has driven into the Sainsbury car park.

Mr Mustard asked parking management to provide him with the traffic order for the weight limit which they did pretty quickly and then said that the restriction would be reviewed in the light of his enquiry. A nice attempt at mind-reading but the wrong answer. Mr Mustard thinks it is sensible to keep large vehicles on the main roads as far as practicable but even more sensible to put the correct road signs up on the network.

Mr Mustard will now predict that the offending signs will immediately be bagged over and then replaced as soon as new correct ones can be made. No blame will attach to any individual member of staff as this is clearly a historic problem.

As for all of us who have breached any of these prohibitions, time to refresh our memory of traffic signs:

You can read this for free, here.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

27 April 2017

The slowly grinding wheels of Barnet Council

Lovely grinding stones
On 23 December 2015, yes 2015, Mr Mustard made the following informal representations in response to a PCN placed on a car.

He was not parked outside of 33 but outside of 37 (I suspect the traffic warden counted house numbers in the wrong direction) and accordingly the alleged contravention has not occurred. The suspension sign itself was at the boundary of 33 & 35. This is a process error. Please apologise to my client. (I have just re-read the suspension sign and it is patent nonsense. The house at 33 Russell Road will be about 5m wide. You cannot therefore suspend 20m of road outside no. 33, the other 15m of suspension could extend either way along the road, ambiguity is construed against the causer in consumer law).

Incidentally, my client parked up on 23 November and was on a course on 24 & 25 November so did not use their car during that time and the suspended bay sign was not in place when the car was parked. It would appear that the requisite notice was not given.

Please cancel the PCN.

Mr Mustard then kept an eye on the balance and it remained at £110 until the last time he checked, on 18 April 17.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, came a letter from the council, dated 25 April 17, as follows:

Mr Mustard is pleased that the council have now officially cancelled the PCN and tidied up their records & wonders how many more similar PCN are stuck in the system. It is also one file fewer in Mr Mustard's live drawer of PCN. He follows everything to the end.

The council were unable to proceed to enforce the PCN as they have to issue a Notice to Owner within 6 months of the PCN being served to the vehicle, and they didn't as they got the computer stuck at an earlier stage.

The council are also under a legal obligation to consider (and thus respond to) informal challenges.

In addition guidance from London Councils is that if there is a delay of more than 6 months at any stage in processing a PCN (except with the bailiff who gets 12 months by law) the PCN should be cancelled.

So we have correct behaviour albeit very slow.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

22 April 2017

Lining their pockets instead of the roads at Barnet Council

Brent St, NW4
Mr Mustard made formal representations on behalf of the car owner whose car is shown in the middle picture, viz:

 The response was full of apology, although no detail:

Great, you are thinking? No, it isn't. Here is the informal challenge which was made almost two months prior to the formal representations:

They look familiar?
In response to that, this is what the council said:

So by some mysterious process the first challenge that was made was not acceptable but the second one was and we don't even know why. Surely the first challenge should have been accepted because many motorists would take the council at their word and pay up thinking they have no chance. Mr Mustard knows better and makes the identical challenge three times, twice to the council, where the process allows for that, and once to the independent tribunal.

Funnily enough today a member of the public has written to Mr Mustard in the same vein:

I recently appealed my third unfair parking penalty charge notice and when it went to the independent adjudicator, won all three cases.  I feel very annoyed that three different parking councils, Camden, Barnet and Haringey all refused the first challenge and it looked like this was an automatic response without actually reading what I had written.

I feel very annoyed that there are people who will be unable to appeal and that Councils are raking up huge amounts of money in a way that feels very dishonest to me.

Barnet Council are concerned about their parlous reputation in parking. They could improve it by accepting challenges of merit at the first opportunity and not make the public jump through hoops all the way to the tribunal. They do this all the time to Mr Mustard but he is used to it and just ploughs on to the end.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

20 April 2017

The Royal Borough of Kingston exhibit poor judgment

The Kingston Honeypot aka Surbiton Crescent
Although Mr Mustard thinks that the above location is poorly signed the adjudicator who, to date, has heard most of the cases at that location, does not agree. Thousands, absolutely thousands, of motorists have missed the signage and The Royal Borough of Kingston are laughing all the way to the bank and coincidentally not changing the layout (unless you know otherwise). The 'flying motorbike' sign, correctly the 'no motor vehicles' sign is, according to some research, understood by 88% of motorists.

Mr Mustard has conducted his own on site research at locations where the flying motorbike sign is to be found and his findings are that only about 10% of motorists know what the sign means.

That is all well and good but this blog post is about the miserableness to be found within the PCN section at the Royal Borough of Kingston.

His client, Mr B, had a brain tumour surgically removed in 2013. He had experienced some seizures in 2016 and following further investigations he had to be operated on again in 2017 for the same serious medical condition. On the day of his operation his wife, Mrs B, drove the car registered in the name of Mr B, through the above restriction in breach of the flying motorbike signs but in accordance with the blue arrows (that tell motorists where to drive) and politely giving way to oncoming traffic, again as directed. A PCN duly arrived in the post for contravening the restriction signed by the flying motorbike sign.

Mrs B wrote to Kingston, saying that the signs were not adequate, and explaining that she was on her way to see her husband, the registered keeper of the vehicle, in intensive care. Documentary evidence of his medical condition was supplied.

The council's rejection of the representations included the following:

- 'have decided that grounds or a suitable reason to cancel the PCN have not been established'
- Whilst I empathise with the situation you described we are unable to withdraw the PCN as this does not fall under the mitigation of a medical emergency'

Mr Mustard's carefully considered view is that the Royal Borough of Kingston don't have even the tiniest scintilla of empathy for Mr & Mrs B as if they did they would surely have instantly cancelled the PCN to reduce the burden of life for this couple at the moment.

Kingston are able to cancel the PCN, to say otherwise is a terminological inexactitude. This is what an adjudicator has had to say on the question of being 'unable to cancel'

The local authority's response that it is unable to cancel the PCN is incorrect. The local authority is always able to decide not to enforce a Penalty Charge Notice. It is under a duty to consider all the representations made by a motorist.

An Appeal at London Tribunals was duly lodged and at that point Mr Mustard was instructed and took over. He duly attended the hearing and he discussed the mitigation with the Adjudicator, who cannot allow on grounds of mitigation as his role is to decide if the contravention occurred or not, which it did. The Adjudicator was however, distinctly unimpressed with the attitude of Kingston and so adjourned the hearing, which Kingston had opted not to attend, as per usual, and wrote to them and asked them two questions:

1. How did they not notice that Mrs B made the representations when the car is registered to Mr B, so he is the only person legally entitled to make representations?

2. Given the medical history, did Kingston really want to pursue the PCN?

At that point someone at Kingston realised either that they had made a procedural blunder or that they looked terrible from a PR perspective and wrote to the tribunal to say that they had considered the comments of the adjudicator and decided not to pursue the PCN on this occasion.

That is belatedly wise of them but what sort of world do we live in where chasing a PCN is seen by the Royal Borough of Kingston as being more important than a recurrent brain tumour? Many motorists, faced with difficult medical circumstances, would have been too weak to fight and just paid up, the desired outcome of Kingston. Those are the very motorists whom Mr Mustard particularly wishes to help.

The need for Mr Mustard never seems to diminish.

Councils everywhere, you need to accept more representations where the motorist has some other burden of life to carry, whether or not the contravention occurred. Just try to be nicer.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard