19 March 2018

The TEC & Hackney Council - doubly unhelpful

Within the regulations which govern penalty charge notice processing there is a procedure which rewinds the process so that motorists do not lose out if a document goes missing in the mail. In a recent case Mr Mustard's client, let us call him Ben, did not receive the Notice to Owner and he knew this as after the PCN issued to the vehicle the first document he received in the post was the Charge Certificate.

Mr Mustard therefore drew up a witness statement for his client to sign, a form TE9, and submitted it to the TEC (Traffic Enforcement Centre). He kept an eye on the balance on the Hackney Council computer and for weeks it was stubbornly stuck at £195, rather than having reverted to £130, and a fresh Notice to Owner did not arrive.

Sometimes things go wrong so Mr Mustard emailed the TEC so that they could tell him if they had processed the form and on what date.

This was the thoroughly unhelpful answer he received.

We have been unable to process your request for information on the above Penalty Charge Number.

We would advise you to contact the London Borough of Hackney to ask for the information you require.

Very odd as the standard acknowledgement from the TEC contains the following line:

The current status of the Penalty Charge (e.g. has my document been processed?) - Within 10 working days.

The TEC are able to answer, when they say they are 'unable' to do so. They mean, of course, unwilling, for some unknown reason.

Oh well, thought Mr Mustard, time to ask Hackney Council what they did about the revoking order that the TEC should have issued in response to an in time witness statement (without knowing if they had actually processed it or not) so an email was sent to Hackney Council to ask them.

The response was as unhelpful as the one from the TEC and left the motorist completely in the dark and unable to take any steps & denied him his rights to fight the PCN:

Thank you for your e-mail. Please note that the form should be sent to the Traffic Enforcement Centre and you would need to direct any enquiries regarding an update to a submitted form directly to themselves.

The action plan to tackle this which Mr Mustard decided upon was to submit a Subject Access Request to Hackney Council which would force them to provide the requested information and also to send a complaint to both bodies with copies of the two useless responses and ask them to agree who would respond.

Mr Mustard had drafted the requests and the complaint, a week after Hackney's useless response, when he checked their website and found they had closed the PCN so he had reduced the balance from £195 to £130 to £zero. How nice.

What this told him was:

1. The TEC had processed the witness statement (they could have replied to that effect in 2 minutes).
2. Hackney Council had not issued a fresh PCN as soon as they were able to (although they were still in time).
3. The request for information caused Hackney Council to look at the file and decide to close it (which they should have told the motorist who clearly wanted to know).

All is well that ends well but this has been a right palaver that less experienced PCN fighters would have really struggled with.

Enforcement authorities and Courts have huge powers. They really need to wield them in a professional manner and give out vital information promptly when requested. (All authorities, please take note.)

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

11 March 2018

Brent - sloppy work on the removals truck

It is the black car which was removed.
A friend who helps his extended family approached Mr Mustard for his help and was apologetic for asking because he knows Mr Mustard has a heavy workload. The friend hadn't deal with a removals case before so wanted some reassurance. In fact removals cases aren't much different to normal PCNs except that your car has gone for a walk and you have to pay before you get it back. The procedure in these cases is much quicker as some steps get omitted.

All you have to do is to make representations within 28 days of getting your car back from the pound (& the day you do so is day 1) and then wait up to 56 days for the council to either accept or reject your representations. You must always make representations as that is the only way in which you may get your money back. If the council accept your representations they will refund you for the PCN & the £200 removal charge. If they don't, you get the chance to Appeal to the independent tribunal.

Mr Mustard will spend longing writing this blog than dealing with the PCN as it is a council blunder, one of the categories for which his help is reserved.

This is what the PCN was issued for:

You are already there aren't you? The PCN is invalid as the car wasn't more than 50cm from the edge of the carriageway, it was on top of the edge of the carriageway. This contravention describes in a measurable form the fact of double parking which authorities wished to curb (pun intended). It can only be used for a vehicle which is wholly on the carriageway not on the pavement.

If any contravention could have occurred it was that of being parked other than on the carriageway (pavement parking) but that wouldn't apply anyway as the location in question is not enforced for that reason.

Mr Mustard doesn't know what they are doing in Brent but then clearly they don't either. A hard working innocent law abiding member of the public has had the horror of thinking his car has been stolen, been issued with a clearly invalid PCN, had a senior traffic warden authorise his car for removal, had an evening wasted, had to lend Brent £265, had to pay out £10 for a taxi (& £25 later on to the hospice for Mr Mustard's assistance).

Can you see Brent Council issuing a fulsome apology, making good the out of pocket expenses and then giving him some compensation for his stress, time and trouble on top? No, nor can Mr Mustard. All he is likely to get is his money back and a short apology.

There really does need to be a fixed price compensation payment in such circumstances, of clear council wrongdoing but it seems, councils can, in the eyes of the law, do no wrong.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

28 February 2018

The Tilling Road trap turn

The no left turn marked by the red arrow has caught out thousands of drivers and it is hard to fight against such PCN as the contravention is captured by cctv. The below photographs may assist you if you are out of time for the discount and wish to challenge your PCN and go to the tribunal. About the only prospect of success is to argue that the signage is not adequate.

You can download any of these photographs which you think help your case. These photographs and the annotations are from a grateful reader.

add the arrow on the road and the word 'slow' for more signs in view

You are on your own fighting PCNs at this location as Mr Mustard does not think he can prevail at the tribunal but a motorist in person might win.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

No thaw in relations from Barnet Parking

By Kabelleger / David Gubler
Mr Mustard didn't have to wait long before he was asked to advise about a snow related PCN issued to a resident who thought, from memory, that they were parked within a bay on the next road to their own. It turns out they were slightly outside it but given that the whole road was snow covered when they parked they cannot be criticised for being slightly outside the bay, which is what the PCN was for.

This PCN was issued just after 11am on Wednesday 13 December. The road in question, a quiet cul-de-sac, had not been gritted. It is evident from the snow on the pavement that traffic wardens should not be sent out by management in these conditions.

Barnet Council keep worrying about the reasons why residents are unhappy with the performance of the parking department. It won't take a report by an external consultant to tell them that if you send traffic wardens out to ticket cars which have been parked as well as possible in the snow, or even abandoned and not yet collected (we can't all drop everything the minute the snow goes), that the public are rightly going to feel hard done by. Yes, the ticket can be challenged, but motorists should not be put through unnecessary processes.

What should the council do? They should send traffic wardens out, suitably equipped, to grit the pavements and not send them out to issue PCNs until at least 24 hours after all pavements are 99% clear of snow throughout the borough. Anything else looks like profiteering from the council's own failure to properly grit the borough, which shocking story you can read at the Broken Barnet blog here.

Mr Mustard will take this PCN all the way to the tribunal. He has a decision in which an adjudicator says that if councils want to issue PCN they must clear the snow first.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update 28 February

The informal challenge, the one in response to the PCN, said the snow prevented the end of the bay from being visible but the council rejected it, as Mr Mustard suspects they reject almost all informal challenges as the council know from experience that people have busy lives and can't be fagged with going through 3 rounds of the battle. Mr Mustard's friend could be bothered.

When the Notice to Owner arrived the resident penned an excellent formal representation, as follows:

I believe that PCN AG12345678 should be cancelled for the following reason:

Vehicle AB12CDE was parked in Sunset View on Sunday 10th December 2017 during a period of heavy snowfall. Sections of the M25 were closed due to the unprecedented amount of snow that had fallen.

Sunset View had not been cleared or gritted and the road was covered in thick snow. The road markings of the CPZ were completely obscured by the snow. This can still be seen on the photographs taken on 13th December. Sections of the road markings are still obscured by the snow/ice and the volume of snow can be appreciated by the pile visible on the pavement.

The car was parked in the parking bay close behind another vehicle, close to the curb.  No obstruction to other vehicles or property was caused.

I was unable to safely move the car prior to 13th December as Sunset View was unsafe for vehicles due to the icy conditions which followed the snow.  The first day on which this was possible was 13Dec. Upon returning to the car on that day I was very surprised to find that a PCN had been issued given that it was obvious that the car had been parked on thick snow and was just marginally outside of the bay marking.

I live within a CPZ area (the next street) and understand why PCNs are issued, but cannot understand why the operative did not use common sense.

Feel free to crib any parts of the representation after changing the references and locations to meet your actual circumstances.

The council, recognising the tone of a determined motorist who was going to take them to the tribunal, which would cost the council £30 they would not see again, gave up.

Note how the power crazy council still want the motorist to think they were in the wrong and the council have kindly used their discretion to cancel. No the cancellation was based upon the facts, that the PCN was unsustainable.

Given the current snowfall traffic wardens will doubtless be out there trying to trap other motorists. Don't stand for it, fight them all the way to the tribunal.

Mr Mustard

18 February 2018

NSL Ltd Fake It

Mr Mustard was asked to assist a trader who has been given a Fixed Penalty Notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 s33(1)(a) for fly tipping. Mr Mustard hasn't bothered reading the Act because the lady is not guilty.

The problem stemmed from an employee of NSL Ltd on behalf of Barnet Council going through a pile of bags like the above and deciding that they were put there by the business 'Fake it' as their name was on a box inside a bag on the pile. It was inside a blue bag.

Just because one of those bags was put there by a particular individual does not mean the other two were. The waste complained of is household waste. A tanning salon generates almost no waste, a few empty spray tan containers and tissues, that is about the extent of it.

This business buys a supply of sacks from Barnet Council in order to dispose of its waste in a lawful manner. Here is one

Why would this salon be putting household waste out in black sacks when the lady owner lives in the borough and has a huge wheelie bin for her household waste? & secondly look at the number of authorised blue bags she still has available to use (every year she throws away a quantity she has not used and which go out of date)

Whose household waste might it be which is placed next to the bin? (where the salon have been told to put their authorised blue waste bags). Mr Mustard hazards that it might well be the occupants of the flats upstairs who have nowhere to place their waste, they just don't have wheelie bins. Mr Mustard feels sure they stuff most of their waste into the public bins when they can but in his walk up and down the High Road he noticed that they were all pretty full, many to the point of overflowing.

The lady has already written to NSL explaining the situation and they instantly send one of the operatives back in to not listen to her perfectly reasonable explanation & to talk over her & poo poo everything she said. In the world of parking it is good practice that the people who issue the penalty notices and the ones who handle challenges are different teams who do not interact so that challenges get a less biased consideration. If a hectoring enforcement agent turns up again he will be told that Mr Musatrd is assisting the lady and that they should do everything in writing and to leave the shop.

Mr Mustard hasn't yet seen the latest enforcement contract but in March 17 the Environment Committee, rather foolishly in Mr Mustard's opinion, agreed that it could be on an income share model. It is possibly/probably the case that the council and NSL Ltd share the income 50/50. The trouble with such an arrangement is that if NSL accept a challenge, they don't make any money.

Guess what happens to perfectly good challenges? Yes, they are much more likely to get rejected.

The lady will now have to wait and see if the council decide to start a case in the magistrates court and if they do it will be defended but this is wrong, there is no evidence that the lady dumped anything on the pavement. She placed a council authorised disposal sack there and nothing else. What is being relied upon here is that many small traders would roll over and pay up for a quiet life but this one isn't going to, for the simple reason that she did not do it.

Mr Mustard doesn't like fly tipping but the council have incentivised their enforcement agents NSL Ltd to go after the wrong targets, don't target a business owner whose own contract for disposal is with the council and who has enough bags for at least half a tonne of waste.

Councillors really do need to think a bit harder about the implications of the contract that they agree to the terms of.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

16 February 2018

Harrow's horrible history

The above is an extract of a PATAS tribunal decision by an experienced adjudicator back in 2013. Mr Mustard has seen plenty of similar decisions and won some Barnet cases on that basis. Barnet Council tend to be more timely nowadays.

A few weeks ago a 2015 Harrow Council PCN landed on his desk. That surprised Mr Mustard so he thought he would see if it was one off or if there were many more. He therefore made the following Freedom of Information request:

Please provide the following data in relation to parking, moving traffic & bus lane contraventions for all PCNs which were registered at the TEC on or after 1 September 2017 up until 30 December 2017 but only where the Charge Certificate was issued before 1 January 2017.

Date of TEC registration
Date of Charge Certificate
Date of PCN
Location of contravention
Contravention code
PCN value at issue date

Please provide this information as an unlocked spreadsheet by email to this address. No cells should be locked or protected.

Mr Mustard was duly sent a massive spreadsheet documenting a hideous catalogue of PCNs which should have been written off long ago. In the guidance issued by London Councils some time ago it said that councils should write off any PCNs where there had been a delay of 6 months at any stage of the process. It is only guidance but there needs to be a good reason to ignore it. There isn't a good reason. Here is the spreadsheet.

You might want to download it in order to sort all 2,158 items.

What Mr Mustard observes is that you should ignore negative numbers in the charge certificate days column as that just signifies that a fresh PCN or Notice to Owner has been issued.

The shortest delay between the Charge Certificate (when a PCN value gets increased by 50%) and the Order for Recovery when the PCN gets registered as a debt at Northampton County Court just prior to bailiffs being instructed. The longest delay was 1160 days which is more than 3 years.

Note that these are just 3 months worth of PCN which are being wrongly chased.

Now apart from Mr Mustard how many people would still have all PCN documents from 2014 for something which it appears the council have abandoned. Less than 1% of the populace probably. There is definite prejudice being caused to motorists by Harrow Council. The biggest problem is for people who moved, who destroyed the paperwork as the PCN hadn't moved for a year and who find out by a bailiff clamping their car that Harrow Council have been extraordinarily dilatory but they are put into the position where they really have to pay to get the clamp off and they will be lucky to see a refund.

What possible explanation can there be for some incompetence by Harrow Council? Mr Mustard thinks there is a great sadness within parking departments of councils generally if they write off any PCNs so they tend to leave them sitting there and then have another go at them later, perhaps when a new manager arrives, or the contractor changes, so instead of doing the decent thing as councils should they resurrect the PCNs and cause great anxiety and inconvenience.

The other reason of course to bring PCNs back from their moribund state is the revenue they will raise although it won't be that great a percentage. It must be enough to make rootling around in the archives worth the bother, always assuming anyone has measured the cost benefit?

The trouble with local authorities is that it is assumed by parliament that they will exercise their powers in a reasonable manner but they won't all do so. There is a definite need for a PCN ombudsman with teeth who keeps local authorities honest, especially in London which issues the majority of PCNs in England.

Mr Mustard is still jousting with Harrow about the PCN that started all this. He will report on that once it is over.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

15 February 2018

The misery ends ouside Sainsbury's at Heath Parade in Grahame Park Way

and so after an eternity it came to pass that the council finally adopted a section of land which they had owned in the recent past and sold off only for them to take it back again, by adoption. An expensive exercise for thousands of members of the public who were snuck up on by 'Mrs Sunglasses' and received a parking charge notice in the post.
Mr Mustard was down that way yesterday and so took some photographs of the new layout.

looks much the same as a year ago from a distance, you park where Mr Mustard's black Audi is, inside one of the four marked spaces.

The loading bay sign seems to have gone walkabout already

at last Sainsbury's do something useful; they were no help before except to let Mrs Sunglasses shelter in the shop between her ticketing raids

a pretty new clear sign
Mr Mustard is pleased to see the arrival of the council at this location, yes really.

He is pleased to see the departure of Mrs Sunglasses.

copyright: Bald Eagle of NoToMob fame
If you have parking charge notices you are fighting at this location you can get help at PePiPoo or at the BMPA.

You now have time, in the 30 minute slots to buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk. The 30 minutes is far more useful than the 15 minutes which is all you get in High Barnet High Street's shared use loading/free bays. Perhaps they will be changed to 30 minutes one day?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Gosh: two good news stories in two days concerning Barnet Council. What is the world coming to.