31 December 2013

Review of 2013

So there we are, all another year older & possibly wiser, and if you are one of the people who still write cheques it is now time for you to start putting 2014 on them.


So a traffic warden decided to cheat and given Helen Michael, the trouble making owner of Cafe Buzz (in the background) a parking ticket for being in the bay on the right whose sign was blacked out and to prove his case he took a photograph of the bay on the other side of the road. Oh dear, rumbled in seconds by Mr Mustard who knows the location pretty well and who got the PCN cancelled pretty quickly. Operator error, don't you know? The question is how many other people traffic wardens cheated and whether they meekly paid up.


Councillor Dan Thomas and soon to be ex-councillor Andrew Harper (not standing again in May 14) decided to tell the residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb what a wonderful thing "One Barnet" was. Easily the sweatiest palmed event they went to all year not repeated all over the borough afterwards.


Bloggers, and other concerned residents, turned out in force for the Judicial Review started by Maria Nash to try and hold Barnet Council to account for the New Customer Service & Support Organisation being passed to a private company for at least 10 years (it will never run the full term, come back in about 2017 to read about how it all went wrong). Although the case was lost it was an education and a treat to watch. The judge started by getting off his chest the diabolical presentation of evidence by Craig Cooper and having served his purpose Craigie has wandered off to pastures new. The judge also berated the council for their failure to consult but the case was lost as maria didn't start her legal claim early enough, she should have started it apparently, before the final form of what she had to complain about was known. It's a bit like sending your steak back to the chef as underdone before he has served it.


The Transport Select Committee held an inquiry into Local Authority Parking Enforcement, which appears to be run by playground bullies and kitten stranglers, and found that a quarter of the written evidence submitted to them came from residents of Barnet, including contributions from Mr Mustard and David Attfield. Sadly they didn't call individual residents of any borough to give verbal evidence. Some changes will come to the parking regime to soften it though. If the 25% post PATAS discount gets introduced the number of PCN being appealed should rocket.


Councillor Brian Coleman appeared at Uxbridge Magistrates and pleaded guilty at the last minute to assault by beating of Helen Michael. If only Brian had stayed at home snoozing, or at work snoozing, and not chosen to cheekily park in a loading bay in order to use the cashpoint. Ironically the loading bay concerned now allows for you to do that very thing (15 minutes free parking) before 10am and after 4pm. So now Brian is now a faded footnote in history? Will he make a comeback after the local elections in May 2014? His fall has been swift and hard but he might yet bounce back.


Mr Mustard enquired of the council, in his real name, about a retrospective planning application for an ugly former extension at the bottom of his garden, having been asked by his friends and neighbours who were next door to it. He also made some useful suggestions for improving the consultations process and the email alerts and for his trouble received an email from Cllr Joanna Tambourides, who holds the planning portfolio, which called him an activist. That was uncalled for when his only concern was visual blight.


The ever modest hero of suburbia David Attfield took the council on at the High Court in a Judicial Review over the parking permit price increases of £40 to £100 and £1 to £4 (visitor vouchers) and won. Clearly, the purpose of the increases was to raise revenue. The excess sums paid by residents are still being paid back now and the larger funders of the legal action will get their contributions back once the legal costs are agreed with the council which always takes a while. Mr Mustard sat through the entire hearing and most of the NSCSO one. In fact, he spent his annual holidays in the Strand as he also saw the Welsh blogger Jacquie Thompson of Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more lose her libel case (although there will be more twists in that story yet).


Mr Mustard discovered that thousands of old PCN from 2011 had been brought back to life even though after a 6 month delay in enforcement (apart from by the bailiff who is allowed 12 months) they should be written off. Every case where the delay is pointed out to PATAS leads to the PCN being cancelled but there will be many more PCN where motorists will have felt bullied into paying up. Mr Mustard put an objection in with the external auditor against the Accounts being signed off and this is still pending.


A year after being Occupied the Friern Barnet Library celebrated that their ward still had a library entirely run by volunteers and still offering lots of activities for locals to enjoy. The grandiosely misguided idea to shoehorn a landmark library into the Arts Depot is now dead in the water. If you live locally and want to volunteer, just pop into the library.


In his quest for knowledge Mr Mustard got brought to a halt when the Information Commissioner agreed that, because of the volume, 400 questions or so in total over the years that the council could treat his questions as vexatious, even though the same question would be answered if someone else asked it. Mr Mustard changed tack, he had seen the way the wind was blowing and had virtually stopped asking anyway, and met up with Chris Naylor, the Chief Operating Officer, and agreed a new protocol which allows for 60 questions a year and since then Mr Mustard might have asked two. Mr Mustard still finds plenty to write about.


Richard Cornelius signed his political life away (hopefully) when he signed the contract with Capita which no councillor would admit to reading in full, or even in part. Mr Mustard received absolutely no replies from any Cabinet member as to how many pages they had found the time to read. Draw your own conclusions. The whole premise of outsourcing, and the refusal to countenance an in-house option from the start, was that the council didn't have the funds to invest to improve the existing services. No sooner was the ink on the contract dry than Barnet Council gave Capita £16.1m in advance to fund investment which rather destroys their justification for going out to the private sector. 


Just in time for the trip to maternity, Mr Mustard got the car back from the car pound after 2 months for a lady who had seen her car seized by bailiffs for non-payment of PCNs she knew nothing about. It turned out that the council had cheated and failed to mention that a vital document had not been served and had in fact been returned to the council. Mr Mustard will be reading witness statements by NSL employees on behalf of Barnet Council very closely in the future especially as to what they don't contain.

The year ended happily with the lady giving birth to a healthy baby girl.

All the best for 2014 everyone.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

30 December 2013


The use of bailiffs to collect council tax has been in the news this week with the Citizens Advice service worried about the speed at which they are resorted to, charges being made for visits that never took place and councils not keeping any data about the actions of the bailiffs (in respect of whose behaviour they have a duty of care).

Mr Mustard usually gets involved with parking tickets before bailiffs are instructed and much prefers to keep it that way. He has however helped a few people and the following table gives you an idea of how the penalty for a simply traffic contravention (which may not even have taken place but any failure to follow the proper procedure means that you end up guilty) can increase to a disproportionate amount.

Original Value of Bailiff Bailiff Extra paid Notes
# PCN £ Warrant £ Claim £
or claimed £
1 110 172 1,571 Newlyn 1,227 Car put on low loader to force payment
2 110 172 on the day the motorist returned from USA
3 130 202 431 Newlyn 229 visit stage (max 3)
4 110 172 389 Newlyn 217 visit stage (max 3)
5 110 172 185 Task 13 Initial letter
6 110 172 389 Newlyn 217 visit stage (max 3)
7 110 172 389 Newlyn 217 visit stage (max 3)
8 60 97 110 Task 13 Initial letter
9 110 172 623 Newlyn 451 visit stage (max 3) Overcharge
10 60 97 110 Task 13 Initial letter
11 110 172 185 Task 13 Initial letter
12 110 172 1,164 Newlyn 992 Vehicle taken to car pound
13 110 172 1,181 Newlyn 740 Vehicle taken to car pound
14 110 172
15 60 97
16 110 172 457 Newlyn 285 visit stage (max 3)

Amounts in black bold type were actually paid (before Mr Mustard was involved).

Amounts in blue were not paid and many of the PCN were subsequently cancelled due to illegal behaviour by the bailiff.

Amounts in red were not paid (save for a without prejudice settlement of £100 in the £740 case) and the vehicles were both recovered from the pound.

Although all the residents were in Barnet these cases includes ones for Camden and Harrow councils.

Bailiffs don't have to send the a warning letter before they visit but if they do it will cost you £11.20 + vat. If you owe the debt, pay it at this point.

After that you can be charged £28 + vat for debts under £100 (a £60 PCN will have become £97). For debts over £100 the bailiff charges should be 28% of the first £200 and 5.5% of the balance. Schedule 1 of The Enforcement of Road Traffic Debts (Certificated Bailiffs) Regulations 1993 states that aggregate costs and charges for attending to levy distress and for actually levying distress should not be more than 3 times the above amounts. On a £110 PCN, the debt due to the council rises to £172 so maximum charges should be £144.48 + vat (= £173.38).

In addition, Mr Mustard has seen clamping fees and vehicle removal fees and cancelled towing fees which is how you end up owing an extra £451 (or more). Once your car is removed an extra £30 a night or so will be added for storage.

It is clear that on file #9 that Newlyn were asking for more money than they were due to receive at a time when they had not yet (illegally) clamped the vehicle (which belonged to Motability).

Dealing with bailiffs who have your car in a clamp or a pound is very difficult. Please do what you can to avoid this situation by responding properly to all PCN paperwork.

The government are slowly getting round to bailiff legislation; not a moment too soon.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

26 December 2013

Pourquoi Monsieur Moutarde adore la France

picture credit
Mr Mustard often visits France and finds many things about their society to be far preferable to those of England. Twice a day near the boulangerie there are quite a lot of vehicle comings and goings as the French buy the fresh bread to which they are accustomed (mostly croissant and baguettes but lots of other goodies too). There is occasionally slight congestion but nothing to worry about. In England the response would be to post NSL traffic wardens near to bakers in the mornings and evenings and either issue hundreds of parking tickets or frighten shoppers away into the hands of supermarkets.

The reason why this doesn't happen was clear in the weekend edition of Le Figaro of 14/15 December. Currently the value of a parking ticket is the same across the whole country in being €17. Yes you did read that correctly. In England the higher level PCN is for £110 or about €130, which is more than seven times as much. The system is about to change with some regional variation being introduced. Each commune will be able to choose its own level of fine, and it is currently called a fine in France, subject to it not being more than the maximum cost to park for the day which in the case of Paris is €36 but only €15 in Marseille.

The aim of the new law is to get the percentage of people who pay for their parking up from the current average of 35%. Currently a total of €183m in fines is collected across the whole country in a year with a collection cost of €169m, which does make you wonder why collection costs in England are so high? One other change is that from now on instead of going into a central pot the fines will be retained by each commune. I can see France starting to go the way of England except that the level of fines won't be punitive as the PCN levels are here. Maybe compliance will rise instead (at least they have cash meters in the towns and cities that M. Moutarde has visited).

The system is also being decriminalised with the word "fine" no longer going to be used but "payment notification" and precise details of the collection process still have to be worked out. Let's hope it doesn't turn into the same remorseless system of cash generation that has overtaken England's town halls. Funnily enough, it probably won't as the French love a good revolution.

Yours frugally

M. Moutarde

That's enough Christmas cheer; have some statistics.

March 13
March 12 March 11
PCN issued – London-wide 4,895,252
4,931,816 4,810,561
Appeals made to PATAS 66,810
74,568 69,580
Percentage appealed 1.36%
1.51% 1.45%

Appeals processed 57,888
64,903 69,132

Barnet PCN issued 165,569
148,118 124,139

Barnet PCN appealed 2,393
1,548 1,183
Barnet PCN appeals processed 2,253
1,322 1,277
Barnet PCN % appealed 1.45%
1.05% 0.95%
Barnet appeal ranking – volume 7
19 22

Barnet appeals allowed 1,684
841 580
Percentage appeals allowed 75%
64% 45%
Ranking 2
14 19
Highest % allowed 78%
98% 98%
Borough City of London
City of London City of London
Lowest % allowed 25%
26% 26%
Borough Kingston
Croydon Greenwich

Appeals not contested by borough

Barnet 30%
28% 12%
Highest % not contested 42%
77% 83%
Borough City of London
City of London City of London
Lowest % not contested 6%
5% 2%
Borough Enfield
Greenwich Kingston

The stats for PCN appeals at PATAS for the year to 31 March 13 came out just before the Xmas break, and Mr Mustard has extracted some of the relevant ones for you.

At the top we see that on a pan-London basis the number of PCN was down on the previous year although it was up on the one before that. No valid conclusion can be drawn on a variance of a mere 2.5%. Just look at the number of PCN issued, five million (that is the real scandal, not whether it has gone down a  few thousand in a particular year which will be the one statistic that always gets quoted).

The number of appeals made to PATAS varied a whole lot more and is really low. The proposed change to the rules so that prompt payment after losing a PATAS appeal would lead to a discount of 25% would see a whole lot more cases going to PATAS. It is a civilised place and not at all formal and everyone with a PCN should go there at least once in their lifetime for the experience. If you go on a Wednesday morning you'll probably bump into Mr Mustard.

The number of Barnet PCN going up was already known to regular readers. The larger jump comes after the appointment of NSL on 1 May 12. Mr Mustard finds it hard to believe that the pattern of motorists' behaviour changed markedly at that time; could it be the approach taken by NSL that has led to the jump in PCN numbers?

It is interesting to contrast Barnet with other similar boroughs, such as 

Enfield with 72,857 PCN
Harrow: 70,623
Croydon: 97,169

It can't be the motorist who is greatly different in their parking habits in Barnet, can it?

What is unsurprising is the jump in appeals being made to PATAS (when you ask in response to a PCN or Notice to Owner to have your PCN cancelled they are not appeals but representations, by the way) with a greater increase after the appointment of NSL, and the jump in the number of PCN issued, than beforehand. Mr Mustard puts this down to more marginal PCN being issued. The sad truth though is that 50% of all PCN issued are paid without demur and so the temptation must be to issue PCN like a drunken sailor as the income from an extra 30,000 PCN, of which 15,000 will be paid just like that, makes the extra time, cost and trouble of another 900 appeals a relative flea bite.

The number of appeals to PATAS is already well up for 2013-14 (well done everybody) with 2,751 processed in 37 weeks with a projected final number for the year to March 2014 of 3,866. Barnet have already got themselves from 22nd out of 34 boroughs in terms of absolute volume of PCN appeals up to 7th, which is an impressively bad performance.

If we look next at the percentage of appeals that are won by the motorist at PATAS then Barnet's poor performance is laid starkly bare. Even before the move to NSL the wheels were starting to come off, probably caused by all the time spent on getting ready to outsource with the council going from being in the better bottom half of the table of London boroughs into the top half at 14th worst. Then NSL take over and rocket up the league table to 2nd, behind only the City of London who have long had a reputation for not contesting appeals. The City issued a mere 47,555 PCN in the year with 702 going to appeal and 78% of them being won mainly because the City didn't bother to fight 42% of them. You can see that Barnet's failure rate is similar to the success rate of other boroughs with Kingston currently being a good place to park properly.

Some boroughs fight you all the way to PATAS which indicates a confidence in their argument and proper resourcing of the parking department. Barnet on the other hand don't contest 30% of all PATAS cases and this means that their possible two rejections of your representations could have been spurious, or a bluff or signifies a lack of resource for preparing appeal packs.

The lesson that you, dear reader, can learn from the statistics is that it is worth going the three rounds with Barnet council as you will probably beat them in the end. You just have to persist a little. You can present the same argument in your second representations as in the first and then the same at the PATAS appeal. There is a brief guide to the process available to download at the top left of the blog. Let's see if we can get appeals to 4,000 this year and then at least 5,000 next. At some point the wheels will well and truly come off the NSL machine.

All the best for 2014.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

On 28 January Mr Mustard realised, thanks to the external auditor sending him some statistics that are much more out than he is!, that he had forgotten to include 13,317 bus lane tickets in the figures to March 12 and they are now included.

24 December 2013

Merry Christmas to one and all

The tree at Mustard Mansions
This is probably the shortest blog post of the year.

Merry Christmas


Mr Mustard

19 December 2013

Disabled Parking is a minefield across London

Mr Mustard has to check this post in respect of the rules about paid for parking bays, as apart from the blue area above, he thinks that blue badge holders can park for free in those bays and he has put that in some boroughs you can't. He probably put "no" if he couldn't find "yes" on the relevant council website but forgot that the blue badge scheme sets the rules and says you can park for free unless time is limited for non disabled motorists and then time can be limited for blue badge holders. Parking is far too complicated. (10 December 2014)

Mr Mustard has a friend with a blue badge who tries very hard to avoid parking tickets. She thinks about what he has said every time she goes out and parks. He instructed her clearly about how to park properly in Barnet but then she went to Southwark, parked in a residents bay which is perfectly permissible in Barnet, but not in Southwark and got a PCN. How would one know this?

Mr Mustard thought he had better check the whole of London for her. He looked on the London Councils website but that didn't easily give him the answer. He could buy a copy of a guide from this website but it is probably out of date by now.

The map above, which comes from a joint website by the 4 authorities concerned, tells us where the rules are stricter than is the norm but nothing seems to tell us where there are helpful concessions so Mr Mustard burnt yesterday afternoon in trying to find out. He painfully looked through 30+ council websites and has probably got some of it wrong, due to difficulties encountered in actually finding what he was looking for, so please check in advance of your visit by phoning the local authority which you are going to visit  rather than relying 100% on what Mr Mustard has put up in good faith (there may also be local signs which assist you in car parks for example, or on meters in the street which halfway through the small print may mention the disabled). If any reader spots errors for their borough do please send an email to mrmustard@zoho.com

Free parking for blue badge holders?

Single Double Residents Pay by phone Shared Car

yellow * yellow * bay Pay & display*** use bays parks ~
Barking & Dagenham 3 hours 3 hours no no no some
Barnet 3 hours 3 hours yes yes@ yes yes
Bexley 3 hours 3 hours no no no no
Brent 3 hours 3 hours no yes no no
Bromley 3 hours 3 hours no yes no yes
Camden some (**) some (**) some (**) some (**) no no
City of London no no no no no no
Croydon 3 hours 3 hours no yes yes no
Ealing 3 hours 3 hours no yes no no
Enfield 3 hours 3 hours yes no no yes
Greenwich 3 hours 3 hours no yes no yes
Hackney 3 hours 3 hours no yes yes yes
Hammersmith & Fulham 3 hours 3 hours no no yes no
Haringey 3 hours 3 hours no no no no
Harrow 3 hours 3 hours Harrow BB only yes no most
Havering 3 hours 3 hours no yes no no
Hillingdon 3 hours 3 hours yes yes possibly yes
Hounslow 3 hours 3 hours usually usually usually yes
Islington 3 hours 3 hours yes yes possibly n/a
Kensington & Chelsea 20 mins 20 mins no no no no
Kingston 3 hours 3 hours no no no no
Lambeth 3 hours 3 hours yes yes possibly yes
Lewisham 3 hours 3 hours yes yes yes no
Merton 3 hours 3 hours yes yes possibly no
Newham 3 hours 3 hours yes yes no no
Redbridge 3 hours 3 hours no yes no yes
Richmond 3 hours 3 hours yes yes possibly yes
Southwark 3 hours 3 hours no yes yes no
Sutton 3 hours 3 hours no yes no yes
Tower Hamlets 3 hours 3 hours no yes yes n/k
Waltham Forest 3 hours 3 hours n/k n/k n/k free
Wandsworth 3 hours 3 hours yes yes yes yes
Westminster no no no no no no

~ except in disabled spaces that are marked as free

* unless there is a loading restriction in which case do not park there.

** you cannot park for free in the green zone

*** you get one hour free in addition to paid for time

So you can see what a complex situation it is. Mr Mustard wanted to put up a simple table with yes/no answers but that simply isn't possible. Barnet are generous to the disabled (although will happily give you a parking ticket if you transgress in any way) as are Wandsworth, with Lewisham and Hillingdon not far behind. In Central London the disabled have to compete for a limited number of designated bays and given the problem with step free access on most of the tube network (a mere 66 tube stations are step free) that is the very area where more spaces are needed, especially near hospitals.

The main thing that Mr Mustard learnt, after what a morass disabled parking provision is, was that if you pay for, say, 2 hours parking, you get given 3 as a blue badge holder (it won't be on the pay-and-display ticket but the traffic warden should know not to issue a PCN). This may help you with your appeal if you have a PCN for having gone over the paid for time and your blue badge was on display.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

@ It has been brought to Mr Mustard's attention that in Edgware new signs were installed in December which limit parking for blue badge holders in pay to park bays to a maximum of 3 hours. It isn't like that in Mill Hill or High Barnet. There are, Mr Mustard is told, only 3 dedicated disabled parking bays in Edgware so this new policy makes life difficult for blue badge holders who have to travel into London for a hospital appointment, but cannot walk very far, and need to use Edgware tube station.

Is blue badge time in pay to park bays limited in this way in your part of the borough?