30 April 2014

Vote of no confidence

How can something so simple get so screwed up
Some cases that reach PATAS must make the adjudicators despair. Common sense should have prevailed at an earlier stage. NSL often appear not to have any in stock. Here is an adjudicator's report from earlier in the week.

The Appellant having produced a letter from his bank the Council now, very sensibly, accepts that payment had been made. The Appeal is therefore allowed.

I would only add that in the absence of any explanation it does not give one a great deal of confidence in the reliability of the Council's evidence in such cases that the Council's system should apparently show that no payment had been received (leading to the issue of a PCN the rejection of representations, and the initial resisting of an Appeal) when in fact it had.

The adjudicator in this case has decades of experience in parking matters and is certain to remember this case when dealing with other Barnet PCN payment queries and may, in future, give the benefit of the doubt to the motorist if the payment situation is at all unclear.

Mr Mustard thinks this is a case where the council could be adjudged to have been wholly unreasonable and a costs application might succeed.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

28 April 2014

When in a pothole - stop digging

Mr Mustard read a story in the local Times newspaper about Barnet having the most pothole complaints in London last year, and particularly as a motorcyclist that does concern him, and as ever, he wondered why? Mr Mustard raked through his old emails and found one of 28 February 2011 from Cllr Rutter who had so unimpressed him at the first Residents' Forum he went to, which said:

Barnet has however prioritised to fixing the potholes and we are doing everything we can to get the potholes repaired as quickly as possible.

all figures came from a council report

So doing everything we can would include spending more on planned maintenance presumably? Oh no, the spend went down in the following year.

What we can see from the chart is that 10 years ago, far more was spent on vital infrastructure and there has been a steady drift down over the following years until now, with the roads in an awful condition, spending is once again increasing, but is still short of what it used to be and there will have been about 20% in total inflation since 04/05 so the shortfall is even more marked.

That measly 1% / £1.6m reduction in Council Tax take looks very foolish to Mr Mustard.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

27 April 2014

A $chunting we will go

Yesterday, Mr  Mustard went $chunting and thought he should write about the experience. This children's rhyme came to mind.

A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go
Heigh ho, the dairy-o, a hunting we will go
A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go
We'll catch a fox and put him in a box
And then we'll let him go

$chunting, for those who don't know, is a contraction of $camera car hunting. It is very civilised and does not end up with the CEO driving the car being ripped to pieces by anyone although Mr Mustard was a little surprised by the number of passing motorists who aimed invective at the CEO who was quietly sat in his car.

The day dawned and Mr Mustard opened the curtains. Drat, he thought, it is wet and the new rear tyre on the yellow Aprilia will call for some cautious riding (motorcycle tyres are slippery when new and need 100 miles of scrubbing, preferably on a dry road). Mr Mustard was due at the secret rendez-vous at 9.30 but there aren't many yellow Aprilias about and even less pairs of white boots so he does stand out. Bald Eagle was the main man and although Mr Mustard was characteristically early Bald Eagle was late. Oh well, at least Bethnal Green Dude (should be Bloke but there was a misprint on his NoToMob jacket and BGB became BGD so he has been re-christened) was there early and bought the teas (thanks BGD). Bald Eagle turned up late (not unusual apparently, but he is allowed one bite so Mr Mustard isn't complaining) and so more tea was required. This $chunting lark looked easy so far. Bald Eagle's early morning had gone all wrong, he made the mistake of looking at his computer and they suck time out of you like a dementer out of Harry Potter and then his Cargo Net broke (not his hair net, the clue is in his name) and he had to turf everything out of the shed to find the spare.

So all tea'd up the 3 of us set off to the $camera car pen, in reality a deadly dull industrial estate. We sat around and waited for a $camera car to move which it did after a few false starts. We followed the car at a safe distance to its first honeypot which was the no left turn at Tufton Rd which probably exists to stop people cutting out the traffic lights. To monitor this no left turn the camera car made to stop on the right and realised he would have to park on a single yellow line and thought better of it with 3 motorcycles in high-viz jackets behind him as a photo of his bad parking would have appeared in a public place. So he moved off, went right and then did a u-turn on the front of a multi-storey car park which is probably what everybody does thus making the no-left turn a waste of time. We followed.

This is where we ended up. Waverley Avenue, E4.

Note the bad angle of the right hand no entry sign which is illuminated but the left hand one isn't. If you were coming from the right as you look at the road you could easily miss the first sign. Nor are there warning signs showing no left turn / no right turn as you approach from the left or right. Apparently this no entry sign is often ignored in the rush hour but it was Saturday morning so very calm at times although heavily backed up at others. The $camera car parked bang opposite the junction (there are no parking restrictions there) and the driver settled back in his seat with nothing to do except wait for lunch. 

We NoToMobbers (Mr Mustard has always been a supporter but is now a member) then held up signs warning people of the $camera car. Many motorists thought we were highlighting a speed trap (that would be illegal and we don't do it) and crawled past and others wound down their windows to ask for more information which was given and many toots of the horn, thumbs ups and smiles came our way. Some drivers hurled abuse at the driver, sat in this parked car, which is not deserved and NoToMobbers do not do that either, they talk politely to traffic wardens when the opportunity arises and if allowed. On this occasion the driver didn't even glance at us.

So we spent about 3 hours there and not a single car did so much as put an indicator on to suggest that they would commit a moving traffic offence. The sun came out and all was right with the world. The $camera car didn't make a bean. Local residents who stopped to chat said that the car is often at the no left turn we had come by earlier and that it was a waste of time to monitor this no-entry junction at this time.

It got to about 1.30 and we thought it must be time for the traffic warden to go back to the pen for his lunch so we make sure we all had our gloves and helmets on. Sure enough the Toyota IQ, for that is the nice little car that has the camera on a stalk through the roof, suddenly departed.

Now here is the part that shocked Mr Mustard about the $camera car. It was parked for the entire time with its engine running. Now it is only a small engine, 1000c.c., but even so, it apparently has to sit there with its engine running to power the camera and recording equipment. This is an ecological scandal and the council, are responsible for air quality. Here is their web page on the council website. Scroll down to the suggestions and what does it say

Don’t leave your engine running when you are parked.
except that Waltham Forest Council forget to add, except we will in order to make money out of motorists, and
We prefer pounds over pollution.

Waltham Forest Council, you are diabolical hypocrites and need to take all of your $camera cars off the road until you can use them without the engine running 24/7.

By this time CoCo had joined us (no he isn't a clown as if he was the wheels would probably fall off his motorcycle and that wouldn't do) and so the four of us followed the $camera car expecting it to go back to the depot. Instead he suddenly pulled up on a single yellow line (Mon - Sat 8am - 6.30pm) opposite the exit to no left turn hoping to bag at least one victim for his work. He thought we wouldn't be able to stop and observe except that we used the front of the multi-storey car park to stop on and one of us went round the block to the exit of the road the $camera car was monitoring. Mr Mustard took a photograph.

Hall Lane E4
So having parked on an in-force single yellow line and forced all of the traffic out to the middle of the road the traffic warden thought better of it after a couple of minutes, did a u-turn (very good turning circle on the IQ) and ambled back to base with us following.

It was time for tea again and a toasted cheese sandwich after a hard morning's work doing what it is that many local authorities profess to want which is 100% compliance with all parking restrictions and rules of the road. 
NoToMob people help maintain the law and slow down councils insatiable appetite for cash from parking. You can join them. You don't have to have a motorcycle although it helps. You can do this on foot or on a bicycle in the West End as you can't get a PCN and you could operate solely at the spots which are local to you. Find out all about it on the NoToMob website.

Mr Mustard, proud to be a NotToMobber.

Nearly forgot, here is one of this council's $camera cars showing us all how not to do it. Whoops.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 April 2014

BAPS' leaflet

These leaflets are being dished out in Hale Ward on Saturday. Do give BAPS a call on 07534 407703 if you can help.

24 April 2014

Internal audit now agree with armchair auditor Mr Mustard

For almost 2 years Mr Mustard has been reporting on the failures of the NSL contract. No-one at the council (well no-one in power anyway) seemed to care or even, Richard Cornelius told a public meeting that the contract was making savings, how would he have known? Finally, Internal Audit have caught up with Armchair Audit (forget External Audit who have their eyes on a bigger prize; the NHS).

Here is the accurate state of the One Barnet / NSL parking enforcement contract

Imagine if the enforcement and bailiff processes were also to be audited what a catalogue of catastrophe would come to light?

Mr Mustard has submitted some questions about this report to Audit Committee which is next Tuesday 29 April at 7pm at Hendon Town Hall with Lord Palmer (he is Monroe to the bloggers, a gentleman who now has bigger fish to fry in the House of Lords) and just to make his last chairing of a meeting memorable and exciting Mr Mustard is busy thinking up some devilish curve ball questions for him to try to hit out of the park.

Mr Mustard does hope that Monroe will be free for a glass of something refreshing in the Greyhound afterwards - an emailed invitation has been sent.

One Barnet, the commissioning Council, really isn't working.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

22 April 2014

Mr Mustard was misguided

Mr Mustard is perfectly capable of being mislead. He thought Barnet Council had messed up Blue Badge parking at Edgware because of what he read on page 16 of the Department for Transport guide "Rights and responsibilities" which is reproduced below.

and he wrote a blog which came out at 8am and which was then deleted at about 8.03 as it was wrong as Mr Mustard woke up early with a bell going off deep in his brain. Mr Mustard reflected as to what was wrong & then printed out the guide and looked at page 18, viz

so page 16 tells blue badge holders they can park for ever at a parking meter (or pay by phone bay) and then page 18, which they haven't read because there was no need, overturns the earlier advice. Great, as by now you could have a PCN.

This all came about because Mr Mustard was told about new limits introduced in 2013, on pay-by-phone bays in Edgware. Here is the relevant sign.

a free ad for the vegetarian Chinese

So you want to do a little shopping in Edgware and are happy to pay to park? You can't because the lower sign says that the bay is limited to disabled (blue badge) holders only for the entire day. It is impossible for a motorist who wants to pay to park to comply with this parking restriction. 

Every sign like this one in the whole borough (probably only actually in three of our High Streets) will have to be changed, to remove the word "only".

Blue badge holders, remember to put your time clock out.

Mr Mustard has tweeted the Department for Transport and suggested that the guide is misleading. Hopefully they will use clearer wording in the next issue.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

17 April 2014

NSL mess up and send in NSL owned bailiff - how to profit from incompetence

never before seen, the Notice Processing Officers of NSL
Sometimes people ask Mr Mustard why he spends his time helping people. It is because the system has failed them, they have done their best, at their age they are slightly below their best and they need his help and expertise. He is happy to provide such help.

Yesterday, following a request from a friend, he went round to see a senior citizen at home who had been relieved of £406 that she did not owe. She had tried to sort it out with the council, but customer services didn't serve her well. Mr Mustard cuts through bureaucracy.

Dear Parking Manager


I represent Ms E of Barnet as attached authority. She is, I am told, and it would not be gallant to ask her to be more exact, a lady in her late seventies.

I find it necessary to complain on behalf of Ms E about the actions of your enforcement contractor NSL Ltd.

The story in brief is that on 14 April 2014 she paid the bailiff, N Brooks of Task Enforcement Ltd, the sum of £408.52 in respect of the above PCN to prevent the removal of her car.

On 28 November 13 the Notice of Rejection of Representations said "...have decided that the reduced amount of £55 will be accepted if payment is made within 14 days from the date of this letter. ..." (normally the offer would be within 14 days of service of this letter).

As she was shortly going abroad for a month Ms E decided to pay, even though she felt she had been poorly treated following the difficulties she had encountered in obtaining her permit, and the fact that she was not told that her dispensation was only for 14 days (she lives inside the recently extended D zone), in order to avoid any possible difficulty.

A cheque was sent by Special Delivery on 5 December 2013 (barcode AE123456789GB) and was signed for by "Frost" on 6 December 2013 (I have the proof of delivery). This was therefore 10 days after the offer to accept 50% in full and final settlement was made.

On 11 December the cheque was cleared so it was evidently banked pretty quickly. I have seen a bank statement.

A Charge Certificate was issued on 18 December 2013. It records the payment of £55. The council was absolutely not entitled to continue with enforcement as it had made an offer of settlement which had been satisfied.

What should happen now is that the sum paid to the bailiff of £408.52 is refunded as it was not due for payment and in compensation the PCN value paid, of £55, should be refunded. A letter of apology should also be sent by NSL Ltd to Ms E as she has had the worry of this to deal with and can ill afford to be without the funds paid to the bailiff.

This whole mess has come about because permits were dealt with in one place (I have not studied it in detail but Ms E did try to get a permit in good time and had two applications returned by the looks of it, probably due to the judicial review of the price), customer service calls in another and enforcement in a third. The system that is in existence in Barnet is simply not fit for purpose. I know it is not your decision to be set up in this way but it isn't properly serving the residents of Barnet.

Our senior citizens should not have to suffer the attentions of bailiffs as a result of the administrative incompetence of NSL Ltd, the parking enforcement contractor of the council.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Parking Mad - Tonight - BBC1 at 9pm

in which Mr Mustard makes his white booted appearance (oh dear, described as a crime against fashion by Mrs Angry's daughter who has her own blog, here). Mr Mustard hasn't had the pleasure of meeting Maddy yet but will be sure to dress "properly" if there is a chance that he might.

Mr Mustard also name-checked Mr Reasonable, and Barnet is stuffed full of bloggers who are all well worth following and the other member of the famous four (the fifth having escaped to Nottingham) is Roger at The Barnet Eye.

Do keep reading the soap opera that is Barnet.

Here is a link to the programme on iplayer .

Three more episodes yet to go featuring other people and places.

TASK jump the new charges gun

Every time that Mr Mustard looks at a PCN case which has got as far as the bailiff, he has been unhappy, because it is wrong in some way. Each time, Mr Mustard finds himself making a complaint to Barnet Council. Let us look at the "Notice" above.

This Notice was sent to a lady who has already proved, by production of a letter from the DVLA, that she was not the owner of the vehicle on the day in question as she had sold it prior to the PCN being issued. NSL, acting for the council, and Task (part of NSL) seem to be suffering from self profiting selective blindness. Both of them will have done a check of who the vehicle is registered to, near the start and at the end of the process.

This Notice should have been issued under the old rules as enforcement started prior to 6 April 14 but it isn't acceptable under those. It is simply a bullying letter of the worst kind but as it claims the fee under the new regime, Mr Mustard will judge it on that basis.

Firstly it is an illegal demand for money with menaces against a party who is not liable to pay.

There is no breakdown of the amount due. Mr Mustard knows that this is for a £110 PCN increased by 50% (+£55) and then by £7 to register at the Traffic Enforcement Centre, attached to Northampton County Court. Thus £172 is due for the PCN. The new rules (Statutory Instrument no. 1 of 2014 - Taking Control of Goods) allows for a fixed fee of £75 for debts under £1,500. That is how we reach £247 but the lady in the street isn't going to know that.

So far we have an excessive fee and a failure to provide a breakdown of fees.

The first communication from a bailiff (now called an Enforcement Agent) should be called a Notice of Enforcement and not a Notice of Intended removal. This is the start of the Compliance Stage.

It should give 7 clear days notice that a visit will take place. This letter does not allow the customary 2 days for postal service.

It does not explain the additional fees and expenses that may be applied if payment is not made. Some exact details are required.

The letter says goods are now at risk. They are not. They are not at risk until 7 clear days after the first Notice.

How to pay should include opening hours and days.

The Notice refers to previous notices and visits. If that were the case this is not the Notice that would be sent and we should have moved onto the Enforcement Stage for which, for a PCN, the fee is £235. These type of missives have often been sent when there have been no previous visits or notices.

Mr Mustard's final point is about the awful grammar. The sentence starting "Despite previous visits" does not make sense. The sentence which starts "To avoid this" contains the phrase "by the return" - by the return of what exactly? Letters and Notices of this standard do not put Barnet Council in a good light.

A council has a duty of care in respect of the way a bailiff goes about its business on behalf of the council as creditor. It should not sensibly delegate that oversight to a contractor, like NSL, especially when they are in the same group of companies as the bailiff concerned, as in this case.

Mr Mustard will keep on complaining about bailiffs until the message gets through and files of bailiffs are spot checked and until the use of bailiffs from the same group of companies is stopped as there is a clear conflict of interest.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update: 17 April 2014

This has now been looked at by council management, possibly at the request of a councillor, and the PCN has been cancelled.

It's not in the post

No notices
The council have a general duty at law to be fair. This was established in the House of Lords case ex. parte Doody which included these words by Lord Mustill "Where an Act of Parliament confers an administrative power there is a presumption that it will be exercised in a manner which is fair in all the circumstances".

The right to issue Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) for parking contraventions are conferred on councils by Acts of Parliament. Have Barnet Council been fair? quite possibly not.

In the good old days (prior to 1 May 12 when NSL took over) the printing of letters and notices was done in the council's own postroom so the parking manager could easily satisfy himself that the letters which he expected to be printed had been printed. Nowadays things are a little more complicated as the NSL back office team are in Croydon and their letters are (unless it has changed recently when the scanning company changed from RR Donnelley to PARSEQ) printed at Infinity in Croydon.

This is a note from the minutes of a meeting between NSL and Barnet Council:

Audit screen in CE (Civica Enforcement software) says Notice to Owner printed and posted on 17/8/12 however correspondence screen says Notice to Owner failed to process. Customer states Notice to Owner not received, only the Charge Certificate received in the post.

This problem was identified in January 13 and logged with Civica. It is unlikely that this was a one off event as Mr Mustard has himself seen lots of cases where the Notice to Owner was not received and now he knows why (can't blame the Royal Mail for not delivering something they were not given) and as a software support call would not be logged for something that only happened on one case. What isn't clear from the minutes is how many PCN were affected by this and what the council did about the problem.

If the council did not issue a Notice to Owner they are absolutely not entitled to the income for that PCN if it was paid at the next stage, the Charge Certificate, at which point the charge has been increased by 50%. That is clearly not fair and also as the opportunity to make representations was lost.

What should an honest council do? They should investigate the cause of the fault and rectify it and also carry out an audit of letters supposedly printed against the number actually printed (presumably Infinity charge by the item so the number actually printed each day should be easy to obtain) and then refund every PCN that has been paid in which the Notice to Owner was not printed and any bailiff's charges which have been paid.

When Mr Mustard next has occasion to speak to a parking manager he will ask them what actually happened. That will be a fun conversation.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

16 April 2014

Private Parking Tickets - guest blog

Here is a guest blog copied from the blog of the Parking Prankster, who is anything but, he is deadly serious when it comes to private parking tickets. Mr Mustard knows a little about the subject but others know 100 times as much so for private tickets, and for a very reasonable £16, you can have the arduous paperwork dealt with for you.

Most private parking tickets are not issued correctly and can therefore be cancelled on appeal. However, the process can be daunting and requires some reading up and research. While this is all quite possible, not everybody will want to do this and so a new company has been formed to take care of this all for you .

For £16 they will take care of all the appeals process for you, and guarantee your ticket will be cancelled. if not, they will pay the parking charge!

The service has been operating in a limited trial form for a while and so far has had a 100% success rate, with some appeals cancelled by the operator without the need to go to POPLA.

This will of course save the operator the £27 POPLA fee, but it is ironic that the operators realise the futility of carrying on when faced with the Appeals Service, while still forcing ordinary motorists to jump through hoops. The operators know full well that the people behind the appeals service have had a long history of helping people win appeals in the past and The Prankster can reveal that they still provide free help to motorists on the forums, while also running the appeals service

The Parking Prankster realises the service will not be for everyone.

However, if you are a busy person and want the problem to go away for £16, this service may be for you.

Alternatively if it is all too much to come to grips with, then you may also want to check out this service.

Happy Parking

The Parking Prankster

15 April 2014

NSL - 700 PCN not issued as out of time

Take the bus and you won't get a PCN
Minutes of a management meeting show that at 9 April 13 there were 700 Regulation 10 PCN which had not been issued on time. If they were £110 value PCN and 50% were paid inside 14 days and 20% at full price the council will have lost income of £34,650 or 21 day's worth of savings that NSL are meant to have brought us. (A Regulation 10 PCN is when the PCN is sent by post because of a drive away or because the traffic warden was physically prevented from serving).

Civica, the software supplier, said that progression of the PCN had not been configured (correctly) so it is all down to NSL (as the process worked when Barnet Council was in charge of it).

One Barnet, it isn't working is it?

Parking is such a vital service to the reputation of the council that it is foolish to entrust it to a contractor who has no connection with the borough other than as a cash cow.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

11 April 2014

We will be slow but you mustn't be

"IT" should have read "I.T." standing for Information Technology.
This scruffy note was being inserted into PCN envelopes whilst the parking enforcement software was being changed from Civica to ICES.

So it is OK for the council to be slow but if you fail to pay, during a time when the on-line payment facility was not available, then it is your fault that the council couldn't upgrade in 2 days over a weekend which would have been the best approach.

As it happens you don't need to fret about the council being slow. If they take longer than 56 days to respond to your formal representations, the ones you sent in after receiving the Notice to Owner, the council are deemed to have accepted them. So, sit tight, be quiet and let the days tick by.

If the council don't respond to your informal challenge, the one you sent in when you found a PCN on your car, and then send you a Notice to Owner, that is a procedural impropriety following the Hackney Drivers Association Ltd judicial review and you can quote PATAS decision 213064382A as being one that followed the same reasoning, in your Appeal to PATAS.

If your resident permit has run out, and you can't get it renewed, then you should follow this advice from the council

Through this period of change, your vehicle registration number has been sent to our enforcement partners NSL, so that they do not issue this vehicle with a penalty charge notice. However, as this is a manual work around until our permit system maintenance is completed, if you do receive a PCN during this time we ask that you call us immediately, where we resolve this instantly for you.

Please call us on 020 8359 7446.

We will contact you when our systems are available for you to complete your application in full.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

The Friday Joke


Finding a woman sobbing that she had locked her keys in her car, a passing soldier assures her that he can help.

She looks on amazed as he removes his trousers, ..... Rolls them into a tight ball and rubs them against the car door.

Magically it opens.......

"That's so clever," the woman gasps. "How did you do it?"

… "Easy," replies the man. "These are my khakis".