22 February 2017

Contrasting materials in Camden

Mr Mustard's client, Sara, parked here in Russell Square, one wet Sunday in October, but was further to the right in the picture. Consequently she was on top of the diagonal paving which delineates the area in which parking is allowed. She received a PCN for being on the footpath (not the bit that counts as the carriageway).

Mr Mustard pondered the situation. Unlike Sara he knew that the Secretary of State gives authorities to enforcement authorities to use a change in material to signify a change in designation of an area and this is done for aesthetic reasons. However, that change in material still needs to be adequate (sufficiently obvious) to communicate the change.

Mr Mustard challenged the PCN.

'She had no idea that she was parked on the pavement as the minor distinction in paving material does not make it obvious which is carriageway and which is footway. I expect that you have a Secretary of State authorisation for this (and please send me a copy) but despite that I do not think that the driver has been adequately informed of the restrictions in place and so you should cancel the PCN. In the future should she have to visit Camden by car she will look out this subtle nuance.'

A month later Camden Council responded:

A link was provided from which Mr Mustard downloaded a copy of the Secretary of State's authorisation under S64/S65.

Mr Mustard and Sara conferred and agreed to fight to the end as she regarded the situation thus:

'It's not just unfair, but outrageous that councils use different paving stones to delineate parking bays when the council knows full well that the ordinary motorist does not know this. How are motorists logically or practically expected to? If even at this stage it is impossible to know whether a resolution had been passed -- but can only know this by fighting to the end -- we have now entered into the likes of a Kafka nightmare. My point is how can a secret resolution be deemed public knowledge? Moreover, why create these "aesthetic" parking areas that taper off diagonally unless the intention is to trap people into parking incorrectly? What next: no parking signs anywhere, ever?'

The Notice to Owner duly arrived just before Xmas and on 23 December Mr Mustard made the following on line representation:

'The required contrast in materials between the parking bay and the pavement does not exist' 

as Mr Mustard was not in the mood to waste too many words.

A month later back came Camden Council. They repeated the relevant section of the Secretary of State's authorisation and went on to say:

'Whilst it is indeed regrettable that you were unaware that the rear of the vehicle was parked on the footway, the onus ultimately lies with the driver to ensure that they have reviewed the relevant bay demarcations and signage and park accordingly.'

There was no legal requirement to re-offer the 50% discount at this stage and Camden Council did not do so. It is then an easy decision for Sara to make. Pay £130 without a fight or have a free fight (called an Appeal) at London Tribunals which Camden Council have to pay the £30 fee for and pay nothing if you win and the same £130 if you lose; plus if you attend the hearing you get a chance to buy Mr Mustard a pint at The Inn of Court which he needs as he has done most of the talking.

The Oliver's Island was excellent today, the first pint out of the barrel
So, easy decision made, an on line Appeal was started at the end of January and a hearing date was set for a personal hearing on 1 March.

Today Mr Mustard went looking for the evidence pack as he had not received it from Camden Council. Instead on the appeal website he found that Camden had filed a DNC form. DNC stands for Do Not Contest. So now, having been faced twice with the same simple one line argument, there is no contrast between the materials used, which they had rejected twice, the council all of sudden, when getting close to having the matter decided by an independent legally qualified adjudicator, decide to throw in the towel. The PCN will be formally cancelled overnight by the lead adjudicator.

It is wrong of councils (not just Camden) to twice reject perfectly good arguments (the ones that Mr Mustard usually employs) in order, in Mr Mustard's opinion, to try and nudge (bully / bludgeon / mislead? choose your own description here) motorists into paying up at either 50% or 100% when the motorist was not at all in the wrong.

There is nothing wrong with having different coloured pavoirs to identify a parking area but two shades of grey is not a contrast.

So, just to help you Camden Council

No contrast, all shades of grey, like granite
High contrast, but green coloured paving probably not a good idea.
In future, Camden Council, you need to accept valid challenges at an earlier stage. If Mr Mustard is on the other end of the tug of war, he does not let go of the rope. All you do is waste £30 in fees.

Other motorists in Camden High Street, Russell Square and around central London, best look out for subtle changes in paving, even when it is raining cats and dogs, so that you can avoid the rigmarole of a challenge.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

16 February 2017

Enfield Council in time travel trouble.

Mr Mustard complained about the use of the non-statutory pre-debt reminder to Enfield Council on 26 January. He had previously complained about it in November and was told that all his points were valid and the reminder would be changed. The revised version was so similar that Mr Mustard didn't notice the subtle differences, he having expected radical change & possibly withdrawal of the use of the reminder as Haringey Council decided at about the time that Mr Mustard complained to them.

This is what Mr Mustard wrote on 26 January:

Dear Mr Parking Manager

Nothing has yet changed with the pre-debt reminder?

I don't think the contravention description is substantially complaint (sic) as looking at the meter on google streetmap it looks to have the red dash sticker on it. That means that payment could have been made by phone, which is not part of the alleged contravention. Surely this should have been a code 11, parked without payment of the parking charge and your PCN is unsustainable?

In the circumstances you could please cancel EF00123456.

Many thanks
Mr Mustard

There then followed a game of email ping pong which culminated in Mr Mustard's complaint being sent from parking to the complaints department from where it will end up with the Ombudsman who, his recent report Fairer Fines shows, is currently concerned about the fair treatment of motorists.

As there had been a pre-debt reminder Mr Mustard knew that a charge certificate had been issued. His client had not received the Notice to Owner and was awaiting the Order for Recovery so that the process could be rewound to the Notice to Owner stage.

On 27 January Mr Mustard's client sent him a copy of the Order for Recovery. Mr Mustard duly submitted his client's witness statement to the TEC the very same day.

On 9 February the council, as they were perfectly entitled to do, issued a fresh Notice to Owner.

On 15 February Mr Mustard's client sent him a copy of the fresh Notice to Owner and on the same day Mr Mustard went on-line to the Enfield Council computer and made representations that the PCN had been issued for the wrong contravention code.

Imagine Mr Mustard's surprise when he received a Notice of Rejection on 16 February which had been written on 14 February and which contained the following:

The order set out in the legislation is simple, it goes like this:

1 - Notice to Owner
2 - Representations against the Notice to Owner
3 - Notice of Rejection (or Acceptance) of the Representations
4 - Appeal to the tribunal (done!)

Enfield Council have decided to make Mr Mustard's email of 26 January which pre-dated the Notice to Owner of 9 February into a document which was issued 2 weeks later after the Notice to Owner.

In the four years that Mr Mustard has been fighting PCN he has never seen such a blatant procedural impropriety. They are defined as a failure to follow Parking Regulations but you could simply think of them as a council blunder.

He know has an Appeal pending which technically he shouldn't have but which he has no doubt will be allowed if it reaches a hearing which it probably won't as Mr Mustard will be filing a further complaint with Enfield Council. Mr Mustard will be making a claim for costs, which is very rare for him, as the council have been wholly unreasonable.

Mr Mustard doesn't suppose, or rather hope, that Enfield Council are playing guessing games about the representations that ordinary members of the public intend to make on a future date. If they are though, the public don't know the correct procedure like Mr Mustard does.

What the council's actions do disclose though is an indecent haste to reject Representations not yet made by Mr Mustard.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

15 February 2017

NSL over egg their importance in Lewisham

The distinction between private and public parking enforcement is hard enough for many people to fathom without NSL making out that they are issuing council PCN 

'in Partnership with'

Lewisham, and that assumes that you know that the crown icon with Lewisham underneath means the London Borough of Lewisham which Mr Mustard's client, a man from Edgware, does not know.

Thought you would phone Lewisham about your PCN, don't!

0845 numbers are 11 to 18p a minute. What does the Local Government Ombudsman think about 0845 numbers?

It looks like Mr Mustard will be complaining to the monitoring officer.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

13 February 2017

London Tribunals - new PO Box

Since PATAS became London Tribunals in mid 2015 Appeals have been sent to PO Box 530, SALE, M33 0FP

Mr Mustard recently noticed a new address and the tribunal have confirmed that the address should now be used and the Sale address can be disregarded.

The address to send Notices of Appeal to is now:

London Tribunals
PO Box 10598

even if it says Sale on the form itself.

Doubtless the new address will slowly start to percolate onto forms being issued by enforcement authorities.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

10 February 2017

Give Postman Pat lots of PCNs

Mr Mustard notices things. In late 2016 he noticed that the Royal Mail, whose liveried vehicles he thought had a countrywide exemption (which he can't find) for parking on double yellow lines were being issued with PCN by Barnet Council at a fair old lick. He went to the parking tribunal website and searched 2016 for all Appellant company names which started with 'Royal Mail'. He found 68 entries across London. There are 32 London boroughs along with the City + TfL who dish out PCN so you would only expect 2 or 3 of those 68 to emanate from Barnet Council. How wrong he was. 32 of the PCNs were issued by Barnet Council which shows a clear indication that the council and/or their agents NSL Ltd had decided that the Royal Mail were fair game.

Mr Mustard has copied the Barnet decisions for you.

The first thing you notice is that there were no parking tickets issued from January to June. Did Royal Mail van drivers suddenly individually decide to change their parking habits? No, it is probably that someone instructed traffic wardens to issue PCNs to them. Mr Mustard will ask the parking manager to reverse that instruction.

This idea of targeting the Royal Mail has been a right royal waste of time for the council. Every PCN issued leads to a small fee of just under 47p that they have to pay to London Councils and each Appeal to London Tribunals entails a fee of £33.32 (it will be £29.90 once Barnet Appeals can be started on line rather than by a form sent off in the post).

Let us suppose all the PCNs were at the £110 rate. If Royal Mail rolled over and paid them all Barnet would have gained £55 a time or £1,760

However they didn't as Royal Mail contested them all so Barnet Council had to pay out £33 for each PCN = £1,056 in fees. Out of the 32 Appeals, Barnet Council only managed to win one so they netted £110 for that leaving them nursing a net loss of £946. They have also wasted a lot of driver and management time and NSL's and their own and the tribunal's. Had Royal Mail only provided proof of a parcel being delivered in the case they lost, they would also have won that one.

What deeply concerns Mr Mustard is that on 24 out of 32 Appeals the council offered no evidence (which you find out when you click on the case number on the left on the public tribunal register but Mr Mustard knows that a blank location means the Appeal was a "Do not Contest" case). In every case Barnet Council (and/or NSL) will have rejected representations (possibly twice) made by Royal Mail and then suddenly decided when their bluff is called to cancel the PCNs after all. Mr Mustard does not know how many other PCNs there were which were cancelled at earlier stages.

Mr Mustard thinks it is an abuse of process, and a breach of the council's general duty at law to be procedurally fair, to use the PCN enforcement system in this cynical way.

Your parking reputation is in tatters Barnet Council and is it any wonder?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

9 February 2017

a 2 second penalty

Can you beat this. A PCN only one second into a no parking period?

How did it even get to Court?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

8 February 2017

Some councils are making it harder to challenge PCN

A public body has a general duty at law to be procedurally fair. They should not therefore add further stages into a process which is enshrined in law. Mr Mustard has noticed some councils (not Barnet) make you go through several extra input screens before you can actually state your challenge, this will exhaust some people whose attention span or determination is not as great as Mr Mustard's (Mr Mustard has been prompted to write this blog post because a gentleman who has asked for advice about an Ealing PCN did not know what his contravention code was. You have to know where to look as it is in tiny type).

You only need the 52 but having tested the system Mr Mustard has discovered that you can type in any existing code number and see what 'sage advice' is being given for that particular contravention code.

On the home page of Ealing Council (they are not the only guilty party, Southwark is the same & there will be others) you find this car icon to roll your mouse over

That changes the box to this one, click on 'Manage & View'

That takes you to this screen which you think will be the place where you make a challenge or representation (a challenge to an on street PCN or a representation to a postal PCN, Notice to Owner to Enforcement Notice - documents with similar purposes, to notify the vehicle Owner of a contravention)

Having chosen 'Challenge a parking ticket' you get to enter your PCN number and contravention code (a number from 01 to 99) in the boxes
Click continue and you then get offered some reasons to choose from. At this point Mr Mustard ignores the proffered options and simply clicks 'continue' as he does not need to read any partial, misguided advice.
However, for the purposes of the blog he duly clicked. He found he was only allowed to click 4 reasons so he pressed F5 and could then click the rest. Why would a council want to limit the public's search for information?
For funerals a council could ask for more information or they could take account of the tone of the challenge and perhaps decide that the person is telling the truth. They do not have to check, it is an option. Why should the public trust a council which does not trust them?

The phrase 'the PCN remains valid' is misleading. It was certainly validly issued but it wasn't valid if it contained an error in the street name or bore the wrong registration number or if the traffic warden put it back in their pocket having not served it for some reason. Don't rely on non-service as a reason to challenge, find some other ground of representation. Mr Mustard is merely pointing out here the misleading language which councils use in an effort to get you to give up and pay (Mr Mustard doesn't do that).

Ealing Council seem to have omitted all sorts of other possible reasons, such as 'I was not the Owner of the vehicle' which is a statutory ground so this is very poor of them.

A sign that prohibits all vehicles (including cycles except if pushed) has no words. It is a round white sign with a red border. (Hardly anyone seems to recognise that sign). The flying motorbike sign (a motorbike on top of a car) does not mean that motorbikes and cars are prohibited but all motor vehicles and so Ealing's explanation about picturing the type of vehicle is just plain wrong.

I'm a visitor, I wasn't aware of the rules (which is a naughty way to try and get you to implicate yourself) could have the explanation that the rules were not properly signed.

You could live in Ealing and still be the victim of cloning.

The advice that Ealing are giving needs to be clear, comprehensive, accurate and meet with the Regulations & any Court decisions; it doesn't.

Loading; if you were moving home and unloading your possessions then you won't have loading paperwork but you might have a new rental agreement which it would be better to produce. If you are helping a friend then a letter from them is the best thing to produce.

Not everyone uses a breakdown emergency service. If you break down and your partner is handy with mechanical things, they may have come out to help you, or a friend or neighbour. Best to produce a letter from them explaining what happened. 

There is not a 24 hour limitation. If the breakdown was following an accident after which you were hospitalised for 48 hours that would be a reason beyond your control and grounds for cancellation.

If you do as Mr Mustard does and ignore all the peripheral nonsense and simply click continue, then you get this screen. Ealing are not helpful, they make you enter your registration number again. Really, Ealing, anyone would think you were trying to make it difficult for the motorist.

Would you like to cut out the cr@p & go straight to that screen, then simply click here.

Mr Mustard then thought he would make a quick comparison of the sage advice being dished out by Southwark for code 01 to see if it was the same, it wasn't.

Their loading explanation is better except that you don't have to have multiple items so a single trip is fine, unlike what Southwark say. A fridge, new or used, is one item and it is usually bulky &/or heavy so counts as a load. You do not have to provide official paperwork as you might have an old fridge which you are lending or giving to a friend as you have purchased a new one.

To cut the cr@p in Southwark, use this link.

Local authorities, eh, what can you do with them.

Mr Mustard's conclusion is that some councils don't really want you to challenge your PCN, just to pay it. That process has of course been made really easy.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

7 February 2017

Enterprise Car Club - why Mr Mustard won't join it

Mr Mustard has helped a few motorists with PCNs after they have rented a car, both from car rental firms and from car clubs, which are sometimes not clubs but commercial outfits calling themselves a club. He has seen administration fees for PCNs which range from the perfectly reasonable £12 to the extortionate £55 but that is a story for another day.

He had a no right turn on Highgate High Street to deal with and he knew it was eminently winnable due to confusing signage but Enterprise Car Club insisted on paying the PCN. Mr Mustard decided to email them about joining (even though he wasn't going to)

Dear Sirs

I'm not a member yet but your club could be handy sometimes.

I'm worried about if I get a parking PCN. I always fight them as I always park legally.

Your terms imply that I have to pay it

otherwise you will pay it (and the discount period will have passed) and I won't have the chance to fight it & you will add £30 on top.

What policy do you routinely adopt please?

Yours faithfully

A reply was received quite quickly, as follows:

Good afternoon,

Thank you for your email.

If you were to receive a PCN during a reservation with us then you could pay that yourself as you would if it was your own vehicle. Unfortunately if a PCN is given due to your parking at the end of your booking for example. Then because you wouldn’t know about it then we pay it and pass the charge onto your self.

I hope this answers your question.

Kind regards,

Clubhouse Team Member – Enterprise Car Club

No mention of making a challenge to the PCN, only information about paying, what if the PCN was given in error?

Also, their website is wrong as parking tickets are the initial legal responsibility of the Owner of the vehicle. There are provisions for car rental companies to pass on the liability (except for bus lanes) by responding to the Notice to Owner for properly documented rentals up to 6 months in duration.

I think that all car rental companies and car clubs (genuine clubs or commercial outfits) should offer the hirer the opportunity to challenge the PCN to the very end if they so wish.

Your legal right to dispute a PCN should not be removed from you by the rental agreement.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

6 February 2017

RingGo = Wrong Go

It happens reasonably often that motorists, who have used RingGo in other boroughs, turn straight to it as the default App for paying by phone and then find they have paid to park in some distant location, far away from Barnet. Each council probably wins as much as it loses from these errors and could take a stance of cancelling PCNs at least once a year for any motorist to whom this happens. Of course they don't, they make motorists fight them all the way to the tribunal. Twice in a month two different adjudicators came to the same conclusion, that the motorist should not suffer a penalty. Here are the two decisions in the words of the adjudicators.

The appellant and the driver, Mr L attended the hearing.

Mr L made payment through Ringo for the correct location and correct VRM. Payment was not made through Pay By 'Phone.

Crucially the payment was accepted and Mr L received a receipt for the payment.

When he returned to the vehicle and found the penalty notice he found the officer, who had issued it.

According to Mr L the officer said, "Lots of people make the same mistake. Appeal and they will cancel it!" (The traffic warden will lie to you. Ask them politely but firmly to put the facts in their notes on their hand held equipment in front of you).

On the basis of this statement by the officer, Mr L believes that the instructions, namely the signage is misleading.

The local authority has provided evidence of the time plate. There is no other evidence of a payee, apart form the telephone number on the time plate.

There is no evidence of a PayByPhone logo that you see on payment machines.

The wording on the time plate "Pay by phone" is an instruction. It does not indicate the payee, 'PayByPhone'.

There is of course a telephone number on the time plate.

Had that been followed then the correct payee, it is assumed, would have been located.
Nevertheless the evidence shows that the payment went through and the appellant was given an expectation that he had duly paid.

Mr L showed me in the hearing room that such payments are now blocked by the Ringo system. He demonstrated it on his 'phone.

This blocking suggests to me that there was something wrong with the payment system when Mr L's payment was made; that it was faulty.

It has been held that signage must not be misleading.

My finding is that the instruction on the time plate is open to misunderstanding and therefore misleading.

This together with the fact that the system now blocks such misunderstandings permits me to allow this appeal.

The appellant attended the hearing arranged for 6 December. The Council did not send a representative.The appellant is an experienced user of electronic systems for payment of parking charges.

I will mention at the outset that in the Council case summary prepared for this hearing I believe there to be an error on the second page where the Council referred to a Bay Locator number 5928. This I think is a clerical error for 5828 but it is not an error fortunately which is significant to the issues which are at the heart of this case. (Mr Mustard thinks this demonstartes how easy it is for an error to occur and is why councils should not punish little errors, as they also make them & don't have to pay a penalty).

The officer responsible for the penalty charge notice was not at fault as he checked the relevant system and could not identify any record of relevant payment.

What happened was that the appellant used the Ringgo app which took payment for Bay Locator Code 5828.

The Council emphasises that the Ringgo software advised him that this was payment for a Harbour Drive (a location in Enfield).

The relevant location where parked was however Station Road Edgware in the Borough London Barnet.

As I understand it there are broadly two principal firms which are providing services to London boroughs for electronic parking. One is Ringgo and the other Pay by Phone.

Occasionally councils change their contractor which gives rise to potential scope for mistakes, but there is nothing I have seen emerging in this appeal which gives rise to issues of that type.

The feature which emerges in this appeal and is at the heart of it is that the two firms do have in use some Bay Locator Codes which are identical.

On hearing from the appellant and considering the evidence overall I was initially surprised that Barnet had chosen to insist on payment of the penalty charge despite the obviously honest nature of the appellant mistake. There was no appellant intent to avoid payment and he had not made similar mistake before I believe.

The Council has advanced its case on the basis that it should have been very apparent to the appellant that he was required to transact with Pay by Phone and the Council has argued that there is very sufficient signage in the locality to indicate which is its contractor.

The appellant has shown me the lamppost a colour photograph of lamppost zero near the post near no 179 in the road concerned which shows the bay plate with without any supporting information about which particular contractor is in use.

The Council for its part has not brought photographic evidence to support its claim that the identity of the contractor was clear and obvious.

I have decided on that basis there is insufficient evidence to justify me in upholding the penalty charge. I have not identified sufficient evidence to prove the alleged contravention. I have thus recorded the appeal as allowed.

I have decided to add that the appellant in this case has vigorously pursued the dispute as he wished to reduce the scope for other motorists falling into similar position. I am not sure how practicable it would be for the major firms involved to introduce in cooperation a system of unique numbers which could reduce errors of this type. If it is not practicable, and it may be too late now for convenient changes, I believe that councils should at least look leniently on motorists who fall into this type of mistake, on the first occasion at least.

In any event I have decided to record this appeal as allowed on the basis that the Council has not sufficiently supported its arguments about the clarity of information given in Station Road.

Other providers of a payment by mobile telephone service are available. I expect that they all cost as much, if not more than, what a suite of parking meters would cost to run (one interim parking manager told Mr Mustard they they did not save money). Even with what they do charge, some don't even make a profit, as the published Accounts clearly show:

Punishing people who have made an innocent error is not the way to drive improvements to the satisfaction index of the public with Barnet Parking Services. 

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard