Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 14 Feb 2012
The Council did not do enough to publicise the introduction of charges for blue badge holders and evening users in its car parks.
The Ombudsman said the work done to raise awareness before the changes were implemented was not adequate.
She said: “The Council failed to take into account the fact that blue badge holders and evening users would have had no reason to use the ticket machine and, therefore any notice displayed there would have been futile in terms of notifying them of any change.”
Five people complained that the publicity for the introduction of parking charges for blue badge holders and evening users, who had previously been able to use the car parks free of charge, was inadequate. Four were blue badge holders who lived outside the area but who used the car parks in the area with varying degrees of frequency, and the other used one of the Council’s car parks in the evening, once a week. All were issued with excess charge notices (ECNs) following the implementation of changes to the Council’s parking charges on 4 April 2011.
The Council made efforts to raise awareness of the changes to its charging policy within the Cherwell area, but the Ombudsman considered that it did not adequately take account of the fact that people from outside the area would also be affected by the changes, and would not be aware of the publicity.
The Ombudsman considered that, had the failings not occurred, four of the complainants would not have incurred ECNs of £80 each. She found maladministration causing injustice and recommended that the Council reimburse £80 to each of the four or, if it was still unpaid, cancelled the notice.
The Ombudsman said that the ECNs were all issued within a period of 10 days in April 2011, after which the Council put things right. She said “I have received a number of other complaints relating to ECNs issued after the erection of the temporary signs. Each has been considered on its merits and I have determined that they should not be pursued based on the specific circumstances of each and the level of publicity of the charging policy at the time.”
The Ombudsman did not uphold the fifth complaint (from one of the blue badge holders), as she is satisfied that the publicity was reasonable at the Market Car Park, Bicester, where the penalty charge was incurred.
The Ombudsman has not reviewed, and does not criticise, the Council’s decision to introduce parking charges for blue badge holders.