12 005 084

Category : Transport and highways > Parking and other penalties

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 12 Mar 2013

Summary

Redbridge Council was asked to review the way its bailiffs operate, following an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman.

The complaint

Redbridge Council was asked to review the way its bailiffs operate, following an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman.

The decision came after a complaint that a person’s car was clamped without prior notice by bailiffs acting on behalf of the council. The Ombudsman also decided in her report that the council was unreasonable in its handling of the initial complaint it received from the car owner.

The Ombudsman, said: "The issue of councils taking responsibility for the actions of their bailiffs is a very important and pertinent one. This is not the first complaint of this type that we have looked at, and indeed, local authorities’ use of bailiffs has been the subject of a Focus report.

“Bailiffs often are the first face-to-face contact between a debtor and the council, and therefore they have a huge responsibility to ensure there are no issues with vulnerability or errors with a warrant.”

In the Redbridge Council case, the complainant was found to have committed a parking offence via the council’s CCTV system. Because the complainant changed address the following day, they didn’t receive any parking contravention notices.

Some time later, bailiffs located the complainant’s car via number plate recognition software and clamped the vehicle, despite them being aware that the addresses on the warrant and the car’s registration were different. The complainant was charged £741 for releasing the car.

Once discovering that the address on the warrant was different to the complainant’s current one, the bailiffs should have released the vehicle without charge and returned the warrant to the council for further action.

In addition, the Ombudsman decided that the council was dismissive of the complaint lodged to it. It initially insisted the complainant was at fault for not notifying the DVLA of their new address when they had in fact done so, and it quoted outdated legislation as justification for refusal to refund the bailiff charges.

The Ombudsman recommended that the council refund the bailiff charges, professional advice and court fees encountered by the complainant, as well as £150 in recognition of the time and trouble taken pursuing the complaint.

The Council was also asked to report back within two months on what procedures it would put in place to ensure this type of injustice did not happen again.

The Council subsequently reported that it has decided that when a warrant is cancelled the full fees paid to the bailiff will be refunded. The Council has also told bailiffs that if a new debtor address is identified they should arrange for the warrant to be resealed and action suspended until this is done.

Ombudsman satisfied with council's response: 15 May 2013

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