This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have concerns about a penalty charge notice (PCN) that was issued by a council in relation to a parking contravention and who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
I have received a penalty charge notice relating to a parking contravention. Can the Ombudsman help me?
Most councils in England operate what is known as civil parking enforcement. In such cases, the documents issued by the council will refer to the Traffic Management Act 2004.
It is very unlikely that we can help you if your complaint is about a penalty charge notice issued under the Traffic Management Act 2004. The 2004 Act gives the owners of a vehicle specific rights of appeal to an independent adjudicator. It also makes the owners liable for the penalty charge even if they were not the person driving at the time of the alleged contravention. The owner is usually the person or organisation recorded as the registered keeper by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
There are specific statutory grounds of appeal against a penalty charge notice. If a council or an adjudicator considers that one of these grounds applies, then the penalty charge should be cancelled.
Councils and adjudicators can also consider any other reasons, known as 'mitigating circumstances', put forward for cancelling the penalty charge in a particular case. An adjudicator cannot uphold an appeal on the basis of mitigation but has a legal power to require a council to reconsider the case put forward and decide whether the penalty charge should be cancelled.
We may be able to look at complaints about other aspects of enforcement by a council but, where the right of appeal exists, we would usually expect it to be used. This is because the law says that we should not normally look at something where Parliament has provided a statutory right of appeal.
The right of appeal provided by the Traffic Management Act 2004 is to an independent adjudicator who is not part of the council; it is also free and relatively straightforward. We cannot consider a complaint where the right of appeal has been used.
Where a council does not operate civil parking enforcement, it is the police - and not the council - who enforce parking restrictions on the street, so we would not get involved. Councils may issue excess charge certificates in places such as council-operated car parks. Documents in such cases will refer to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. These are criminal matters and can ultimately be defended in the magistrates' court.
I have paid the penalty charge to avoid it increasing, but I still want to contest it. As I no longer have the right of appeal, can you investigate?
Parliament provided you with the right of appeal to an independent parking adjudicator and we usually expect people to use that right to challenge penalty charges. Had you wanted to challenge it, you should have used the appeals process. The fact that you have lost the right of appeal as a result of paying the penalty charge does not change this; it is very unlikely that we will investigate your complaint.
How do I complain?
You should check with the council as soon as possible about your appeal rights as there are time limits for appealing. Because the process for dealing with challenges to penalty charges is laid down by law and leads to an independent appeal, a council will not usually deal with such matters through its complaints procedure. Further, the existence of appeal rights (whether or not you use them) will usually mean that we cannot help you.
If you do complain to us, you should normally do so within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.
To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.
You can complete an online complaint form.
If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?
If the council is operating civil parking enforcement under the Traffic Management Act 2004, there are specific rights of appeal and so we will not usually consider your complaint. If you have not yet used your right of appeal, we will consider whether there are any exceptional reasons why your complaint might be considered, but we would normally expect you to appeal. If you have already appealed, we cannot consider the complaint.
Where the alleged matter is a criminal offence (under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984), we could not decide the validity of any penalty; that would be a matter for the courts. We could consider a complaint that the council was at fault in how it was seeking to recover a penalty charge, such as using the wrong powers.
We may be able to consider a complaint about the actions of bailiffs acting for a council, but this depends on the individual circumstances. You should first try to resolve any issue with the council or the bailiffs. If the matter remains unresolved, we can consider the particular circumstances and decide if we can help.
Other sources of information
In London – London Tribunals (formerly known as the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service) website at www.londontribunals.gov.uk has details of the legislation and appeal process.
Outside London – The Traffic Penalty Tribunal website at www.trafficpenaltytribunal.gov.uk/site/ has details of the legislation and appeals process. There is further information, including details of which councils operate civil parking enforcement, at the PATROL website http://www.patrol-uk.info
Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.