London Borough Of Barnet (20 010 015)

Category : Transport and highways > COVID-19

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 16 Feb 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the Council’s refusal to refund or extend her resident’s parking permit to account for a relaxation in its parking enforcement in 2020. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault by the Council causing Mrs X significant injustice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mrs X, complains the Council has failed to refund part of her parking permit cost for an eleven week period over which it did not enforce the controlled parking zone. She feels it is unfair and unreasonable that she paid to park her car while others were able to park for free.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. This complaint involves events that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a range of new and frequently updated rules and guidance during this time. We can consider whether the council followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Good Administrative Practice during the response to COVID-19”.
  2. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I reviewed Mrs X’s complaint and the Council’s response. I shared my draft decision with Mrs X and invited her comments.

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What I found

  1. Mrs X is a resident in the Council’s area. She bought a 12 month resident’s parking permit and this allows her to park her car on the public highway within a ‘controlled parking zone’ (CPZ) during controlled hours without being issued a penalty charge notice (PCN). The cost of a resident’s parking permit is based on the CO2 emissions of the vehicle and varies between £15 to £182.25 per year.
  2. In 2020 the Council decided, following the first national COVID-19 lockdown and guidance from London Councils, not to strictly enforce breaches of the CPZ. This lasted for a period of 11 weeks. Over this time, instead of issuing PCNs to vehicles which did not have a valid permit or visitor’s voucher, the Council concentrated its enforcement on vehicles which were causing an obstruction or parked in a manner which could compromise safety or restrict essential deliveries.
  3. Mrs X is unhappy that some people were allowed to park in the CPZ for free over the 11 week period and that when she asked the Council for a partial refund or extension of her permit, the Council refused. She says the Council did not fulfil its contract and failed to provide a service which she paid for.
  4. There was no fault by the Council in its decision not to fully enforce the CPZ restrictions for 11 weeks during the first national lockdown. During this period local and national guidance recommended relaxing parking enforcement and the Council’s approach to the issue was in line with this.
  5. Mrs X questions if the guidance was correct or fair but it is not for us to question it. The issue has also not caused her significant injustice for which we would recommend a remedy. Mrs X pays for a resident’s permit to park her car on the public highway and she remained able to do this throughout the 11 week period referred to above. Other residents had the benefit of being able to park for free but this is not an injustice to her.
  6. The effective cost of the period referred to is also not significant enough to warrant our further involvement in this complaint. Mrs X does not confirm the cost of her permit but based on the table published on the Council’s website and the amounts referred to at Paragraph 5 above, the most she paid was £182.25. 11 weeks therefore accounts for a maximum of £38.55.
  7. The Council confirms its policy on the issue of refunds or extensions to resident’s permits is that it will not routinely refund or extend permits in response to its relaxation of enforcement in 2020. But its response to Mrs X’s complaint makes clear that where a resident is suffering financial hardship it will take their circumstances into consideration. In the event Mrs X is suffering financial hardship she should provide the Council with details so it can decide whether to make an exception in her case. But I have seen no evidence of fault in the way it dealt with the issue or Mrs X’s complaint.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault by the Council causing Mrs X significant injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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