The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council is not operating its Residents’ Parking Scheme in accordance with the provisions of the Traffic Regulation Order. The Council’s decision to amend its parking permit scheme without making the necessary changes to the TRO amounts to fault. This fault has not caused Mr X a significant injustice.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the Council is not operating its Residents’ Parking Scheme in accordance with the provisions of the Traffic Regulation Order.
- Mr X states he has previously been able to obtain 50 free visitor’s permit scratch cards without having a resident or visitor’s permit. But in April 2017 the Council amended its guidelines to make the issue of visitor’s permit scratch cards dependent on the purchase of a resident or visitor’s permit. Mr X complains the Council made this change without consultation, or the necessary amendment to the Traffic Regulation Order.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- sent a statement setting the draft decision to Mr X and the Council and invited their responses. I have considered Mr X’s response.
What I found
- The Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) which controls the parking in Mr X’s area allows residents to apply for residents’ parking permits and visitors’ parking permits. The TRO states:
“Any resident may apply to the Council for the issue of:
- One visitor’s permit per household;
- Up to 50 visitor’s permit scratch cards per year per household; or
- Additional visitor’s permit scratch cards
For use by a visitor to the applicant’s residence.
- When the TRO was introduced, there was no charge for either a resident’s permit or a visitor’s permit. In April 2017 the Council amended the TRO and applied a charge of £25 each for residents’ and visitors’ parking permits. It also introduced a ‘pay as you go’ residents’ visitor’s permit.
- Neither the original TRO nor the Notice of Variation require residents to have either a resident’s or visitor’s permit to apply for visitor’s permit scratch cards. However the Council’s guidance notes state:
“Any resident over the age of 17 years may apply for;
- One visitor permit per person;
- 50 free visitor permit scratch cards per year, per person upon the successful purchase of either a resident or visitor permit;
- Additional visitor’s permit scratch-cards may also be purchased”
- In December 2017 Mr X applied for visitor’s permit scratch cards. The Council advised Mr X of the changes in the process and that it was not possible to obtain scratch cards without a valid resident or visitor’s permit.
- Mr X does not have a resident’s or visitor’s parking permit, but had previously obtained visitor’s permit scratch cards for his family and friends to use. He questioned why it was no longer possible to obtain visitor’s scratch cards without having a resident’s or visitor’s permit. And suggested the guidance was not consistent with the wording of the TRO. Mr X also questioned how the Council had communicated this change in policy to residents.
- The Council’s response suggested the way the information was set out was incorrect, and item (ii) should read
“Up to 50 free visitor permit scratch cards per year per household upon the successful purchase of a resident permit.”
It advised the information would be amended accordingly.
- The Council also confirmed it communicated changes to residents via the web, communications through council officials or statutory notices. In this instance, the Council chose to communicate the change through its officials, when permits were applied for.
- Mr X was not satisfied by the Council’s response, and has asked the Ombudsman to investigate. Mr X assumes the Council’s reference to information being incorrect and item (ii) needing to be updated relates to the TRO. He questions whether the Council is suggesting the TRO has been incorrect since it was introduced over a decade earlier. Mr X asserts that if the Council intends to amend the TRO, it will need to follow the proper process and should abide by the terms of the TRO until it is amended.
- In response to my enquiries the Council states the decision to amend the parking scheme was an officer based decision. There are only two areas that receive free scratch cards and the change was intended to bring the scheme in line with other controlled parking zones in Milton Keynes.
- The Council states the inconsistency between the TRO and its guidance is an oversight. It is reviewing its documents to ensure they reflect the appropriate and necessary guidelines. The Council states it has commenced the process of varying the TRO and expects to complete this within the next three months.
- The Council’s guidance, and the way it operates the parking permit scheme does not accurately reflect the provisions of the TRO. It is not a requirement of the TRO that residents must have either a resident’s parking permit or visitor’s parking permit before they can obtain free visitor permit scratch cards.
- There is also inconsistency between the TRO and the guidance regarding the terminology they use. The TRO provides for 50 permit scratch cards per year per household, while the guidance is more generous and allows 50 permit scratch cards per year per person over the age of 17.
- The Council is entitled to seek to change its parking scheme, but must follow the correct procedure to do so. It should also ensure its parking scheme is consistent with the provisions of the existing TRO until it has completed the proper process to vary the TRO.
- Operating an amended parking scheme without first varying the TRO is fault.
- The Council states it has started this process to vary the TRO, but has not provided any details of the action it has taken. I would expect the Council to follow proper process in varying the TRO.
- Having identified fault, I must consider whether the Council’s failure to vary the TRO has caused Mr X an injustice.
- Mr X has chosen not to purchase a resident’s or visitor’s permit, so is unable to obtain the visitor permit scratch cards. Had the Council correctly amended to the TRO to make obtaining visitor permit scratch cards conditional on purchase of a resident or visitor permit Mr X would be in the same position.
- I do not therefore consider there to be a significant injustice as but for the fault the outcome would be the same.
- I recommend the Council complete the process of varying the TRO within three months of my final decision.
- The Council should also complete the review of its documentation and guidance so that it is consistent and accurately reflects the provisions of the TRO. This should also be completed within three months of my final decision.
- The Council has agreed to these recommendations.
- The Council’s decision to amend its parking scheme without making the necessary changes to the TRO amounts to fault. This fault has not caused Mr X a significant injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman