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London Borough of Lambeth (17 007 746)

Category : Transport and highways > Parking and other penalties

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 21 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council was not at fault for the way in which it dealt with Ms C’s penalty charge notice.

The complaint

  1. Ms C complains that the Council did not treat her fairly after she received a penalty charge notice (PCN) for a parking violation.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information sent to the Ombudsman by the Council and applied the relevant law and guidance.
  2. I sent a copy of my draft decision to Ms C and the Council and invited comments.

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What I found

  1. The Council’s guidance on challenging a penalty charge notice (PCN) says challenges to PCNs must be made in writing.
  2. A challenger can make an informal challenge within 14 days. If an informal challenge is made after the 14-day period, the challenger will have to pay the full value of the PCN if the appeal is unsuccessful.
  3. A challenger can make a formal appeal after receiving a Notice to Owner (NTO). It must be made on one of the grounds set out on the NTO form. If the appeal is successful, the Council withdraws the PCN. If not, the challenger can appeal to the Environment Tribunal Adjudicators.
  4. If the challenger does not pay the penalty, the Council applies to the Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC) for an order proving the debt. The challenger can apply to the TEC to have this order set aside by declaring they did not receive it.

Letters between the parties

  1. The Council says it sent numerous letters to Ms C. Ms C says she did not receive most of them. Ms C says she sent letters to the Council in late August and mid-October 2016. The Council says it did not receive them.
  2. I cannot know whether these letters were sent or received. I have, therefore, decided what was likely to have happened on the balance of probabilities.
  3. I find the Council sent all the letters it says it sent because councils do not generally lie about such matters. In fact, it would be difficult for a council to deliberately withhold a letter because their systems are automated.
  4. I have also decided Ms C sent the letters she claims to have sent to the Council.
  5. I also find Ms C did not receive the letters the Council sent her as she claims.
  6. I also find the Council did not receive the letters Ms C sent in August and October 2016. I have no reason to think the Council would lie, particularly as it accepts it received several other letters in December 2016 and thereafter.

What happened

  1. In late August 2016, Ms C’s car was parked near her home. Her resident’s parking permit had expired. A traffic warden issued a PCN.
  2. Ms C wrote to the Council’s parking services provider six days later. Her letter set out her reasons for contesting the PCN. Ms C’s grounds were that;
      1. the Council had failed to remind her to renew her residents’ parking permit; and
      2. parking enforcement officers often failed to issue PCNs to other cars parked illegally on her street making it unfair that she had received one.
  3. The Council did not receive it.
  4. Ms C received no response this letter (because the Council did not receive it). The Council sent an NTO in September. She did not receive it. She wrote to the Council again in mid-October 2016. The Council did not receive the letter.
  5. The Council sent a Charge Certificate to Ms C in late October 2016. This said Ms C had not paid the PCN so the penalty had increased to £195 and the Council would apply to the TEC for an Order of Recovery. Ms C did not receive it.
  6. The Council says it sent a notice of debt registration to Ms C in late November.
  7. Ms C wrote to the Council again in early December. She headed her letter ‘Appeal Third and Final Letter’. In it, she said she had recently received an Order for Unpaid Penalty Charge from the TEC. She said she wanted to appeal and she had not yet received an NTO.
  8. Ms C also wrote to the TEC in early December. She said she had appealed the PCN within 28 days but did not receive a rejection notice. The TEC withdrew the Order for Unpaid Penalty Charge and informed the Council.
  9. The TEC wrote to Ms C explaining that, although the Order had been cancelled, the original PCN had not. It advised her to contact the Council.
  10. The Council wrote to Ms C in mid-December responding to her ‘Appeal Third and Final Letter’. It refused to allow her to appeal because her letter was not sent until December and so was out of time. It said she should pay the outstanding balance of £203 within two weeks.
  11. Two days later, the Council wrote to Ms C again. This time, in response to the letter from the TEC informing it that the TEC had cancelled the Order for Unpaid Penalty Charge. The letter said, ‘we are going to start over’ and instructed Ms C to pay £130 within 2 weeks.
  12. In early January, Ms C wrote to the Council. She said the TEC had cancelled the Order and she would not pay.
  13. The Council sent a second charge certificate to Ms C in mid-January. It again demanded £195. Ms C did not respond. Soon afterwards, the TEC issued an Order for Unpaid Penalty Charge. The Council wrote to her demanding £203.
  14. Ms C again wrote to the TEC challenging the Order. This time she ticked the box to say she had not received the Notice to Owner/PCN.
  15. She wrote again to the Council. She headed the letter ‘Appeal Final Letter’. In this letter, she said she had been unfairly treated and had still not received an NTO.
  16. In early March 2016, the Council responded to Ms C’s ‘Appeal Final Letter’. It again stated the PCN had been properly issued and demanded payment of £203.
  17. Two days later, the Council wrote to her again saying the TEC had informed it it had cancelled the Order. It said it would send out a new NTO in a few days.
  18. The Council sent out a new NTO in early April 2017 requesting payment of £130. The Council received no response. It sent out a new charge certificate in May 2017 demanding £195. It applied to the TEC for an Order in July 2017. Ms C wrote to the TEC saying she had not received the NTO.
  19. The Council again wrote to Ms C. It wrote one letter standing by its decision not to allow the appeal and then another, once the court had overturned the Order for Recovery, it wrote to her saying it would ‘start over’. It then sent her a further NTO and demanded £130. Ms C then complained to the Ombudsman.

Was there fault causing injustice?

  1. Ms C sent four letters to the Council asking to appeal the PCN. The Council only received two of them in December 2016 and February 2017. The Council sent three NTOs and several other letters to Ms C. She did not receive them.
  2. The Council is not at fault because the letters went missing. The relevant point for my investigation is that, it responded appropriately to all the letters it did receive and was not, therefore, at fault for the way it treated the PCN. It had no reason to suppose the NTOs were lost until it received notification from the TEC. Once it found out, it responded in accordance with its guidance.
  3. Similarly, Ms C’s appeal letters did not reach the Council in the appeal window, so it cannot be at fault for not allowing her appeal. Once it learned Ms C had not received an NTO, it sent her another which contained an appeal form.
  4. In summary, I do not find fault with the way the Council dealt with Ms C’s PCN.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was not at fault. I intend to close my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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