Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 21 Mar 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about an Excess Charge Notice issued by the Council for a parking offence. It is unlikely we would find fault by the Council and the matter will be considered in a court if the Council decides to prosecute the complainant.
- The complainant, Mr B, received an Excess Charge Notice (ECN) because the Council believed he had parked in a car park without paying the required charge.
- Mr B says the Council issued the ECN unfairly because he had been prevented from returning to his car on time. He complains the Council has failed to accept his explanation and has continued to enforce the charge.
- Mr B also says the Council has no power to threaten action in a magistrates’ court because it is a matter of contract law, not criminal law.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if, for example, we believe:
- it is unlikely we would find fault; or
- the issues could reasonably be raised in a court of law. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered what Mr B said in his complaint. Mr B commented on a draft before I made this decision.
What I found
- Mr B paid to park a Council-run car park. He says he needed more time to complete his business but was delayed in returning to purchase a second ticket. The Council then issued an ECN.
- Mr B asked the Council to exercise discretion to cancel the ECN but it refused.
- The Council operates its parking enforcement under powers provided the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Under the 1984 Act, failure to pay an initial or excess charge is a criminal offence and recovery/enforcement action is taken through the criminal court system. It is not, as Mr B believes, a matter of contract law.
- Mr B made representations to the Council asking it to cancel the charge. The Council declined to do so. The Ombudsman cannot, by law, criticise a council in the exercise of its discretion unless there was administrative fault in the way the decision was made. I have seen no evidence of such fault here.
- We will not investigate this complaint because we are unlikely to find evidence of fault in the Council’s actions.
- In addition, Mr B has the opportunity to raise the matter in court. If he refuses to pay the outstanding Excess Charge, the Council may decide to prosecute him in a magistrates’ court on the basis that he had not paid the Excess Charge. It would be open to him to put to the magistrates that the ECN had been wrongly issued or that the Council’s failure to cancel it was unreasonable.
- I have decided we will not investigate this complaint because we are unlikely to find fault by the Council and Mr B can raise his concerns in court if the Council prosecutes him.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman