Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 22 Mar 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s handling of a penalty charge notice. Mr X had a right of appeal against the notice and if he disputed it, it would have been reasonable for him to await the Council’s response and appeal. The Council has offered to refund Mr X £65 in recognition of its delay in responding to his correspondence and it is unlikely we would recommend any further remedy.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains about the Council’s handling of a penalty charge notice (PCN).
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a tribunal. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
- London Tribunals (previously known as the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service) considers parking and moving traffic offence appeals for London.
- We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we are satisfied with the actions a council has taken or proposes to take. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(7), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I reviewed the details of Mr X’s complaint, made enquiries of the Council and considered its response. I shared my draft decision with Mr X and invited his comments.
What I found
- The Council issued Mr X a PCN for a parking contravention in 2017.
- There is a set procedure councils must follow when pursuing PCNs for parking contraventions and handling appeals against them. When a council issues a PCN the motorist has 28 days to pay the penalty charge or appeal; appeals at this stage are known as ‘informal representations’. For the first 14 days after a PCN is issued the amount of the penalty charge is reduced by 50%.
- If the motorist does not pay or make informal representations the council may send a ‘notice to owner’. The motorist must then either pay the charge or make ‘formal representations’ against the PCN. If the council rejects the motorist’s formal appeal the motorist may appeal to London Tribunals.
- In this case Mr X did not receive the original PCN, which would have been affixed to his car windscreen, and only became aware of it when the Council sent him the notice to owner. At this point he made formal representations against the PCN.
- Mr X was concerned he had not heard back from the Council so he paid the PCN to avoid further escalation. He expected the Council to consider his representations and refund his payment if it accepted them, but he received no response. He therefore referred his complaint to the Ombudsman.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. The law allows the Council 56 days to deal with any formal representations against a PCN and there is no provision for a motorist to pay and appeal. Once the motorist pays a PCN the issuing authority will almost always close the case. Had Mr X believed the PCN was wrongly issued it was for him to await the Council’s response and, if necessary, take the matter to London Tribunals. The Council cannot escalate a PCN and add any additional costs while there is a valid appeal in progress.
- The Council’s refusal to consider Mr X’s formal representations in this case is unlikely to amount to fault but it does accept it took too long to respond and explain this to him. In recognition of this it has offered him a partial refund of £65. This means Mr X has paid only £65, which was the cost of the PCN in the initial discounted period. Because we cannot say the PCN itself was wrongly issued it is unlikely we could achieve anything more for Mr X.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because Mr X had a right of appeal against the PCN and it is unlikely we could achieve anything more for him than the Council has already offered.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman