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West Oxfordshire District Council (18 017 223)

Category : Transport and highways > Parking and other penalties

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 26 Mar 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about a Penalty Charge Notice because the complainant could have appealed to the tribunal.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, disputes a Penalty Charge Notice because the road sign was small and obscured. He says the Council did not tell him he could appeal to the tribunal.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. 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)
  3. The Traffic Penalty Tribunal considers parking and moving traffic offence appeals for all areas of England outside London.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I read the complaint and the letters the Council sent to Mr X about the Penalty Charge Notice. I invited Mr X to comment on a draft of this decision.

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What I found

  1. If someone wishes to dispute a Penalty Charge Notice they can make an informal challenge. Alternatively, they have 14 days to pay the fine at a discounted rate. If they do not pay, or the Council rejects the informal challenge, the full amount becomes payable and the Council sends a Notice to Owner. If the person thinks the Council should not have issued the fine they can use the Notice to Owner to make a formal challenge. If the Council accepts the challenge it cancels the Penalty Charge Notice. If not, then it issues a Notice of Rejection. The person can use the Notice of Rejection to appeal to the tribunal.
  2. If the person neither pays nor appeals the Council can register the debt in court and then instruct bailiffs. The fine increases as the process escalates.

What happened

  1. The Council issued a Penalty Charge Notice in July. The fine was £70. The Council subsequently sent the Notice to Owner to Mr X in August. The Council used the correct address. The letter explained he could pay £70 or challenge the fine within the next 28 days. The letter said Mr X could appeal to the tribunal if it rejected his challenge.
  2. Mr X did not pay or challenge the fine. The Council sent a Charge Certificate in late September. The letter said the fine had increased to £105 and the Council would register the debt in court if he did not pay within 14 days.
  3. Mr X tried to query the signage in mid-October. He said the parking sign was obscured. In response the Council said it was too late to appeal and it would not respond to further queries. It said that if he did not pay then the Council would continue to follow the statutory process.
  4. Mr X did not pay so the Council registered the debt in court. The Council gave him another chance to pay. Mr X did not pay so the Council instructed bailiffs. The debt is currently with bailiffs.
  5. Mr X says the sign explaining the parking restriction was too small and obscured. He also says the Council did not explain that he could appeal to the tribunal.

Assessment

  1. I will not start an investigation because Mr X could have appealed to the tribunal. It is reasonable to expect him to appeal because the tribunal is the appropriate body to consider disputes about Penalty Charge Notices. Mr X could have appealed on the grounds that he thought the signage was inadequate. In addition, the Council explained Mr X’s appeal rights in the Notice to Owner. The Ombudsman does not act as an appeal body and cannot decide if the signage was adequate. That was a decision for the tribunal.

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Final decision

  1. I will not start an investigation because Mr X could have appealed to the tribunal.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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