Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 26 Mar 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman does not propose investigating Mrs X’s complaint about the Council’s handling of her Penalty Charge Notice. This is because she could have appealed to the Traffic Enforcement Centre if she disputed the Council’s actions.
- Mrs X complains about the Council’s handling of a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). She says she did not receive the PCN and paid the fine because she was worried about the threat of bailiffs.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes limits on what we can investigate.
- 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)
- The Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC) at Northampton County Court registers unpaid PCNs and considers ‘out of time’ witness statements and statutory declarations where a motorist says something has gone wrong with the process.
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered the information put in by Mrs X with her complaint.
- Mrs X had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- The Council issued Mrs X with a PCN for driving in a bus lane.
- If someone wishes to dispute a PCN they can make an informal challenge. Alternatively, they have 14 days to pay the fine at a discounted rate of 50%. If they do not pay, or the Council rejects the informal challenge, the full amount becomes payable.
- The Council sends a Notice to Owner to the registered keeper of the vehicle. If the owner 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 PCN. If not, then it issues a Notice of Rejection. The owner can use the Notice of Rejection to appeal to the tribunal.
- Mrs X says she did not receive the PCN. She has provided a copy of the Council’s letter rejecting her representation.
- Mrs X says she paid the fine because the Council was threatening her with the County Court and enforcement action.
- The Council clearly explained to Mrs X the action she could take to dispute the PCN because she had not received it. It also explained what would happen if her appeal was successful.
- Parliament put in place a statutory right of appeal to protect motorists from wrongly issued penalties. The Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC) is the correct body to consider disputes about PCNs.
- Many motorists use the right of appeal to the TEC every year. The information from the TEC explains what needs to be done to lodge an appeal.
- Mrs X chose not use her right of appeal and paid the PCN in full. She could take that decision, but there is no provision for a motorist to pay a PCN and appeal. Payment of the PCN is, in effect, accepting it was properly issued.
- I can see no reason Mrs X could not have used her appeal right if she disputed the penalty. The Ombudsman does not act as an alternative appeal body for PCNs.
- The Ombudsman should not investigate this complaint. This is because it was reasonable for Mrs X to have appealed to the Traffic Enforcement Centre.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman