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North East Lincolnshire Council (18 017 581)

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 for a parking contravention. The Council has agreed to restore the complainant’s right of appeal against the penalty charge notice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mrs B, complained about a penalty charge notice issued by the Council for a parking contravention. Mrs B says the contravention did not occur.

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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. It 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)
  2. More generally, we investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’.
  3. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if, for example, we believe the council has provided a remedy for any injustice. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered what Mrs B said in her complaint and discussed it with her. The Council also provided background information.

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What I found

  1. The Council enforces parking restrictions and takes recovery action using procedures set out in the Traffic Management Act 2004 and associated Regulations. Councils and motorists must follow these procedures although councils have discretion to stop enforcement or recovery action if they believe there are good reasons to do so.
  2. In law, the owner of vehicle is responsible for any penalty charges regardless of who was driving at the time of the contravention. This is most often the person registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) as the keeper of the vehicle. Enforcement authorities will initially send any formal documents using details provided by the DVLA.

Summary of events

  1. The Council issued a penalty charge notice because it believed Mrs B had parked in a parking space for longer than allowed. Mrs B says she left the parking space and returned later and so the contravention did not occur.
  2. Mrs B had a right of appeal against the penalty charge notice to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT) which is a statutory tribunal. An appeal to the TPT is free and relatively easy to use. It is also the way in which Parliament expects people to contest a penalty charge notice. For these reasons, the restriction I describe in paragraph 2 would generally apply.
  3. Mrs B sent an informal challenge against the penalty charge notice to the Council. In its reply the Council said Mrs B could either pay (at a discounted rate within 14 days) or wait for the Council to send a Notice to Owner. The owner could then make formal representations against the penalty charge notice.
  4. Mrs B’s partner paid the discounted penalty charge and the Council closed the case.

Analysis

  1. The Council’s letter to Mrs B did not say the owner would be able to appeal to the TPT if it rejected formal representations following the Notice to Owner. We consider this was fault by the Council. It is important that councils fully set out the motorist’s options at this time, including the statutory right of appeal, so they can make a properly informed choice. There is no good reason a council should not provide this information.
  2. The Council has agreed to refund the payment made by Mrs B’s partner and issue a Notice to Owner. As Mrs B is the owner of the car involved, she can then make formal representations and appeal to the TPT if necessary.

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Final decision

  1. I have decided we will not investigate this complaint. Mrs B will have a right of appeal to the TPT and so the restriction I describe in paragraph 2 applies.

Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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