Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 24 Dec 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate this complaint that the complainant cannot claim a residents’ discount for the congestion charge. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Authority and because an investigation would not lead to a different outcome.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, complains he cannot get a residents’ discount for the congestion charge. Mr X says the Authority’s decision means he cannot park or drive near to his home.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if we believe:
- it is unlikely we would find fault, or
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and the Authority’s response. I considered information on the Authority’s website about changes to the congestion charge. I considered comments Mr X made in reply to a draft of this decision.
What I found
Congestion charge changes
- The Authority reached a funding agreement with the Government. Part of the agreement is that the Authority had to bring in temporary changes to the way the congestion charge operates. One of the changes is that residents, from 1 August, cannot apply for a residents’ discount.
- Mr X had a residents’ discount for the congestion charge. The Authority wrote to him in August 2019 to say the discount would expire in September. The Authority told Mr X he would have to pay the full congestion charge if he did not renew the discount before for the expiry date. Mr X did not renew the discount because his car had broken down and he was unable, at that point, to replace it.
- Mr X bought a new car in 2020 and applied for the residents’ discount. The Authority rejected the application because he applied after 1 August when, under the temporary changes, it was no longer accepting new applications.
- Mr X complained. In response the Authority explained that the funding agreement with the Government meant it had to change the way the congestion charge operates. It said that one of the changes is the suspension of the discount for residents. It said it is not known when it will be able to lift the suspension. The Authority explained that if there are plans to make the changes permanent there will be a full consultation. The Authority said it had invited him to renew his discount in 2019.
- Mr X is dissatisfied with the reply. He says his human right to freedom of movement has been affected because he can no longer park or drive near to his home. He says it was not a new application and the Authority did not tell him about the change. He says the Authority has not considered his circumstances and the previous application had merely lapsed. He says the policy is unfair.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Authority. The Authority had to suspend the discount in line with the new funding agreement. Its decision not to allow Mr X a discount is consistent with the current funding agreement, so there is no reason to start an investigation.
- Mr X says the Authority did not tell him about the suspension but, as he had not had the discount since September 2019, there would be no reason for the Authority to contact him. And, as Mr X has not had the discount since September, it was not a renewal but a new application. Mr X has explained why he did not renew the discount but the temporary suspension policy does not provide an exemption for people who were unable to renew a previous discount. In addition, the reminder stated the discount would expire if he did not renew, so there is no suggestion of fault in the Authority’s decision to treat it as an expired, not lapsed, application. Mr X says the Authority agreed the application had lapsed. However, the Authority said that Mr X had referred to it as being lapsed and went on to say that the account was closed and any new application was treated as new.
- In addition, the current arrangements form part of an agreement the Authority has reached with the Government as part of the funding arrangement. We have no power to change the agreement or to tell the Authority it must give Mr X a discount. Mr X could contact his MP, or London Assembly member, to say that he thinks the funding agreement should be changed because it is, in his view, unfair.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Authority and because an investigation would not lead to a different outcome.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman