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London Borough Of Barnet (20 012 050)

Category : Transport and highways > Parking and other penalties

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 25 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about a Penalty Charge Notice because the Council has offered a fair remedy.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, complains about a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). He could not complete the appeals process because he went abroad and could not get home due to lockdown. Mr X says the Council should cancel the PCN due to unclear signage.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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 the Council offers a fair remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  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. London Tribunals (previously known as the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service) considers parking and moving traffic offence appeals for 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 PCN. I invited Mr X to comment on a draft of this decision.

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What I found

Penalty Charge Notice

  1. If someone wants to challenge a PCN they can appeal to the Council. If the Council rejects the appeal it issues a Notice of Rejection. The Notice of Rejection includes a verification code which gives the person 28 days to appeal to the tribunal.
  2. The person can submit a late appeal to the tribunal. The tribunal adjudicator will decide whether to accept a late appeal.
  3. If someone pays promptly and does not appeal they can pay the fine at a discounted rate. If they neither pay nor appeal the Council will take additional action and eventually register the debt in court. The fine increases as the process escalates.

What happened

  1. The Council issued Mr X with a PCN. The fine was £110. Mr X challenged the PCN and said the signage was unclear. The Council rejected his challenge. It issued a Notice of Rejection on 9 November.
  2. Mr X had gone abroad and could not return due to lockdown. This meant he could not respond to the Notice of Rejection. This, however, was unknown to the Council. It issued a Charge Certificate in January which increased the fine to £165 and it registered the debt in court in February. The case is now on hold.
  3. In response to my enquiries the Council offered the following remedy. It will allow Mr X to pay the fine at the discounted rate of £65. Alternatively, having taken advice from the tribunal, it says Mr X can appeal to the tribunal and make a late appeal. He would need to explain why he could not appeal within 28 days. The tribunal would decide whether to accept the appeal. If accepted, then Mr X would pay nothing if he won the appeal and £110 if he lost. The Council has put the case on hold while Mr X decides what he wants to do.

Assessment

  1. I will not start an investigation because the Council has made a fair offer. In addition, we do not make decisions about PCNs because that is a matter for the tribunal. It is unfortunate that Mr X could not use his appeal rights in the usual way but the provision by the tribunal for accepting late appeals covers this scenario. And, as in every appeal, there is no way of knowing whether the tribunal will uphold the appeal. Mr X needs to let the Council know what he wants to do. If he does not accept either option then enforcement action will resume and Mr X will have to pay at least £165.

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Final decision

  1. I will not start an investigation because the Council has offered a fair remedy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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