Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 13 Dec 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s handling of a penalty charge notice. This is because the Council has provided a suitable remedy for the complaint and Mr X had the right to take the matter to court.
- The complainant, Mr X, complains about the Council’s handling of a penalty charge notice (PCN). He says that as a result of an error by the Council he was unaware of the PCN until the matter was passed to enforcement agents (bailiffs) to recover payment.
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 provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we are satisfied with the actions a council has taken or proposes to take. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(7), as amended)
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by Mr X and the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
- If any motorist wishes to challenge an authority’s escalation of a PCN for one of a number of set reasons they may apply to the Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC) at Northampton County Court to file a late witness statement or statutory declaration. If successful the TEC can take the process back to an earlier stage, reinstating the motorist’s right of appeal against the PCN and reducing the amount of the PCN by removing any surcharges and fees.
- The Council has informed Mr X about the process, which remains available to him, but it has already provided a remedy for the issue. The Council has not only removed the surcharges and fees but has cancelled the PCN, which is more than the TEC could achieve. The Council’s agreement to cancel the PCN provides a suitable remedy for the complaint and it is therefore unlikely we would recommend anything more.
- I have considered whether to investigate further on public interest grounds but I have seen nothing to suggest such an investigation would be warranted in this case. There is no evidence to show the issue which occurred in Mr X’s case is part of a systemic problem with the Council and any motorist affected by similar circumstances has the right to go to the TEC as set out above.
- We will not investigate this complaint. This is because the Council has provided a suitable remedy and it is unlikely we could achieve anything more.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman