People parking in car parks run by Cherwell District Council’s contractor may have been denied their rights to challenge tickets through the courts, a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has found.
The problem was uncovered by the Ombudsman after a woman complained about the way the council’s contractor, APCOA handled her complaint.
The woman had parked in a council car park, which was being run by APCOA. The ticket machine was broken, and the woman tried to pay by phone. Unfortunately, the number she tried would not take calls from withheld numbers so she could not pay.
She received a parking fine, and challenged it, unsuccessfully. She tried to pay £40 online but APCOA collected £80 instead.
When she complained to the council, she was wrongly told the council had no jurisdiction over the car park as it was being managed by APCOA. She then went back to APCOA, but her complaint was instead treated as an appeal and was rejected.
The Ombudsman’s investigation has found APCOA at fault for trying to enforce parking charges without giving customers reasonable means to pay. It also found fault with the way APCOA charged too much for the ticket, and for the way it dealt with her subsequent complaint.
The Ombudsman found APCOA was using the wrong process for enforcing the penalty, which denied motorists the right to challenge them in court. Although the woman was not personally affected by this it potentially affects others using car parks in this area.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said:
“Councils can contract out services, but they cannot contract out responsibility for those services. If we find fault with a council’s contractor it is the council’s responsibility to ensure things are put right.
“On balance, it appears APCOA was not complying with the law when it enforced the charge notice. This may have wide-reaching consequences for others using car parks in its area.
“I welcome the steps the council is now taking to improve its services and the way it works with APCOA, to address the issues we’ve raised.”
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the woman and pay her £100 for the avoidable frustration and distress.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will issue guidance to staff dealing with customer enquiries and concerns on how to respond appropriately to questions involving all operators acting on its behalf.
It will also review with APCOA the processes for accepting payment when a ticket machine is not working and review its processes for enforcing Excess Charge Notices to ensure it is using the correct process.
Article date: 25 September 2019