Guidance on remedies

Part 10

Subject specific guidance - Highways and Transport 

Penalty Charge Notices


We receive complaints from motorists who have been issued penalty charge notices (PCNs) by local authorities for parking contraventions, moving traffic contraventions and road user charging contraventions.

The processes for issuing PCNs and handling appeals against them are broadly the same. The owner/registered keeper of a vehicle has a right of appeal against any PCNs issued by a local authority, firstly to the local authority itself and then to a Tribunal. Most complaints about the validity of a PCN fall outside our jurisdiction as we consider it would be reasonable for the motorist to use their right of appeal.

However, we also receive complaints about local authorities failing to progress PCNs in accordance with the statutory procedures and failing to provide information about the motorist’s right of appeal. We can and do investigate such complaints, however we must be mindful of the motorist’s right to apply to the Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC) to make a witness statement or statutory declaration. If the motorist’s complaint falls under one of the grounds for an application to the TEC, we would normally consider it reasonable for them to use this process. The grounds include where a motorist made representations but did not receive a response, and where they did not receive notification of the PCN.

Corrective Action

Where we find fault in the local authority’s handling of a PCN we will usually recommend a remedy to bring the matter back in line with the appeals process. This may include:

  • writing to the motorist to offer them an opportunity to pay a PCN at a discounted rate, or appeal;
  • reconsidering a motorist’s representations;
  • reissuing a ‘notice of rejection’ to allow the motorist to appeal to the relevant Tribunal;
  • making a properly reasoned decision about whether to accept an Adjudicator’s recommendation;
  • considering whether to exercise discretion to accept a motorist’s late representations; or
  • refunding a motorist’s payment and reissuing correspondence to start the process again

We may also recommend a local authority cancels a PCN where, for instance, they have not responded to the motorist’s representations within the statutory timeframe.

Quantifiable loss

We will not normally recommend a remedy for quantifiable loss for complaints about PCNs. This is because the appeals process, which provides the means to challenge PCNs, does not carry any provision for a motorist to claim compensation. We therefore take the view that even where a local authority has wrongly issued a PCN, the remedy provided by central government for the issue allows, at most, for the cancellation of the PCN. 

Symbolic payments

We may recommend a financial remedy where a local authority has failed to deal with a complaint about the PCN process properly, or where it has wrongly instructed enforcement agents (bailiffs) to visit the motorist’s property. Guidance on remedies in these situations is contained elsewhere in this document.

Service improvement

Where we find fault, we may recommend councils carry out further training or improve their practices to minimise the likelihood of repetition. This is particularly important where councils have failed to follow the proper process in progressing a PCN or have not provided the necessary information to the motorist.

Context – aggravating and mitigating factors

Fault may be aggravated by the pursuit of unpaid PCNs through the use of enforcement agents (bailiffs). There is separate guidance on this point.

The impact of any fault may be mitigated through the use of alternative processes such as a motorist’s right of appeal or an application to make a witness statement or statutory declaration to the TEC. Authorities may also agree as part of their internal complaints process to cancel PCNs, waive enforcement fees and/or take the statutory process back to an earlier stage, reinstating the motorist’s right of appeal and reducing the amount owed. This may provide a partial remedy for the complaint, leaving us to decide if any further action is warranted.

Remedy Examples

Mr X complained the council did not respond to his representations when it issued him four penalty notices for driving in a clean air zone area without paying the charge. Mr X contacted the council several times when it issued him with the charges as he said he was not from the area and so was not aware it was a clean air zone area.
Our investigation found the council was at fault because legislation requires councils to respond to representations within a set time frame. In this case, the council did not respond to Mr X’s representations until he complained to us. This caused Mr X frustration. The council said it did not receive Mr X’s representations due to an issue with its system. It said it was carrying out changes to the system to prevent it from happening again.
In the meantime, the council said it had a temporary process in place so it could receive any representations made by people upon receiving penalty charges. We considered this was an appropriate interim measure until it resolved the issue with the system and would prevent a recurrence of fault.
Remedies included:
  • carry out changes to the system to prevent the mistake from happening again. In the meantime, the council said it had a temporary process in place so it could receive any representations made by people upon receiving penalty charges. 
  • reconsidering Mr X’s representations and taking appropriate action to cancel or confirm the penalty charges. 

Recovering parking and moving traffic penalty charges


Councils can take recovery action to collect money owed from unpaid parking charges. If a parking related debt is not paid councils can apply for a warrant of execution to the Traffic Enforcement Centre. This will normally be passed to bailiffs who can then seek to recover the debt plus their own costs. The costs bailiffs can charge are laid down in regulations. The bailiffs are acting as agents of the council in recovering the debt. Bailiffs should have protocols in place governing the approach they should take to vulnerable debtors.

Complaints in this area include that complainants were unaware of the debt until bailiffs turned up, bailiffs failing to properly consider offers to pay by instalments, recovery action when the debt has been paid, complaints about the behaviour of bailiffs and bailiffs failing to take account of the debtor’s vulnerability.

Corrective action

Where we find fault in the actions of the bailiffs we will usually look to put the complainant back to the position they would have been in if not for the fault. This will often mean removing bailiff’s fees from the debt or refunding fees already paid. 

We may ask councils to suspend recovery action and to give complainants the opportunity to agree an arrangement to pay by instalments.

Quantifiable loss

We may recommend a refund of any payments made to the bailiffs if we consider enforcement action was not appropriate.

Symbolic payments

We may recommend symbolic payments to acknowledge the distress caused by unnecessary bailiff action. These will normally be in the range of up to £500. 

Service improvements

We may ask a council to ensure the bailiffs have appropriate procedures in relation to how they will deal with vulnerable debtors or to ensure they keep appropriate records of visits


Action by bailiffs is likely to cause distress even where there is no fault. Where the distress was avoidable because bailiff action occurred as a result of council fault or there was fault in the bailiffs’ actions themselves, we can recommend a remedy for the additional distress this caused

Remedy examples

Council failed to cancel a parking charge for a car stolen from Mr X. This led to unnecessary enforcement action. The bailiff’s behaviour towards Mr X was also poor. The council had already apologised and offered symbolic payment for distress caused. The bailiffs also refunded charges and offered payment in recognition of distress caused by their actions.
Remedies included:
  • further apology meeting our expectations.
  • additional symbolic payments to adequately acknowledge distress.
  • review procedures to ensure penalty notices are cancelled when appropriate proof is received to prevent unnecessary bailiff action.
Mr X complained about the council’s actions in relation to a moving traffic penalty notice it issued to him. He said the council pursued enforcement action via its enforcement agency and added additional fees to the penalty.
He told the enforcement agency he had physical and mental health problems which made him vulnerable and that he was claiming income benefits. He asked the enforcement agency if he could pay the debt off in instalments. The enforcement agency declined this. Mr X felt threatened by the enforcement agency and so cleared the debt off in one payment.
We found the council was at fault because the agency did not consider Mr X’s individual circumstances or his request to clear the debt off with an instalment plan. There was no recorded reason why it refused to put Mr X on an instalment plan. It caused Mr X avoidable distress and he lost the opportunity to pay the debt off via an instalment plan.
Remedies included:
  • apologise to Mr X for the distress the matter caused him and for not considering his individual circumstances.
  • make a symbolic payment to recognise the distress the matter caused.
  • review how the council considers individual circumstances of a debtor when they are vulnerable and request to pay a debt off in instalment and note reasons why they did not consider an instalment plan was appropriate

Definitive Map


Councils must prepare and keep up-to-date definitive maps. These are a legal record of public rights of way (footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic). However, rights may exist which are not shown on the map. Anyone can apply to the council for a definitive map modification order (DMMO) to establish whether the rights exist and to add it to the definitive map, and the procedure for doing so is set out in law. Councils must send any opposed modification order, as soon as reasonably practicable, to the Secretary of State for determination. Applicants can appeal to the Secretary of State against a refusal to make an order.

As there is a right of appeal we cannot generally consider complaints about the council’s decision to make or not make a DMMO but we do receive and consider complaints about the process followed by the council such as: complaints about delays in referring DMMOs to the Secretary of State, failure to comply with directions from the Secretary of State, failure to advise of appeal rights and errors in notifications when DMMOs are published

Corrective action

The most appropriate remedy for complaints in this area is to take corrective action and to deal with the application as soon as practicable or refer it to the Secretary of State if appropriate

Quantifiable loss

Issues related to rights of way do not often cause a significant personal injustice to an individual and do not normally to a quantifiable loss.

Symbolic payments

We may recommend a small symbolic payment, normally up to £300 where delay has caused continuing uncertainty or distress.

Service improvement

We may ask councils to review their DMMO procedure with a view to addressing any backlog, to be clear about how applications are prioritised or to ensure staff are appropriately trained and understand the legal process.

Context – Aggravating and mitigating factors

There is no set time limit in law for councils to deal with DMMOS, rather they are expected to deal with them as soon as reasonably practicable. We acknowledge councils are under significant budgetary pressures and we cannot direct how councils allocate their resources. However, we can look at whether councils are actively trying to address the backlogs and the way they are prioritising applications. 

Remedy examples

We found the council had failed to determine Ms Y’s application for a DMMO or to comply with a direction from the Secretary of State to deal with a DMMO application in a specific timescale.
Remedies included:
  • apology.
  • symbolic payment.
  • determine application as soon as reasonably practical.
  • review DMMO service to further reduce backlog, report findings to councillors and update all applicants on any changes to the service
We found the council delayed responding to Mr X’s application to alter the definitive map and failed to advise him of his right of appeal.
Remedies included:
  • apology.
  • symbolic payment.
  • issue fresh decision giving right of appeal to Secretary of State.
  • produce guidance for staff on duties relating to public rights of way.
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