This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have concerns about a penalty charge notice (PCN) issued by enforcing authorities and who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
I have received a penalty charge notice for a moving traffic offence. Can the Ombudsman help me?
Transport for London (TfL) and councils both inside and outside London may enforce traffic regulations made under various Acts of Parliament. They include penalties for different types of contravention, including those about bus lanes, yellow box junctions, prohibited turns and traffic prohibitions.
The law says the registered keeper is responsible for any penalty charge even if they were not the person driving the vehicle when the alleged contravention happened. The registered keeper is the person or organisation recorded as the keeper by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
The London Local Authorities Act 1996 approves penalties for bus lane contraventions in London, and the Transport Act 2000 does the same outside London. Councils and TfL enforce moving traffic contraventions in London under the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003.
If your complaint is about the issue of a penalty the law says you may make representations to the enforcing authority against the issue of the penalty on certain statutory grounds. If the enforcing authority rejects your representations, you may appeal to a statutory tribunal. Inside London the appeal is made to London Tribunals and outside London to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT).
An independent adjudicator who is not part of the enforcing authority will hear your appeal. The procedure is free and relatively straightforward. The Ombudsman would usually expect someone to use this right of appeal and so will not investigate a complaint about the issue of the penalty.
There are different statutory grounds of appeal for each type of contravention. The London Tribunals and TPT websites listed below explain what they are. As well as the statutory grounds for appeal the motorist can ask the enforcing authority to consider any other reasons, known as ‘mitigating circumstances’, for cancelling the penalty charge in the particular case.
By law, the adjudicator cannot consider these mitigating circumstances except when considering appeals about parking contraventions. This means we can consider complaints about how an enforcing authority has considered mitigating circumstances in a moving traffic enforcement penalty (but not a parking penalty). But if a council has considered these properly, we would not criticise the decision it has reached as the enforcing authority.
We can look at complaints about other enforcement steps by an authority but, where a right to go to court exists, we would usually expect it to be used. The Traffic Enforcement Centre at the Northampton Business Centre of HM Courts and Tribunal Service deals with applications to make a statutory declaration (Witness Statement) or to make a statutory declaration 'out of time'. So if a motorist has this right to try to restore the right to pay a penalty at an early stage or to appeal it would be reasonable for them to use it. This is because the law says the Ombudsman should not normally investigate where Parliament has provided a statutory right to go a court.
The Ombudsman may be able to consider a complaint about the actions of bailiffs acting for a council, but this depends on the individual circumstances. You should first try to resolve any issue with the council or the bailiffs. If the matter remains unresolved, we can consider the particular circumstances and decide if we can help.
I have paid a penalty charge to avoid it increasing, but I still want to contest it. As I no longer have the right to appeal, can you investigate?
Parliament provided you with the right of appeal to an independent adjudicator and the Ombudsman usually expects people to use that right to challenge penalty charges if they are not happy to accept them. If you wanted to complain about it, you should not have paid the charge but should instead have used the appeals procedure. The fact you have lost the right of appeal as a result of paying the charge does not change this; the Ombudsman will not investigate a complaint where you could reasonably have used an appeal right.
How do I complain?
You should check with the enforcing authority as soon as possible about your appeal rights as there are time limits for appealing. Because the law sets out the procedure for dealing with challenges to penalty charges and it leads to an independent appeal, an enforcing authority will not usually deal with such matters through its complaints procedure. Further, the existence of appeal rights (whether or not you use them) will usually mean that the Ombudsman cannot help you.
If you do complain to us, you should normally do so within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.
Examples of some complaints we have considered
The complainant received a penalty charge notice for stopping in a yellow box junction. They accepted the contravention and paid the penalty charge notice at the initial discounted rate. The council confirmed receipt of the payment but failed to close the case. It therefore issued a charge certificate, registered the unpaid penalty charge with the Traffic Enforcement Centre and instructed bailiffs to recover payment.
The council accepted fault, stopped the recovery action and agreed to a financial remedy for the complainant’s time and trouble in bringing the complaint to us.
The complainant was issued two penalty charge notices for entering the congestion charge zone without paying the charge. They disputed the contraventions and made representations to the enforcing authority, but the enforcing authority rejected them. The complainant did not pay the penalty charges, so the enforcing authority progressed the cases and instructed bailiffs. The complainant then complained to the Ombudsman.
We decided not to investigate the complaint as it would have been reasonable for the complainant to appeal to the Tribunal.
Other sources of information
In London – London Tribunals website at www.londontribunals.gov.uk has details of the legislation and appeal process.
Outside London – The Traffic Penalty Tribunal website at www.trafficpenaltytribunal.gov.uk/site/ has details of the legislation and appeals process.
Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.