Motorists are being hit with unnecessary fines because councils are failing to explain their right to challenge parking tickets, the local government watchdog has warned.
A report by the Local Government Ombudsman for England found that when motorists did seek to challenge a fine "all too often" their claim was rejected out of hand without any proper consideration or explanation.
In some instances, the only telephone number that appeared to be available was for paying a fine, rather than discussing it, while some councils were seen using premium rate numbers incurring additional costs for the motorist.
It also found that in cases where motorists did make a formal challenge to a parking ticket - or penalty charge notice (PCN) - and were rejected, they were not informed they had a further right of appeal to an independent adjudicator.
Local authorities issue around 10 million parking, bus lane and moving traffic tickets a year – officially known as penalty charge notices (PCNs).
The report highlighted one case where a woman received a ticket when she had parked across a dropped kerb outside her home while helping her elderly grandmother into the house.
When she challenged the fairness of the charge, but still enclosed a cheque in order not to lose the 50% discount for paying with 14 days, the council ignored her claim and simply banked the cheque.
In another case, a man found he was being pursued by bailiffs for a fine issued to the previous owner of his home who had moved away without informing the DVLA.
Despite telling the council what had happened, the man was left to deal with the enforcement agents on his own.
Under the guidance, councils are required to consider all challenges to parking tickets, and where they find there are no grounds for cancelling them, explain their reasons.
The guidance also states the authority must always make it clear that:
- if the penalty charge is not paid it will issue a ‘notice to owner’ that enables the owner to make formal representations;
- the authority must consider any formal representations, even where it has previously concluded that the evidence does not merit cancellation of the PCN;
- if the authority rejects the owner’s formal representations they can appeal to an independent parking adjudicator, who will consider whether the keeper’s case falls within any of the statutory grounds for appeal. It is not possible to appeal to a parking adjudicator without going through the process of making a formal representation to the authority first.
Michael King, Local Government Ombudsman, said: “To help build trust between local authorities and motorists, authorities should provide clear and transparent information, follow correct guidance and listen properly to legitimate concerns.
“If motorists genuinely feel a parking ticket they’ve received is unfair, they should be aware that they have a legal right to appeal to an independent parking tribunal and the council should not reject valid concerns out of hand.”
How do you challenge a parking ticket?
- You have 28 days to challenge a PCN.
- If you do it within 14 days and your challenge is rejected, you may only have to pay 50% of the fine.
- If the ticket is issued by a local council 'on the spot', e.g. on your windscreen, you should make an informal challenge with the council.
- If you receive a parking ticket in the post from the local council, i.e. if you were sent a 'notice to owner', you should make a formal challenge - called a 'representation' - with the council.
- If you are handed a Dartford Crossing charge - known as a Dart Charge PCN - you should make a representation with Dart Charge.
- Red route, congestion charge and low emission zone PCN's should be raised with Transport for London (TfL).
You won't have to pay a fine if your informal challenge is accepted.
If your informal challenge is rejected, you’ll get a ‘notice to owner’. It will explain how to pay or make a formal challenge.
How to make a formal challenge
You have 28 days to make a formal challenge (called a ‘representation’) after you get a notice to owner. You must:
- explain your reasons for challenging the PCN in as much detail as possible
- provide copies of any evidence or documents to support your challenge
You won’t have to pay the fine if your representation is accepted.
What happens if your formal challenge is rejected?
If your formal challenge is rejected, you'll get a 'notice of rejection'. It will give you 28 days to pay or appeal to an independent tribunal.
If you don’t pay or appeal, you’ll have to pay a late penalty (‘charge certificate’).
- For information on challenging a fixed penalty notice (FPN), a standard or excess charge notice, or a ticket from a private company, click here.