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Challenging a Parking Ticket Issued in the UK

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A parking ticket.
'I was only ten minutes...'

In 2005 over eight million1 parking tickets were issued in the UK; a revenue-gathering opportunity worth £1.16 billion2. Despite these astounding statistics, nationally only 1% of issued tickets were challenged - most motorists simply chose to pay up and accept the penalty.

In 1991, the Road Traffic Act (RTA) was amended to decriminalise parking and hand control from the police to local authorities. Enforcement now takes place through the civil justice system, rather than the magistrate's courts. Although police retain the power to issue parking tickets for offences committed, the vast majority are issued by local authorities as a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) for parking 'contraventions'.

Although values can vary, the typical PCN is £60, reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days. Most authorities set the charge primarily to be penal, but also affordable. The affordability reduces the number of PCN challenges and leads to cost savings for the authority in penalty collection. This Entry looks at the procedure for challenging a PCN.

I've Received a PCN. What Do I Do?

Firstly, kick yourself and then your car. It helps to relieve the tension and frustration you are feeling and diminishes the chance of you actually throttling the person responsible for issuing the PCN should they happen to be in range. On the rare occasion that the parking attendant is nowhere to be seen you will have lost your opportunity for a civilised discussion regarding the matter, but don't worry - it would have made no difference. Parking attendants do not have the authority to cancel a PCN once issued, even if done so in error. The challenge procedure must be followed entirely correctly in order to seek redress.

Once you have calmed down, it is time to consider whether you have a case for challenge or good grounds for appeal. Almost invariably you haven't. The Road Traffic Act (1991) only requires authorities to consider representations for the following reasons:

1. At the time the PCN was issued, you were not the owner of the vehicle.

This allows for situations where you may have recently purchased or sold the vehicle but the new owner's details have not yet been registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). You will be required to provide the name and address of the person you acquired the vehicle from or who you sold it to.

2. You owned the vehicle at the time of the contravention, but it had been taken without your consent.

This covers stolen vehicles and those taken by 'joyriders'. You will be expected to provide a police crime reference number as proof that this has been reported. Do not be tempted to report your vehicle stolen in order to avoid the penalty charge. It's illegal and will potentially land you with an even larger penalty or a period in jail.

3. We are a vehicle hire company. The vehicle was hired under a hire agreement.

Correspondence relating to PCNs is normally sent to the registered vehicle owner. It is the owner's responsibility to pay or challenge the PCN rather than the driver. This category permits exclusion for vehicle hire firms as long as they are able to supply the hirer's name and address along with proof that the hirer had signed an agreement accepting liability for any PCNs issued during the hire period.

4. The alleged parking contravention did not occur.

This is the one. This is the category most often needed if you are thinking of making representations. You will need a valid reason to support your challenge and a great deal of evidence to back up your claim. Examples include you having a fully paid parking ticket correctly displayed at the time the PCN was issued or that you were unloading or loading in an area where it was permitted. It is becoming increasingly common for number plates to be 'cloned' and fitted to alternative vehicles in an attempt to avoid penalty charges. If you receive a PCN from an authority elsewhere in the country for a contravention you know you have not made, the chances are you've become a victim. Make representations to the authority under this section and inform the police.

5. The penalty charge exceeds the relevant amount.

In very rare circumstances, you may have been asked to pay the wrong amount. Since most PCNs are issued by an electronic, hand-held machine at the time of the contravention this situation is unlikely to ever occur. Historically, the clause allowed you to challenge a hand-written PCN where the amount to pay had been incorrectly entered. In recent times the clause has been used to challenge situations where no PCN was issued for the contravention; the basis of the claim is that if no PCN is issued then any subsequent demand for payment is automatically invalid. Don't be tempted to throw away your PCN and claim that one was never issued. Those clever hand-held PCN-producing machines include cameras. Pictures will be taken of your vehicle showing the contravention, street signs, road markings etc, along with your number plate. A nice little extra touch is a picture clearly showing the PCN attached to your vehicle windscreen.

6. The Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) was invalid.

This is a highly-technical course of appeal that can only apply if the traffic regulation order is ruled by the High Court to be ineffective. Do not attempt to utilise this route unless you are a solicitor or qualified barrister.

My Complaint Isn't Covered By Any Of Those Conditions. What Now?

Simple. Give in, admit defeat and pay up, preferably within 14 days - it's cheaper that way. Claims that you were only ten minutes over time or that the penalty charge is too expensive will automatically be rejected.

If you still feel aggrieved and passionately believe that you have a genuine excuse, or if you have suffered because of unusual circumstances, it is often worth making representation to the authorities. If, for example, you suffered a heart attack while out shopping and were taken by ambulance to hospital, it is unlikely you would have had the opportunity to remove your vehicle before paid-for parking time had expired. Arm yourself with documents showing your admission to hospital along with medical reports and present them in your appeal as evidence. Bear in mind that authorities are not required under law to consider these circumstances and can still reject your claim, but most will act fairly and reasonably when considering your representation.

I Want To Go Ahead With An Appeal. Where Do I Go From Here?

The first course of action is to make an informal representation to the relevant authority, detailing your grounds of appeal. The reverse of the PCN or an accompanying document will give details of the authority responsible. The representation can be a telephone call, but you will often be asked to put things in writing. This only needs to be a simple letter, outlining your case, along with any supporting evidence you may wish to use. You should attempt to do this within 14 days in order to retain the opportunity to pay the penalty at the discounted rate if the authority rejects your claim.

If the authority upholds your claim, then great, all done! It was worth writing the letter wasn't it? If they don't, however, you now have a second choice of action. Pay up or wait for a Notice To Owner (NTO).

The NTO will be sent by the authority to the registered owner of the vehicle. This will be after the initial 30-day period allowed for payment of the penalty. The NTO allows you to make formal representations to the authority and this should be done within 28 days of receiving the form. Again, state your case clearly and provide copies of any documentation you have to support the matter. Bear in mind that now things are getting 'formal' the authority is more likely to rigorously stick to the conditions outlined above and will reject any claims that don't fit the criteria. Don't be put off by this fact though, instead adopt an 'I will not be beaten' stance and forge ahead undeterred.

Post off the form and wait for a response from the authority. Now you appear determined, they may decide to uphold your complaint and waive the PCN, writing to inform you of the good news. If they decide not to rule in your favour, they will also write telling you the bad news in a letter they call a Notice of Rejection of Representations (NoRoR). With the NoRoR you'll get a NoA. The Notice of Appeal gives you just the ammunition you need and permits you to up-the-ante and approach the big boys - the National Parking Adjudication Service (NPAS).

NPAS. Who Are They and Should I Be Scared Of Them?

Prior to receiving a NoA, NPAS would not have touched you with an oily bargepole. Now you've become a crusader with a cause, you have the legal right to be heard by an independent body. NPAS is a free, impartial tribunal with access to unconnected lawyers who will consider each case on its merits and decide the outcome. There is no need to be scared of them or the procedure - in fact they are more than aware that authorities are well versed in proceedings and for most appellants (that's you) it's the first time. Everything will be done fairly and you will be provided with support to assist with a fair hearing.

Grab hold of that NoA and fill it in. You have 28 days to do this from the time you receive it and you must post it to NPAS at the address provided. Once again state your case clearly, embellish it a bit because it's getting serious now, and attach copies of your supporting bumph. Agreed, it is getting tedious to do this a third time, but if all else fails and you are found against, you pay £603. The cost to the authority, meanwhile, is ever growing. Satisfying, isn't it?

NPAS will write to you, confirming your appeal application and setting a date for the hearing. They will also write to the authority concerned, stating that you have appealed, and giving them 21 days to supply both yourself and NPAS with their evidence. This is where the fun begins. Your appeal form, covering letter and copies of documents will commonly comprise five to ten pages. The evidence pack you will receive from the authority will at a minimum include:

  • A copy of the parking attendant's hand-written notebook detailing all interactions with your vehicle and, if applicable, that polite discussion with yourself, covering the period between the start and end of the attendant's shift4.

  • Calibration printouts from the hand-held PCN machine showing it working correctly at start of shift/end of shift and that dates and times are accurate, etc.

  • Copies of all photographs taken by the PCN machine at the contravention scene.

  • Copies of all records held on your 'account', including schedules showing PCN details being entered on the system, payments you may have made, correspondence you have had, etc.

  • Copies of all Traffic Regulation Orders (TRO) and any amendments that the authority intend to use to support their evidence, showing which parts of the RTA they will rely on to give them power to impose the penalty.

This pack is quite a weighty tome. Offer your post person a cup of tea and a five-minute sit-down on the day it's delivered.

The NoA will allow you to select the type of hearing you wish to have - postal or personal - and the choice is entirely yours. For simple matters (where you can easily demonstrate and document your case) a postal hearing should suffice. More complex issues that may require a detailed explanation or a discussion of the case merits are best served by a personal hearing.

A postal hearing will be considered by the adjudicator based upon documents and evidence supplied by you and the authority. There is no requirement to attend and you will be informed of the decision within one week of the hearing.

A personal hearing involves both parties at an agreed venue on an agreed date and time. The tribunals can be held in most major towns in the UK and often take place in hotels or public buildings not under the control of the authority - invariably the personal hearing will be arranged within reasonable distance of your home. The adjudicator will listen to evidence from both parties and usually rule there and then with a copy of his adjudication arriving in the post shortly. The proceedings are very informal and rarely warrant legal representation.

And Finally?

Well, it all depends on the outcome. If the adjudicator finds in your favour, that's the end of the matter. Any monies you may have paid to the authority must be returned to you forthwith. You will have a great feeling of pride, a puffed-out chest and three months worth of stories to bore all your colleagues with down the pub.

If the adjudicator finds in the authorities' favour, you go away with a flea in your ear and a requirement to pay the £60 within 21 days. On day 20, it is time to pay up gracefully. Do so, you lost.

1British Parking Association figures.2Financial Times figures.3If you have made initial representations within 14 days of the PCN issue and NPAS finds against you it is normal for the adjudicator to direct that the lower charge, ie, £30, is payable.4Entries relating to other vehicles will be blanked out under data protection rules, but it is interesting to note how many motorists can be 'interacted' with in a six-hour shift.

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