COVENTRY council has for years been informing motorists their fines will double if they appeal – despite repeated warnings from an independent tribunal that it is against the law.
It is the latest shocking revelation concerning Coventry’s bus gates, which the Traffic Penalty Tribunal has repeatedly judged to be ‘inadequately’ signed, and failing to properly inform drivers they should not enter.
Within three years, the council pocketed around £1million at just one of five bus gates alone – at the Whittle Arch, Hales Street, city centre.
Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) issued by Coventry City Council have for years informed motorists the fine is £60, but they have 14 days to pay a ‘discounted’ amount of £30.
The PCNs goes on to state that “representations against paying”, if made, are against the full £60 amount – suggesting any appeal results in the fine going up to £60.
Wording of other Coventry council PCNs, seen by the Observer, explicitly informed motorists they could not pay the discount AND appeal.
Yet other councils’ PCNs make clear that, if people chose to appeal, the clock stops and people may still be able to pay the lower amount of £30 AFTER the appeal is heard, if it is rejected.
The wording of Coventry’s PCNs therefore acts as a disincentive to any motorist to seek justice by appealing if they feel they have been unfairly fined – as the tribunal has repeatedly ruled has happened in many cases.
Motorists can appeal to the council in the first instance against a fine. If unsuccessful, they can go to the independent tribunal, which comprises experienced lawyers.
One PCN, seen the Observer and September 1 2016, further misleads in explicitly stating: “You cannot pay the discounted rate and make representations at the same time. Representations, if made, are against the £60 Penalty Charge.”
It has now emerged the tribunal has on numerous occasions, at least since January last year, ruled the wording on Coventry’s PCNs is not correct in law.
Tribunal adjudicator Annie Hockaday stated in one ruling in February this year: “In my view the words, ‘You cannot pay the discounted rate and make representations at the same time’ are not correct. The regulations (in law) do not say this. A driver can pay £30 at any time within 14 days whether or not representations are also made. If both are received, Council will have to decide how to proceed.”
And the following month another tribunal adjudicator, Jo Garbett, stated that “despite having the adjudicator’s determination since January 2016.. the Council have not seen fit to alter the wording on their bus lane PCNs.”
She clearly re-interated the PCN’s wording misrepresented the law, stating: “As Mr Pearson found in his determination, I do find that there is a material diivergence between the instruction given by the council regarding paying the discounted rate and an individual’s right to pay at the discounted rate prescribed by law.”
She described the PCN as “fundamentally flawed”, in upholding one motorist’s appeal.
Even more confusingly, the council’s website informed motorists issued with PCNs that they cannot make representations against paying until receiving a ‘Notice to Owner’ letter 28 days after the PCN has been issued.
It is all in stark contrast with the wording of information about PCNs for bus lanes and bus gates on other councils’ websites.
For example, Leeds City Council states: “If we receive your appeal within 14 days of the ticket being issued the ticket will be frozen at the discounted amount of either £35, £25 or £30 (bus lane) until you receive a decision on your appeal.
“If unsuccessful you will be given another 14 days to pay the discounted amount from the date of the decision.”
And Manchester City Council states: “If your appeal is rejected, we allow 14 days from the date of our response to pay the reduced charge of £30.”
A Council spokesperson said, “Our penalty charge notices make it clear that motorists can pay early at a discounted rate of £30, or after 14 days have passed, pay the full amount of £60.00. They are also clear that anyone that appeals will have to pay the higher amount if the appeal is unsuccessful and more than 14 days has past. Early appeal rulings can be paid at the lower amount if they come in under 14 days.
“Legislation does not provide instruction on if the clock needs to stop if an appeal is made and different Councils take different approaches. Other Councils including Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham take the same approach as us. However, over the summer Cllr Abdul Khan, Cabinet Member for Policing and Equalities asked officers to look at the wording on a range of enforcement notices and other correspondence. This includes looking at fixed penalty notices for dog fouling, littering, graffiti and fly tipping alongside PCNs for parking offences.”
OUR FURTHER QUESTIONS TO COUNCIL..
We have asked:
1. Has the wording of Coventry PCNs for bus lanes/gates been changed? If so, when?
2. Are (further) changes possible as a result of a ‘review’?
3. Again, we have tribunal rulings that say there is non-compliance (with the regulations) and a council statement denying there is anything wrong. Does the council systematically discount all the tribunals’ assessments/advice? Is it taken remotely seriously?
4. For transparency, can we put a name to this statement?
COUNCIL FURTHER RESPONSE TO ABOVE QUESTIONS..
3. We take all feedback seriously
4. Colin Knight, Director Transport and Highways
Awaiting response to question 1