ANOTHER damning verdict on Coventry council’s ongoing methods of raising cash by ‘unfairly’ fining motorists has been delivered by national tribunal experts, we can reveal.
In upholding yet another driver’s appeal against a fine, this time for using a bus lane, the Traffic Penalty Tribunal has ruled the council acted with ‘serious procedural impropriety’.
Campaigners say it potentially paves the way for more appeals and raises further serious questions about the validity of millions of pounds raised for council coffers from Penalty Charge Notices.
It follows a string of tribunal rulings that drivers were being unfairly fined by ‘inadequate’ signage for Coventry’s bus gates and the city centre’s on-street parking ban except in bays (Restricted Parking Zone – RPZ).
An unprecedented tribunal review in May last year had accused the council of acting with the ‘delusion of King Canute’ in repeatedly denying the problems.
Now the national tribunal has issued scathing criticism of how Coventry council hiked the fine owed, from £60 to £90, without adequately notifying a driver in line with proper timescales.
The tribunal concluded on Friday there had been ‘serious procedural impropriety’ – and has called on Coventry City Council to explain.
Across the country, the amount of the fine due for payment is supposed to rise if the fine is not paid within 28 days.
Yet campaigners say Coventry council has been starting that 28-day process at the date of the alleged offence, rather than when the motorist is informed days later with a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) received by post.
The tribunal in the latest case ruled the council had improperly reduced the motorists’ ability to appeal, by issuing an appeal rejection letter on the wrong date.
Coventry road safety campaigner Richard Heneghan of CovRoadSafetyBlog argues it is against natural justice and the law.
The appealing motorist had spent weeks raising questions with the council, and had it confirmed in an email (seen by us) that the council’s rejection letters were ‘systems generated’ – meaning many more motorists could be being snared in the same way.
They were told in writing earlier this month that the council was investigating the matters.
Tribunal chief adjudicator Caroline Shephard, in her decision on the latest case seen by the Coventry Observer, writes there was ‘serious procedural impropriety’ after it transpired there was five-day discrepancy between when the council said it issued a ‘Notice of Rejection’ of an appeal, and when it actually did.
She continues: “It would be helpful to Mrs (name redacted) and the tribunal if Coventry City Council could explain how this error occurred and provide assurances that if there is a flaw in their processing system that it has to be corrected, so that this will not occur in another case.”
The council decided not to contest the appeal.
Mr Heneghan told us: “During their appeal it was noted that despite Coventry City Council’s PCN management being systems generated, the city council wrote to the member of public prematurely, unlawfully demanding an inflated charge of £90, and further misled them that they had lost their statutory right to appeal.
“When the appellant raised this with the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, Coventry City Council immediately filed ‘No Contest’ in an attempt to avoid a ruling on the concerns.
“The chief adjudicator has correctly referred to this matter as a ‘serious procedural impropriety’ and requested the city council to respond officially.”
The driver has now heard from councillor Mal Mutton that the PCN in the case was being cancelled as a ‘gesture of goodwill’. She denies any ‘systems error’.
Mr Heneghan added: “It is of great concern that the city council, on the very day the chief adjudicator of the national Traffic Penalty Tribunal cited a ‘serious procedural impropriety’, is advising that the PCN was cancelled as a ‘gesture of goodwill’, seemingly unaware that they were legally obliged to cancel the PCN as a result of the ‘serious procedural impropriety’ anyway.
“This is not the first time Coventry City Council has had ‘issues’ with their PCN enforcement process. In 2017 senior highways officers were ‘offered up’ on local BBC radio around these very issues. How is it still happening some two years later?”
UPDATE: Coventry City Council issued the following statement: “The case highlighted by the Coventry Observer relates to one incident and is not representative of a wider problem.
“It centres on the fact that a letter known as a Charge Certificate notifying a driver that an unpaid Bus Lane Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) was increasing from £60 to £90 was issued earlier than it should have been.
“This mistake was due to a delay in sending out a letter at the previous stage of the PCN process due to the August bank holiday. This was an error which we apologise for and the bus lane PCN has since been cancelled.
“Once this issue was brought to our attention, we checked our records to make sure that this mistake over the August bank holiday had not been repeated. Our checks have shown this was not the case and that this issue was one, isolated error.”
Mr Heneghan responded: “To claim that this is an isolated incident is absolute nonsense. There are innumerable public rulings made by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal over the years in which identical serious procedural improprieties have been cited.
“Yet again the deluded city council officers try and bully their false version of events on to the unsuspecting public. Not only have the public been overcharged and misled on many other occasions, the content of the council PCN documentation is yet again in contravention to the relevant legislation.”
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