District council admit parking fine errors

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Cherwell District Council has admitted it acted ‘poorly’ after a catalogue of errors by a company that mishandled a parking fine.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found people using CDC’s car parks could have been denied the right to challenge parking fines through the courts.

It found the problem after a woman complained about APCOA, which runs the council’s car parks.

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The woman parked in a council-owned car park in October 2018 but found a ticket machine broken. She tried to pay by phone but was unable to because her number was withheld.

She put a note on her windscreen and then returned to find a fine had been left by a parking warden. The woman, referred to as Mrs X, tried to pay the £40 fine – but APCOA took £80. When she complained to CDC, she was told it had no jurisdiction over the car park because it was being managed by the external company.

That was wrong.

The ombudsman found the company was wrong for enforcing the penalty without a right to challenge them in court. Although the woman was not impacted, the ombudsman said it could have affected other users.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Councils can contract out services, but they cannot contract out responsibility for those services.

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“If we find fault with a council’s contractor it is the council’s responsibility to ensure things are put right.

“On balance, it appears APCOA was not complying with the law when it enforced the charge notice. This may have wide-reaching consequences for others.

“I welcome the steps the council is now taking to improve its services and the way it works with APCOA.”

A CDC spokesman said: “We have apologised unreservedly to the lady referenced in the ombudsman report. She received a poor service from ourselves and APCOA.

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“We have already acted on the points raised by the ombudsman in her recommendations to ensure others receive the standards of customer service that we strive to provide.

“It should be stressed CDC has been operating within the appropriate legislation and all car parking tickets are enforceable.”