ANNEX - VISIT NOTE
Report of the visit of the Transport Committee to the London Parking and Traffic Appeals Service
1. Those attending from the Committee were: Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP (Chairman), Mr Robert Goodwill MP, Mr John Leech MP, Mr Lee Scott MP, Mr Graham Stringer MP, Tony Catinella, (Committee Assistant) and Clare Maltby (Committee Specialist).
2. The Committee was met at the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service Hearing Centre by Nick Lester, Director, Transport of Environment and Planning at the Association of London Government, Martin Wood the Chief Adjudicator for London, Charlotte Axelson, Head of Parking and Traffic Appeals Service, and Richard Messingham, Public Affairs Officer, Association of London Government.
3. The Committee heard presentations from Nick Lester and Martin Wood, followed by a question and answer session. Members were then shown around the Hearing Centre, including the facilities for the appeal hearings, and had the opportunity to meet some of the adjudicators processing the postal appeals.
4. Nick Lester gave an outline of how the 52 part-time adjudicators are appointed and how the service was established in 1993. The adjudicators are lawyers of five year’s experience and are appointed with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. The sitting arrangements are determined by the Association of London Government, supported by administration and contract staff. The Parking Adjudicators for London decide appeals by motorists against Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) issued by London local authorities for contraventions relating to parking, bus lanes, certain moving traffic contraventions e.g. yellow boxes, no right turn, and the London lorry ban.
5. Nick Lester explained the appeals process. The parking adjudicator is a statutory tribunal and replaces the role of Magistrates Courts for these decriminalised offences. The system has a ’pay or challenge’ basis. Once payment has been made, a PCN cannot be challenged (with certain exceptions for clamping). Vehicle owners have 14 days to pay at the 50% discount rate. If a complaint is received by the local authority and rejected, the 14 day discount period can be re-offered from the date of that decision. Almost all councils in London operate these arrangements, but authorities are not obliged to do so.
6. Nick Lester emphasised that the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (PATAS) aims for a customer-focused approach and was commended in the Leggatt Review for this reason. The difference between challenging through the Magistrates Court and through the Adjudicator was discussed. He explained that PATAS offers appellants the opportunity to appeal by post as well as in person; it offers appellants a choice of time convenient to them; and has deadlines for responding to challenges, unlike the courts. PATAS sees 86% of appellants within 15 minutes of the appointment time.
7. Martin Wood, the London Chief Adjudicator, expanded on the appeals process. He explained that decisions by the adjudicators are binding and enforceable, like a court; and that adjudicators have judicial independence and security of tenure. Adjudicators’ decisions can be challenged only by judicial review through the High Court, but reviews have been extremely rare. He discussed the different processes for postal and personal appeal decisions. The personal hearings are held in public and tape recorded. Decision letters are printed at the end of the hearing and given to the appellant. Translation and interpretation facilities are provided where necessary.
8. Martin Wood told Members that PATAS currently receives about 55,000 appeals a year. In 2004 there had been a large increase (34% more appeals than in 2003), believed to be as a result of increased publicity about parking enforcement. The increase had created something of a backlog in processing the appeals, but this had fallen again during 2005. 1% of PCNs in London reach appeal and 60% of appeals are allowed. While the proportion of PCNs challenged and the proportion of appeals allowed had not changed dramatically over recent years, Martin Wood explained that the appeal rate for local authorities varied considerably, from 2.1% for the highest to 0.2% for the lowest.
9. The most common grounds for appeal include not having received the PCN on the vehicle, and contested observation periods for loading activity. There was a discussion of the merits and risks of allowing parking attendants more discretion on the street to issue and cancel tickets. Martin Wood set out how PATAS intends to use video-link hearings to further promote access for appellants: a pilot of this had been undertaken; independent venues were being found; and even the possibility of appellants conducting the hearing through their television or broadband internet were being explored for the future. The Committee heard that the computerisation contract for PATAS was £3 million p.a. and that the contract had built into it 50 days of modification each year. In addition, the Service spent £50,000-£150,000 p.a. on modifications.
10. The presenters explained that where appeals are upheld, this does not necessarily indicate fraudulent issue of a ticket, as PCNs can be cancelled for other reasons. Examples were disputes over vehicle ownership, or the fact that more information had come to light.