Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)

WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER 2005

MR KEITH BANBURY, MS LYNN WITHAM, MR PETER GUEST, MR BOB MACNAUGHTON AND MR IAN KAVANAGH

  Q20  Mrs Ellman: Do you think it would be better if charges were more uniform or a complete discretion? Do you have any views on that?

  Mr Guest: I cannot see that uniform charges will work. Parking is provided in a local environment to meet a local need and is subject to local political decision-making. Therefore, my council will set its charges within its framework of decision-making and its local political need. The next council along will have a different set of circumstances, and I cannot see how that could be centralised and regulated.

  Q21  Mrs Ellman: Could I ask National Car Parks, how do the charges you levy fit into local traffic policies, or do they if it is something totally separate?

  Mr Macnaughton: We have an economic model which we use to aid us in trying to get some degree of consistency on how we set parking tariffs. Clearly, each economic centre is its own marketplace. It is a supply and demand model depending on the demand of drivers and depending on the supply of parking.

  Q22  Chairman: Are you telling us there is a big difference, for example, between what you charge in the centres of cities and what you would charge in a smaller area? Is that what you are telling us?

  Mr Macnaughton: Yes. Well, it depends what the situations in the market are. Local authorities still control about two-thirds of off-street parking spaces in the UK, and of course they have all the on-street places. We see a vast inconsistency in the way local authorities set tariffs. There are some local authorities which have no parking at all virtually, they have a little bit of on-street. There are other authorities which have very large portfolios and there is no real science. There are local policies and some are good and others are, frankly, illogical, but that is just the way it is.

  Q23  Mrs Ellman: Could the same be said about your charges?

  Mr Macnaughton: We are a private sector organisation. We set charges according to local circumstances, but we have a consistent methodology across the whole country. It is partly an analytical method. We do not own our property, we pay rent for all of our sites, and unfortunately what we have seen over the last 10 years is that the value of our property in our towns and city centres has escalated incredibly and so has our rent.

  Q24  Mrs Ellman: Does that mean then that the charges you levy are to do with what you think you can basically get away with? They are not necessarily related to local traffic management?

  Mr Macnaughton: That is correct.

  Q25  Mrs Ellman: That is an entirely different thing. Who should take responsibility for making the public more aware of how representations could be made and decisions made on that?

  Ms Witham: I think that is very much down to the local authorities themselves to ensure that people are aware of how they can appeal against parking tickets. I think that whole appeals process is a vital safeguard. Some authorities are very good at doing this. They have a lot of information on their websites, they publish leaflets and they make sure that people get this information, but it is variable.

  Q26  Mrs Ellman: Do you think that a good job is being done on that, making people aware of what the system is to make representations?

  Ms Witham: I think there is always room to improve it. I am working with one London local authority at the moment which is defining all its enforcement policies and the grounds on which it will consider appeals, the grounds on which it will consider mitigation and cancel tickets. When that is finished, that will go on its website, and some authorities are now doing this.

  Q27  Mrs Ellman: Do you think that local authorities should have to meet statutory performance levels on dealing with representations?

  Mr Guest: We have said in our submission to you, and we will say again and again that we feel there is a need for stronger statutory guidance, and in dealing with the ability of the public to make representation and appeal against the activity of a local authority that needs to be spelt out very clearly in a uniform way for all local authorities so that the public know where they stand when they get parking tickets. Certainly part of that guidance should be setting benchmarks and standards, but obviously depending on the representation on the appeal there has to be some flexibility because it may be somebody has a very straightforward case they wish to make to the local authority and it may be they want to enter into a dialogue which goes on for some time. It is difficult for a local authority to be pushed into a rigid framework of response if it has to deal with a more complex case.

  Q28  Mrs Ellman: What does that mean, that you think there should be benchmarks?

  Mr Guest: It means that there should be benchmarks and standards, but they have to recognise reality.

  Q29  Mrs Ellman: So there should be, but they do not have to?

  Mr Guest: There are things which you can regulate. If somebody writes to you, you should be required to respond within a certain time, but not necessarily resolve the case within a certain time.

  Q30  Clive Efford: Do you think on the whole the public get a raw deal from the appeal's process?

  Mr Guest: I do not think we know. What we do know is that of the 8 million or so tickets which are issued each year only about 1% end up in adjudication. I think that is about right.

  Mr Banbury: Just under 1%.

  Mr Guest: Which suggests that on the whole most of the public most of the time do not feel strongly enough about what is going on to take their cases to adjudication. I am not sure if that is because they feel it is reasonably good or because they do not think the cost of adjudication is justified.

  Q31  Clive Efford: Is not the problem that you only get the 50% discount if you pay it within a certain time? If you appeal, then you face paying the whole charge, so do the people just cut their losses even though it may have been somebody who was lawfully loading or unloading?

  Ms Witham: If I can answer that one, round about 20% of all tickets which are issued will result in correspondence from the driver, who for one reason or another does not understand why he has received a ticket, or was loading or unloading, as you have said, or is otherwise exempt, maybe a blue badge holder. The majority of local authorities will deal with those letters at that point and it is standard practice that if somebody writes to them within those 14 days they will re-offer them another 14 days to pay at the discount, so they have not been disadvantaged by writing in. There is absolutely nothing to stop local authorities offering that discount at the subsequent formal representation stage as well, and in fact at any point throughout the process.

  Q32  Clive Efford: Would your organisation encourage them to do so?

  Ms Witham: Yes.

  Mr Banbury: Yes. If I may add, this is something which statutory guidance need to look at through the working group, because I think that is a major bone of contention with some members of the public.

  Chairman: We have several things we are going to ask you about that.

  Q33  Mrs Ellman: What about the use of bailiffs to recover unpaid fines? Do you have a view on that?

  Mr Banbury: My understanding is that the bailiff is only used when it gets to court because a persistent evader has not paid the fine and as a result the case is referred to the court by the local authority and a bailiff is then involved. I do not think before that stage a bailiff is involved, unless anybody can correct me on that.

  Mr Guest: The bailiff is a court officer, who is enforcing a decision of the court and you have had to go through quite a long process to get that far. There does appear to be a number of drivers who still perceive the penalty charge notice as something which if they ignore it, it will go away, and maybe part of the process which needs to be improved is the information to drivers that when the local authority issues a penalty charge notice it means it. It is a charge for misuse of the parking space and it means that it should be paid.

  Q34  Mrs Ellman: The AA Motoring Trust has given us some evidence about problems from the no win, no fee pursuits of unpaid or unserved parking penalty notices. So they think there is a problem.

  Mr Kavanagh: Could I just point out that before a bailiff turns up to collect any money from a driver who has received a penalty charge notice, that driver will have received three or four items of correspondence through the process outlining exactly what will happen if they do not pay.

  Q35  Chairman: So your view, Mr Kavanagh, is that it would only come into operation when they have had more than adequate notice?

  Mr Kavanagh: Yes.

  Q36  Graham Stringer: On that last point, how many people never pay their fines? What is the %age of the total money which is charged to motorists for parking illegally but which is never collected?

  Mr Macnaughton: The payment rates, I think, vary between about 60% and 75%.

  Q37  Chairman: Mr Kavanagh, do you know that?

  Mr Kavanagh: It varies widely. We know of authorities which have collection rates below 50% and we know some which have about 70%. The average is about 65%, we think.

  Q38  Graham Stringer: So you stand a pretty good chance, if you do not pay, of never paying?

  Mr Kavanagh: Yes.

  Mr Macnaughton: We would use payment rates as a guide of quality for parking attendant performance, so although we are not so involved in the back office processing we use it as an indicator of good quality parking tickets, which is why we monitor it.

  Mr Kavanagh: But about 30% of people who receive parking tickets never pay them, for one reason or another.

  Q39  Graham Stringer: Before Mr Banbury comes in, do you think, therefore, the process should be tightened up? Are there good reasons for the enforcement rates being so low?

  Mr Banbury: There is quite a number of reasons why tickets are not paid. A vehicle which is a foreign registered vehicle generally will not pay a penalty charge notice. A number of penalty charge notices are cancelled, of course. Drivers make representations, they make appeals and they are cancelled. There is this persistent problem, which is a problem for both parking and—


 
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