Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER 2005
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
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
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
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
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
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
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