Total net cost of vehicle removal appeals

Mr. O'Brien made this Freedom of Information request to Newham Borough Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was successful.

Dear Newham Borough Council,

From 1st April 2011 to 31st March 2012 inclusive:

1. How many parking penalty charge notices (PCNs) were issued where the vehicle was subsequently removed?

2. How many of these PCNs were appealed (whether to the council or to PATAS)?

3. How many of the appeals were allowed (whether by the council itself or by an adjudicator)?

4. What was the total amount of money refunded to motorists as a result?

5. What was the total amount of money reclaimed from the enforcement/removal contractor as a result?

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Newham Borough Council

REQUESTER REFERENCE: C6140
ENQUIRY REFERENCE: E12247
Please quote your references when contacting the Council.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Freedom of Information Act 2000

Thank you for your request for information received on 17/05/2012. We are dealing with your request and plan to respond before 18/06/2012.

If you have any queries or concerns, please contact the Information Governance Team on 020 8430 3737 or email us at: [Newham Borough Council request email]

Yours Faithfully

Information Governance Team
Newham Council

Newham Council Publication Scheme is on: www.newham.gov.uk

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Dear Newham Borough Council,

There seems to have been a delay in responding to this request beyond the statutory period allowed.

Please update me as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Newham Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr O'Brien,

Thank you for your email received on 17/05/2012. We attach our response under the disclosure provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team on (020) 3373 7912 or email us at [Newham Borough Council request email].

Alternatively, if you believe we have not dealt with your request satisfactorily you may initially complain to us and then to the Information Commissioner's Office. The Information Commissioner would expect you to have given the Council the opportunity to deal with your appeal prior to you contacting them. Please see guidance on the Freedom of Information Appeals page: http://www.newham.gov.uk/YourCouncil/Fre...

As with other local authorities, the number of enquiries has increased each year since the introduction of the Freedom of Information legislation. Therefore, to enable us to deal with your enquiry more efficiently, we have introduced an online form. We would ask that you submit all future requests via our online form:
https://forms.newham.gov.uk/AF3/an/defau...

In addition, you may find it useful to access the following link, where you can view our Publication Scheme, a list of previous requests and responses and/or use our E-Form should you wish to make further requests:
http://www.newham.gov.uk/YourCouncil/Fre...

Yours sincerely,

Information Governance
London Borough of Newham
Newham Dockside, 1000 Dockside Road, London E16 2QU
Tel: 020 3373 4634
Fax: 020 8430 1504

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Dear Newham Borough Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Newham Borough Council's handling of my FOI request 'Total net cost of vehicle removal appeals'.

Possibly the London Borough of Newham has paid insufficient heed to the guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor under s.46 Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Whether or not that is the case, your response is unacceptable in that it in no way meets any of the duties imposed upon you by the Act.

You have not even explained how the supposed £500 has been calculated.

Nor have you provided any assistance in relation to refining the request such that it can be answered without incurring costs which exceed the statutory limit.

Frankly, it is a poor response which is purely obstructive and apparently intended to avoid providing information for which the Council ought properly to be accountable.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/to...

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Newham Borough Council

Dear Mr O'Brien,

Thank you for your email.
We were sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction with our response.
We shall now conduct an internal review and provide you with a response by 30th July 2012.
Yours sincerely,

Information Governance
London Borough of Newham
Newham Dockside, 1000 Dockside Road, London E16 2QU
Tel: 020 3373 4634
Fax: 020 8430 1504

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Newham Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr O'Brien,

Please find attached our response to your email below in respect of the calculation of fees incurred to comply with your request.
We shall await your further response in relation to this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Information Governance
London Borough of Newham
Newham Dockside, 1000 Dockside Road, London E16 2QU
Tel: 020 3373 4634
Fax: 020 8430 1504

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Dear Newham Borough Council,

This is actually a relatively reasonable response in some respects, although I'm afraid the day's work quoted to write a SQL query is faintly ridiculous. I can do that myself for you in half an hour, and that includes the time to familiarize myself with the database structure.

How about you just answer questions 4 & 5 - does that help?

If you can only do it for a calendar year, I'll settle for that.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

London Councils is able to provide the information set out below for the reporting year 2010-11 (see here for the spreadsheets http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/policyl... )

So clearly this kind of information does have to be kept and is reported on.

Remember that when a vehicle is removed under regulation 5C of The Removal and Disposal of Vehicles Regulations 1986 (as amended) because of an ordinary parking contravention, the removal is directly tied to and dependent upon the Penalty Charge Notice, so I would argue that it is incumbent upon the authority to explicitly maintain that link throughout its records and be able to easily report on it.

In the 2010-11 reporting year Newham issued

190,393 parking PCNs

2,454 of these were appealed

1,227 of the appeals were allowed (exactly half!)

and 2,992 vehicles were towed away to the pound somewhere in amongst all that.

Newham Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr O'Brien,

Please find attached our further response to your email below, following our preliminary internal review correspondence.

Yours sincerely,

Information Governance
London Borough of Newham
Newham Dockside, 1000 Dockside Road, London E16 2QU
Tel: 020 3373 4634
Fax: 020 8430 1504

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Dear Newham Borough Council,

Your latest response rather gives the lie to Newham's whole approach to this request from the beginning. The council's purpose has clearly been to obstruct the release of legitimately requested information in order to evade normal public accountability.

It stands to reason that if you are able to calculate the amount of money refunded to members of the public, you must also know the number appeals to which that figure relates.

Your sudden introduction at this late stage of an attempted reliance upon a qualified exemption is in clear breach of Section 17 of the Act.

Furthermore, your assessment of that exemption in relation to the weight given to the public interest (even if relevant) is not persuasive.

Newham's contract with Mouchel is for 10 years and directly impacts upon the proper and impartial performance of the council's statutory duties and quasi-judicial functions. That's a long time to keep important information like this secret.

Before Newham Council will allow any appeal at all to be made against an ordinary parking ticket where the vehicle has been removed, the Authority currently requires full, advance payment of the penalty charge and removal fee. The public has a right to know whether, when their representations are being considered, the decision could be prejudiced by the potential direct cost to the council of cancelling the ticket, in that the contractor may nevertheless keep removal fees which are refunded to the appellant.

If representations are accepted by council officers, several hundred pounds has to be refunded to the vehicle's owner. There is a clear and overriding public interest in knowing whether the equivalent sums are being reclaimed from the contractor.

If they are not, then the council's discretion is potentially being fettered as a direct consequence of a contractual arrangement into which it has deliberately entered.

Under such circumstances, vehicle owners wishing to challenge a penalty charge notice where their vehicle has been removed may be forced unnecessarily to adjudication, or (more likely) be persuaded to give up their challenge by routine rejection of cases at the first stage.

I would like to refer you to the Information Commissioner's decision notice of 28th July 2008 against the Department for Transport in case no. FS50141374, which can be found here:
http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/...

I would further like to request that you reconsider your decision promptly in light of the above.

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Newham Borough Council

Dear Mr O'Brien,

Thank you for your email.
Your further comments have been raised with the Information Governance manager and he will respond to you formally at the earliest opportunity.
Yours sincerely,

Information Governance
London Borough of Newham
Newham Dockside, 1000 Dockside Road, London E16 2QU
Tel: 020 3373 4634
Fax: 020 8430 1504

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Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

This annotation is just to make the issues a little easier to follow.

In the revised response above, Newham revealed that

5,772

vehicles were towed away after being issued with parking tickets (penalty charge notices) during this period.

In this FOI response

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ve...

Newham revealed that income from issuing PCNs then towing away the vehicles in this period was

£1,100,440

That is quite a significant revenue stream for the contractor, Mouchel Plc., and also represents a DOUBLING of income compared to the same revenue stream in the previous year.

Have traffic conditions really changed that much in 12 months?

5,772 vehicles is over 15 tow-aways every single day of the year, day after day. That's a level of consistency rivalled only by Enron, and really quite impressive when you think about it. A tow truck has a finite capacity, given that it has to take the cars all the way out to the pound at Jenkins Lane, then come all the way back in for the next one, and given that in many cases the council is obliged by law to wait 30 minutes after issuing the ticket before a vehicle can be towed.

But how significant is it in the context of overall council funding? Is this revenue important to Newham? Does it matter?

The council's draft statement of accounts for 2011/12 can be found here:

http://www.newham.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/66...

It shows that income from Highways, Roads and Transport Services was just over

£30 million

So, income of just over £1 million from towing away cars after given them a parking ticket represents about

3 percent of total revenue.

So, all of a sudden, 5,772 people are providing 3% of Newham's Highways Department revenue.

Are they being treated fairly?

And now that the Olympics are upon us and extra parking restrictions have been introduced, with enforcement by vehicle removal, are people who get caught out by the special Olympic Event Parking Zone going to be treated fairly if and when they appeal?

Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

In the same revised response above, Newham revealed that

£42,980

was refunded to car owners.

(The money had to be refunded because Newham demands payment up front, before allowing people to make any representations at all against their parking ticket.)

Clearly, not many refunds were made, since the sum in question is usually £265 per ticket.

What remains unclear is whether or not the contractor, Mouchel, lost the equivalent revenue, or whether Newham still had to pay the company for the tow.

Also not clear is whether Newham was FORCED to give these refunds by an adjudicator, or whether some of them were given at the first stage, where the council uses its discretion to cancel the ticket.

Also not clear is how many people did make representations, but had them rejected by the council.

Whether or not Newham does, or indeed can, act fairly when considering vehicle removal appeals remains, therefore, an open question.

So far in this, the commercial interests of the contractor, Mouchel Plc., have been put first.

Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

I asked London Councils for some of the missing information, since the adjudication service they run on behalf of the 33 London boroughs will have it to hand.

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/pa...

Newham Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr O,Brien

REVIEW - FOI Request E12247 - Parking Fines

Please find attached letter.

Regards

Maxine Clarke
Complaints & Members Enquiries Officer
Information Governance

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Dear Ms. Clarke,

I'm really confused now.

So you are applying s.10(3), which states specifically:

"this subsection does not affect the time by which any notice under section 17(1) must be given."

This is basically an unlawful delaying tactic, isn't it?

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

Possibly, the ultimate aim is to delay beyond the audit inspection period, during which the Council's accounts are open to be examined, so that interested parties cannot find out the truth and follow up legitimate lines of enquiry.

See here for more information about accessing Newham's accounts, as well as "all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them" under Section 15(1) of the Audit Commission Act 1998, which also gives you the right to "make copies of all or any part of the accounts and those other documents."

http://www.blowe.org.uk/2012/07/update-o...

Dear Newham Borough Council,

Whilst awaiting your (hopefully both expeditious and more honest) response to my email of 8th August, I would like to further address the cost issues previously raised, in case they have not been entirely put aside at this stage.

I note that clause E3.6 of the General Terms and Conditions of Newham's agreement with Mouchel (previously disclosed under Freedom of Information) reads:

"The Contractor will assist the Council to enable the Council to comply with its obligations under the FOIA or other applicable legislation governing access to information. In particular, it acknowledges that the Council is entitled to any and all information relating to the performance of this Contract or arising in the course of performing this Contract. In the event that the Council receives a request for information under the FOIA or any other applicable legislation governing access to information, and requires the Contractor's assistance in obtaining the information that is the subject of such request or otherwise, the Contractor will respond to any such request for assistance from the Council at its own cost promptly and in any event within 10 days of receiving the Council's request."

So, in fact, Newham's initial (late) response to this request seems to have been entirely disingenuous in that, under the explicit terms of the contract, the contractor was not entitled to charge a fee for the (very straightforward) work of extracting the information by way of response and, moreover, was required to bear the full cost.

I put it to you that the late application of an exemption not previously notified is no less disingenuous.

Perhaps it would be better to fully address this request for information in good faith going forward?

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Dear Newham Borough Council,

This simple request has unnecessarily been turned into a very long chain of correspondence, so I thought it might be useful at this stage to summarise the information you are currently still withholding. It is as follows:

1. The number of removal PCNs appealed
a) by way of representations to the council
b) by way of formal appeal to PATAS

2. The number of appeals allowed
a) at stage 1 by discretion of the council
b) at stage 2 by order of a PATAS adjudicator

3. The total amount of money reclaimed from the enforcement/removal contractor as a result.

Thank you for answering the other parts of the request.

I hope that this summary is helpful in clarifying the parts which remain outstanding.

For the first two you may or may not still be claiming a cost limit exemption, which I have shown to be unfounded.

In the third, you are belatedly attempting to apply an exemption for possible prejudice to the commercial interests of the contractor. I contend that this is bogus, too late to be applicable, and has in any case been incorrectly assessed.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Newham Borough Council

Dear Mr O'Brien

Thank you for your e mail.

You will be hearing from us shortly, thank you for your continued patience in this matter.

Regards

Maxine Clarke I Complaints & Member Enquiries Officer I
Strategic Commissioning & Community
London Borough of Newham
Newham Dockside I 1000 Dockside Road I London E16 2QU
DDI: 0203 373 1268 I Int: 31268

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Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

London Councils has now published statistics for its own 2011-12 reporting period here.

http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/policyl...

This is distinct from the financial year under consideration in this request, but the figures are directly comparable to those in my annotation from 12th July above.

Once again, they demonstrate that such information is easy to provide and should not be secret. There is no good reason why Newham cannot reveal its own statistics for the period requested.

The London Councils figures show that in their 2011-12 reporting year Newham issued

203,096 parking PCNs

(up 6.25% on the same period in the previous year)

4,566 of these were appealed to PATAS

(up 46.25% on the same period in the previous year)

2,642 (or 57.86%) of the PATAS appeals were either allowed or not contested

(up from 50% in the same period the previous year)

and 5,885 vehicles were towed away to the pound somewhere in amongst all that

(up by an astonishing and totally disproportionate 96.69% on the same period in the previous year!)

Why such a huge increase in vehicle removals when the number of PCNs only went up a bit?

Is it because payment is guaranteed; there is a £200 uplift on each PCN via the removal fee; and owners are discouraged from appealing by having their representations rejected at the first (council) stage, or simply discouraged from making representations at all by being forced to pay the PCN up front, before being allowed to collect the car?

And if representations are made, does Newham have an incentive to reject them because of the direct cost of cancelling the ticket through still having to pay the contractor a removal fee?

These are legitimate and important questions.

Dear Ms. Clarke,

In your emailed letter of 8th August, you stated that:

"The Council has not yet reached a decision on the balance of the public interest. Due to the need to consider, in all the circumstances of the case, where the balance of the public interest lies in relation to the information that you have requested, the Department will not be able to respond to your request until the 24th August 2012."

In fact, this is not accurate, is it?

In fact, it now seems apparent that the council has reached a definite decision that the balance of interests lies with firmly in shielding Mouchel, at least until shareholders have voted on the deal to turn over their company to a consortium of creditor banks in order to save it as a going concern at the General Meeting to be held on 24th August, as advertised on the company's website and reported in numerous national newspapers:

http://www.mouchel.com/investors/shareho...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/...

This no doubt also accounts for the late application of the Section 43(2) exemption.

Can we agree that the information regarding the total amount of money reclaimed in respect of vehicle removals is embargoed and will definitely be released on 25th August?

And in the meantime, can we agree that the information described at points 1 & 2 of my email from 13th August will be released immediately?

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

It seems not altogether impossible that the reason for the disproportionate increase in vehicle removals is that a desperate Mouchel has been allowed to 'milk' the system for either cash flow, profit or both.

Whether or not that really is the case, the suspicion that it might be makes an (eventual) full and frank answer to this FOI request more important than ever to the people of Newham, and indeed to anyone concerned about the commercialisation of law enforcement.

Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

It is worthy of note that the London Borough of Newham has now also refused access to electors to any part of its contracts with Mouchel for parking enforcement and all the associated invoices under Section 15(1) of the Audit Commission Act 1998, stating that the whole body of those documents constitutes confidential information. Just like that!

Interestingly, Newham Council's external auditor, PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP, is also the statutory auditor appointed to the Mouchel Group Plc.

This is a not-unheard-of situation now that the Audit Commission subcontracts a lot of work to the big accountancy firms, which also do most of the audit work for publicly quoted companies, but it does present a particular potential for conflict of interest in this case.

Newham's audit inspection window is open until 7th September:
http://www.newham.gov.uk/YourCouncil/Fin...

Dear Newham Borough Council,

The 24th August has been and gone, and still no reply I see. Soon autumn will be upon us and your audit inspection period will be safely closed for another year...

You will be pleased to know, however, that I have saved you some work to try and speed things along. London Councils has been able to provide some of the information which you have been inexplicably determined to withhold via records which they hold at PATAS.

So, referring to the summary numbering in my email of 13th August - a couple of weeks ago now, - the answer to question 1.(b) - that is, the number of removal PCNs appealed by way of formal appeal to PATAS - is:

230

The answer to question 2.(b) - that is, he number of appeals allowed at stage 2 by order of a PATAS adjudicator - is:

100

(That last figure includes 11 appeals not contested.)

For your reference, London Councils' full response, which was provided without any unnecessary fuss, can be found here:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/pa...

So, only questions 1.(a), 2.(a), and 3. remain outstanding.

With regards to question 3. and your bizarrely disingenuous approach to withholding that information, I notice that existing Mouchel investors declined, on Friday, to put their stamp of legitimacy on the takeover of the company by lenders and management in return for a penny per share held, and that this will be done instead without their approval via a pre-pack administration.

I understand that KPMG, as administrators, are in the process of transferring the Group's assets to a new private, unlisted company, MRBL Ltd. (owned by affiliates of RBS, Barclays and Lloyds,) and that the listing of Mouchel Group Plc.'s shares was cancelled this morning.

It is not clear to me whether or how this may change your assessment of the section 43(2) exemption which you claim, implausibly and belatedly, to be applicable to question 3, since I have had no further response from you.

I look forward to receiving one.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Dear Newham Borough Council,

Apparently, some members of the public in Liverpool have suggested this week that over 20 years was a long time to cover up injustice and wrongdoing. But it is said that even South Yorkshire police now accept that these people were not just being an impatient and annoying inconvenience in wanting to know the truth. Information is a powerful thing, is it not? That's probably why some public authorities still want to keep much less serious things secret if they possibly can, by any means available.

It does seem like over 20 years since I last had any response to this FOI request, but I know it can't be. It is definitely more than 20 days though...

I hope that Mouchel Plc's administration and rebirth as MRBL Ltd. is progressing well, and that I'll be hearing from you very soon.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Dear Newham Borough Council,

Please confirm whether you are going to reply or whether I am going to have to refer the request to the ICO.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Newham Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your emails. We attach our response under the disclosure provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team on (020) 3373 7912 or email us at [Newham Borough Council request email] .

Alternatively, if you believe we have not dealt with your request satisfactorily you may initially complain to us and then to the Information Commissioner's Office. The Information Commissioner would expect you to have given the Council the opportunity to deal with your appeal prior to you contacting them. Please see guidance on the Freedom of Information Appeals page: http://www.newham.gov.uk/YourCouncil/Fre...

As with other local authorities, the number of enquiries has increased each year since the introduction of the Freedom of Information legislation. Therefore, to enable us to deal with your enquiry more efficiently, we have introduced an online form. We would ask that you submit all future requests via our online form:
https://forms.newham.gov.uk/AF3/an/defau...

In addition, you may find it useful to access the following link, where you can view our Publication Scheme, a list of previous requests and responses and/or use our E-Form should you wish to make further requests: http://www.newham.gov.uk/YourCouncil/Fre...

Yours sincerely,

Information Governance
London Borough of Newham
Newham Dockside, 1000 Dockside Road, London E16 2QU
Tel: 020 3373 4634
Fax: 020 8430 1504

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Dear Newham Borough Council,

Thank you. Finally. After 4 months.

This has been like getting blood out of a stone, but at least we did not have to trouble the Information Commissioner unnecessarily in the end.

From your reply, a decision to cancel a removal PCN does appear to incur a net cost if a refund is made to the vehicle owner but nothing is reclaimed from the contractor.

It is to be hoped that this potential cost has not caused bias in considering representations.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to address the issue contractually going forward to avoid any possibility of apparent bias in council decision making.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. O'Brien

Mr. O'Brien left an annotation ()

For the convenience of other readers, here are the answers all in one place.

From 1st April 2011 to 31st March 2012 inclusive:

Q1. How many parking penalty charge notices (PCNs) were issued where
the vehicle was subsequently removed?

A1. - 5,772

NB: London Councils has the figure higher at 5,885, here:
http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/London%...
but the reporting period might be slightly different and that higher figure may include vehicles not specifically removed for parking contraventions, but for other reasons as well.

Q2. How many of these PCNs were appealed (whether to the council or
to PATAS)?

A2. - 2,207 representations
A2. - of which 211 cases went on to PATAS

NB: PATAS itself gave a slightly higher figure, saying it had dealt with 230 cases, here:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/pa...

Q3. How many of the appeals were allowed (whether by the council
itself or by an adjudicator)?

A3. - 297 PCNs cancelled at council discretion
A3. - 39 cancellations ordered by PATAS

NB: PATAS itself claims to have ordered 100 cancellations, here:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/pa...
if 11 uncontested cases are counted. Maybe somebody has confused 39 with 89 somewhere.

Q4. What was the total amount of money refunded to motorists as a
result?

A4. - £42,980

NB: This figure seems too low for 336 cancelled removals since the removal fee is £200 and the PCN usually £65 at the early payment discount rate, but it is the figure Newham has given.

Q5. What was the total amount of money reclaimed from the
enforcement/removal contractor as a result?

A5. - Zero

Tim Prestidge left an annotation ()

I don't understand who this response is from. I think Gemma Gordon-Johnson left Newham some time ago and is now at Barnet.

The current Head of Complaints and Member Enquiries at Newham is Martin Gibbs.