Cherwell District Council has apologised ‘unreservedly’ after an investigation revealed that motorists were being denied the right to challenge parking tickets.
A woman in Cherwell complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after receiving a fine in a council car park run by the contractor APCOA.
The ticket machine in the car park in question was broken and APCOA’s phone service would not take calls from withheld numbers, and so the woman was unable to pay.
She challenged the parking fine unsuccessfully and then tried to pay £40 online. APCOA, however, collected £80.
When she complained to the council, she was told the council had no jurisdiction over the car park as it was being managed by APCOA. She went back to APCOA, but her complaint was treated as an appeal and rejected.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found APCOA was at fault for trying to enforce parking charges without giving customers reasonable means to pay and for the way it dealt with the complaint.
‘Councils can contract out services, but they cannot contract out responsibility for those services. If we find fault with a council’s contractor it is the council’s responsibility to ensure things are put right,’ said Ombudsman Michael King.
‘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 using car parks in its area.’
A spokesperson for Cherwell District Council said: ‘We have apologised unreservedly to the lady referenced in the Ombudsman report. She received a poor service from ourselves and APCOA and we fully acknowledge that.
‘We have already acted on the points raised by the Ombudsman in her recommendations to ensure that others receive the standards of customer service that we strive to provide.’
‘It should be stressed that Cherwell District Council has been operating within the appropriate legislation and all car parking tickets are enforceable,’ they added.