There were over nine million Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) fines issued by local councils in 2018, for offences including parking, misusing a bus lane or box junction, and illegally turning left/right.

These fines amounted to just over £326m. With London, or parts of London, taking the lion’s share; the top four revenue generators included Westminster City Council, and the London Boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham, Islington, and Newham. They pocketed nearly £55m between them.

With that said, it was Manchester City Council that issued the largest number of PCNs – 598,060 in total, Westminster City Council were second on the list, issuing just over half of Manchester’s total – 313,012.

Unfair issues

A new report by Confused.com, written after obtaining information under a Freedom of Information request has highlighted just how rife this problem is, and quite possibly, how ‘creative’ the councils are when it comes to issuing fines for such offences.

74% of appellants that fought the ticket (approximately 2,664,000 motorists) either paid a reduced amount, or nothing at all. You’d have to wonder – how valid are the methods & processes when it comes to issuing a ticket, if so many are overturned on appeal? Such a widescale problem is this, that around 48% of all UK motorists have been hit with a PCN at some point.

For many motorists, the issue is signage, or to be more precise, unclear signage; three out of ten drivers who appealed against the PCN fine blamed unclear, misleading signage for the problem, and with the fines being overturned by the governing body, you’d think they have a point.

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor for Confused.com says: “The fact that almost three quarters of PCN appeals were successful last year suggests that some fines are being issued unfairly. With councils raking in over £326m in PCNs, it’s only right that some of this fine money is invested to help make road signs clearer to eliminate the number of fines being distributed unfairly”.

Cashing in

Surprisingly, only 42% of motorists feel that councils see them as an easy revenue generator, I’d have expected that figure to be quite a bit higher, but what incentive do they have to change the signage or relax regulations?

The whole attitude to this kind of problem is represented perfectly by independent adjudicators when they were asked to investigate numerous problems relating to PCNs within the City of Coventry. The independent adjudicators stated: “Yet Coventry City Council, seemingly with a determination and delusion reminiscent of King Canute himself, has continued to enforce PCNs”.

The council were advised many times to change the confusing or misleading signs relating to parking restrictions but refused to act, stating that they complied with regulations. Effectively, they’d done the bare minimum to comply, and numbers of PCNs rocketed thanks to their in-action. Bloody-mindedness or budgetary choice?

The price of PCNs

The reality is that councils can generate some much needed revenue through the use of PCN fines – in Coventry, the layout and signage of one junction alone was so poor that it ‘earned’ the council over £1m before they agreed to update the signs; it went from between 2,500 – 3,000 infringements per month to just over 1,000 after changes.

It’s a lazy argument to trot out the ‘cash cow’ phrase too often when it comes to motoring expenses, fines and taxes, either direct or stealthily, but there does seem as though there is a genuine argument for tighter controls to be put in place for the issuing of PCNs; perhaps instead of being enforced locally, it should be a national body that distributes the wealth based on performance?

How many appeals won, against PCNs issued would be a great starting point – it would certainly force the councils to play on a more level playing field by updating their signs and processes to be clearer and less biased in their favour; if they knew that there was a greater chance of losing money because their process or signage was unclear, you can be sure they’d soon update them.

Secondly, the appeal process should be made easier and more straightforward; 60% of drivers that received a PCN didn’t challenge it, with 13% being put off by the confusion of information, and 17% claiming that they didn’t even know how to appeal. Over 50% of these drivers stated that if the process was clearer, they’d have challenged the unfair fine. You can see the official government advice on challenging a fine here: https://www.gov.uk/parking-tickets/challenging-a-ticket

Do you feel that PCNs are mostly unfair? Would you know how to challenge a PCN? Have you won an appeal against an unfair fine? Let us know in the comments.

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