The Power of Grumbling…


[ Please see the disclaimer. ]

Yes, I am opinionated.  And yes, I grumble.  But, I grumble with a purpose and more often than not, I grumble with effect!

The Freedom of Information Act . . .  is your friend! 

I once mentioned to a London black cab driver how I was able to fight a parking ticket using The Freedom of Information Act and the cabbie was so interested that he actually stopped the taxi so that he could talk to me without distraction.

Whilst I understand why councils must police parking space, in London, this has completely gotten out of hand!  And from personal experience, this is especially true in Westminster.  On three separate occasions, I had seriously over-zealous parking wardens issuing very dubious tickets.

  • In the first instance, Westminster temporarily cancelled the parking bay (with the cancellation kicking off in 48 hours) whilst my car was parked in the affected bay.  The warden saw the cancellation notice but didn’t read the details and thus issued a ticket.
  • In the second (and unrelated) instance, Westminster City Council **moved** the car (without permission) and parked it up the road.   Got a ticket because the new spot was not a valid parking bay.  (PCN timestamp matches the council’s notice of removal timestamp!  This was seriously dubious!)
  • In the third instance, there were multiple faded yellow lines on the street to delineate the parameters of the parking bay.   As such, it wasn’t completely clear which lines were valid.   After many years parking on the street (and in this particular bay) without any issue, I got a PCN one day out of the blue.

As you know, I am not afraid to complain.  I’m also very detailed and more importantly, I am very persistent.   Thus, I’d challenged each PCNs and after a very lengthy process, Westminster City Council magnanimously “forgave” me and cancelled the tickets.

And, I did it using the Freedom of Information Act.

Here’s how I did it:

  • NOTE:  before using FIA, please ensure that you are wholly in the right.   In other words, don’t abuse this Act.
  • First, go through the official channels to protest the parking ticket.  (This first step is necessary as it demonstrates your compliance to the council’s processes and procedures.  This is especially important if the council in question ratchets up the fees & penalties if there are delay.)
  •  When your council rejects your appeal (which they surely will despite the strength of your case), then it is time to invoke FIA.  Although it is not necessary, I choose to communicate with the council via written letters. And I always send my letters via registered mail.  Thus, I have a record of what was said and more importantly, when the FIA questions were raised (as the council must reply to FIA requests under a tight deadline).
  • I used the FIA to hold the council accountable to the actions of their agents.  And, I use the FIA to make the appeal process as painful to the council as it is painful to me.
  • With regards to my particular cases, the questions I’d raised were mostly centred on challenging the validity of the PCN by challenging the quality/competency/integrity of the warden.  For example:

a.  training — length of training, curriculum, certification, etc.

b. competency — what % of tickets has this warden issued this year that has been challenged and successfully appealed?  What was the % for the past X years?  How does the rate of successful appeal for this warden compare to the rate of successful appeal for the general population of parking wardens working for the council, etc.

c.  integrity — is this warden under a financial incentive scheme for the number of PCNs issued?   If so, what are the details?

d.  fairness & transparency — how many PCNs were issued on { the street } in the past year?  And, what % of these PCNs were challenged and what was the successful appeal rate, etc. etc. etc.

In my case, Westminster tried to absolved itself from the actions of the parking warden by stating that they are “outsourced”.   Silly response because it only made me more determined to hold Westminster accountable.  Thus, my follow-up FIA requests were:

e.   if the wardens are not employees of Westminster City Council, then why are they wearing uniforms that have Westminster’s logo?  And, as they execute powers on behalf of Westminster, then who in Westminster is responsible for managing and administering this setup?  Who in Westminster Council actually negotiated and signed the contract which allowed for a third party to act as agents for Westminster but yet Westmister is somehow not accountable for their actions, etc. etc. etc.

Needless to say, after these questions were raised, Westminster decided it was easier to ‘forgive and cancel’ the ticket(s) then it was to reply to my FIA requests!

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority . . .  is also your friend!

I have found this organisation (ASA) to be extremely useful whenever I “rage against the machine” when it comes to deceptive marketing and I need an ally.

The first time I’d enlisted the ASA was when I was mis-sold a trip by a UK travel company.  The company advertised in it’s marketing dossier that it doesn’t subcontract their trips but yet they extensively used subcontracted agents throughout.  After I had filed the complaint with the ASA in 2010, the travel company removed the misleading statement from their marketing materials.

The ASA was also instrumental in getting an airline company to be more honest and upfront in their marketing for their complimentary airport transfer service.  In this incident, the airline heavily promoted this service but yet (in my opinion) hid the restrictions in fine prints and in it’s opaque online booking system.

But, your best friend is . . . .   YOURSELF!

Without using any quangos or invoking any Acts, I was able to fight against being ripped off by a top law firm by simply using common sense and dogged persistence.

BTW  . . . . 

So if I would never use this law  firm again on the grounds that that I found their work to be incredibly sloppy and their execution to be incredibly  incompetent, why haven’t I blogged about this firm in the same detail as I have about other firms when I grumble?

Remember my motto:

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As terrible as my experience was with this firm, instead of hiding behind defensive postures, the firm at least acknowledged and admitted their litany of errors.  And, they refunded me for the work that they mucked up.  Thus, this firm gets some @ZombifiedPixie credit!