CHERWELL District Council has been slammed by a watchdog who found its parking operator had been enforcing tickets using the wrong legislation.

It comes after a case in which a woman - referred to as Mrs X - who used a council-owned car park, complained that APCOA, the operator working on behalf of the council, unfairly issued her a parking ticket and handled the case badly.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that the council did not provide a reasonable means for Mrs X to pay the parking charge and that the wrong type of ticket was issued.

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It also found that it failed to reset the discount period after refusing Mrs X's appeal, did not handle an online chat appropriately and did not refund the excess money paid as promised until the Ombudsman's involvement.

The watchdog says the council is also at fault for not complying with the law when it enforces Excess Charge Notices (ECN).

As a result of this investigation, the Ombudsman concluded that APCOA is enforcing parking tickets using the wrong legislation and therefore the wrong process.

A number of service improvements have therefore been made such as the council amending the wording on the ECN issued by APCOA and the cancellation of the debt recovery agreement with an outside agency who had previously been engaged to chase unpaid ECNs.

Oxford Mail:

All new hand held ticket issuing machines will also be fully tested by APCOA Parking Services to ensure that tickets display the correct information in line with the council’s new adopted policy.

In another case, a driver who had parked in a council-owned car park, had difficulties paying for her ticket via her mobile phone.

The woman - referred to as Miss X - paid for two hours of car parking via phone call using her work mobile phone.

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She then had to send her vehicle registration number via text but her work mobile would not allow her to.

She used her personal phone instead but an ECN was issued. The woman appealed to APCOA but the charge was still upheld.

She said: "I feel that they have not properly considered my statement outlining the difficulty that I experienced paying for parking, the steps that I took to remedy this and the fact that parking was paid for."

Cherwell has agreed to cancel the notice and refund Miss X’s payment, which the Ombudsman says provides a 'suitable remedy' for the complaint.

A full review of the procedures at the APCOA Parking Services Customer Contact Centre was undertaken.

Appeals now go to a limited number of APCOA staff who have the knowledge of the council's procedures.