Penalty charge notices
This fact sheet covers England & Wales. You will need different advice if you live in Scotland.
Use this fact sheet to:
- work out your options for dealing with the penalty;
- help you appeal a penalty debt if you don’t agree with it; and
- deal with bailiff action for a penalty.
This fact sheet tells you how to deal with a civil parking penalty debt. These are different to criminal fines, and are often called ‘penalty charge notices or PCNs’.
What is a parking penalty charge?
Most councils have the power to enforce parking penalties under the Traffic Management Act 2004. These parking penalties are not treated as criminal offences. They are often known as a ‘parking penalty charge’ or a 'penalty charge notice’ (PCN). You cannot be sent to prison for not paying a parking penalty.
Typically your council will have its own traffic wardens (called civil enforcement officers) who issue penalty charge notices, for example, for parking on double yellow lines, in a permit only zone, on zigzag lines or in parking meter zones.
There are also other types of traffic penalty, such as the London congestion charge, penalties for vehicle emissions and penalties for bus lane offences. The procedure for dealing with these types of penalties is slightly different. If you have one of these penalties, contact us for advice.
This fact sheet does not cover the following types of parking charges and fines as the rules for these are completely different.
- Parking tickets issued for parking on privately owned land, such as a supermarket car park. These are often called 'parking charge notices'. See our Parking charge notices fact sheet.
- Magistrates' court fines for a parking offence. See our Magistrates’ court fines fact sheet.
If you are not sure what sort of parking charge you have, contact us for advice.
Who is responsible for paying?
The ‘registered keeper’ of the car is the person or organisation recorded at the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) as being the keeper of the vehicle. This may be a different person to the ‘owner’ of the car. Although the owner of the car is legally responsible for the penalty charge, the council will normally assume that the owner is also the registered keeper.
This means that if you are the registered keeper, the council will assume you are responsible for the penalty. If you are not also the owner, you should not be responsible for the penalty but you will need to prove this to the council. If you are the owner and the registered keeper, then you will normally be responsible for the penalty even if you were not driving at the time. There are some situations in which this may not be the case. Contact us for advice.
How might I receive a penalty?
A penalty charge notice can be issued in the following ways.
- A penalty charge notice could be fixed to your car or handed to you by a civil enforcement officer.
- A penalty charge notice can be sent by post. This may happen in cases where the incident was caught on CCTV; or because you drove away when the civil enforcement officer was issuing the notice or you prevented them from giving you the notice in the first place.
- A penalty charge notice can be issued at the same time as your car is clamped or removed by the civil enforcement officer.
From 6 April 2015, you get a 10 minute grace period before a penalty charge notice is issued if you overstay your permitted time. This applies to on or off road parking in England only.
This does not mean that you get 10 minutes free parking at the beginning of your stay, and the grace period will not apply if you:
- do not make any payment for parking when required to do so; or
- park on single or double yellow lines, in front of dropped kerbs or in permit only bays.
Clamping your car
Civil enforcement officers have powers to clamp your car but this does not happen very often. It is most likely to happen if you have had penalty charges before, or if you are not properly registered with the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
In some cases, for example if your vehicle is causing danger to others because of where it is parked, the council has the power to remove your vehicle rather than just clamp it. If this happens, contact us for advice.
For more information, see the later section Court action. If you want to dispute the charge, see the later section How do I dispute the charge?.
Paying the penalty charge
You get 28 days to pay. This either runs from the date you got the penalty, or the date of service if you got it in the post. The date of service is usually the second working day (for example, not a Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday) after the postmark. If you pay the charge within 14 days of getting it, you get a 50% discount. If the penalty charge notice was sent by post on the basis of camera evidence, the charge will be reduced by 50% if it is paid within 21 days.
Pay the penalty charge in full if you can afford to. If you cannot afford to pay in full, use Your budget to make an offer to pay the council in instalments. Use our budget tool to make a budget if you have not got one.
If you do not pay, the council will send you a ‘notice to owner’. If you received the penalty charge notice by post, you will not get a separate ‘notice to owner’ as the penalty charge notice itself acts as the notice.
The notice will tell you:
- to pay the full penalty charge within 28 days of service; or
- to dispute the charge by making formal ‘representations’ to the council within 28 days of service.
The date of service is normally on the second working day (for example, not a Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday) after the date it was posted.
After 14 days, the council can apply to Northampton county court for a court order. Court costs can be added at this stage. The 14 days starts to run from the date of service of the charge certificate.
If you have still not paid after the 28 days run out, the council may issue a 'charge certificate' and add an extra 50% to the amount you owe.
How do I dispute the charge?
Contact the council
When you receive the notice to owner, you can dispute the charge by making a formal appeal to the council. There are set grounds for a formal appeal. Which grounds to use will depend on whether the penalty charge notice was:
- posted to you;
- issued by a civil enforcement officer; or
- issued at the same time as your car was clamped or taken away.
The grounds you can use should be listed on your notice. If not, the Traffic Penalty Tribunal can tell you what the grounds are. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet or contact us for advice.
Some councils will accept an informal appeal against your penalty. This means you tell them you are disputing the penalty as soon as you receive it. Check with your council if they accept informal appeals and follow their instructions.
If you are successful, the council should cancel the penalty. If you are not successful, you can appeal again using the ‘notice to owner’. If your council does not accept informal appeals, you will need to wait to receive the ‘notice to owner’ before you can appeal.
What if I don’t fit into these grounds?
You can ask the council to use their discretion in your case and cancel the penalty. The council has the power to cancel the penalty in exceptional circumstances. You must have ’compelling reasons’ for them to do this. There are no set reasons. The council will consider each case individually. Some examples of compelling reasons might be as follows.
- There was an emergency.
- There were medical reasons or other compassionate grounds.
- There was a fault with the parking equipment, for example a meter.
- There was a mistake by the civil enforcement officer.
The council will make a decision and either send you a ‘notice of rejection’ or a notice agreeing to cancel the charge.
You will need to back up your appeal with any proof you might have to support your case, such as photographs, copies of tickets, maps, plans, receipts, documents, statements from witnesses and so on.
Can I appeal again?
If the council has sent you a 'notice of rejection', you can appeal again to an independent adjudicator from the Traffic Penalty Tribunal. You must do this within 28 days of the notice of rejection being served. The date of service is normally on the second working day (for example, not a Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday) after the postmark.
You need to fill in a ‘notice of appeal’ form which the council should send you with the notice of rejection. The grounds for appeal are the same as for appeals directly to the council. However, you can use the form to add new arguments and make additional points to support your case. The appeal is usually dealt with by post but you can ask for a telephone or face-to-face hearing if you want one.
The adjudicator can only cancel the penalty if one of the set grounds is met. However, they can recommend to the council that the penalty charge is cancelled if there are other compelling reasons. See the previous section What if I don’t fit into these grounds?.
It may be possible to complete the notice of appeal online. If this option is available, the council should provide you with a unique pin number, as well as a paper form. You can then choose which method to use.
Penalties issued by London councils
If your penalty charge was issued by a council in London, the process for appealing is slightly different. You need to send your notice of appeal to London Tribunals and not the Traffic Penalty Tribunal. See Useful contacts towards at end of this fact sheet.
Reviewing the adjudicator’s decision
Either party can ask for a review within 14 days of the adjudicator’s decision. This must be in writing. It is very rare that the adjudicator’s decision will change. The grounds for review are as follows.
- The decision was wrongly made as a result of adjudicator error.
- New evidence has come to light after the hearing or the decision which could not have reasonably been known before.
If your council does not let you appeal the charge certificate, and the penalty is not paid within 14 days of the charge certificate being served, the council can apply to the Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC) at Northampton county court for an order to recover the penalty charge. This is called an ‘order for recovery’ and it tells you that the debt has been registered with the TEC.
This will register the charge ‘as if it is a county court judgment’ and add court costs to the amount you owe. The order is sent to you by the council with a form attached called ‘witness statement - unpaid penalty charge (parking form TE9)’ which you can use to dispute the charge.
Appeal rights if a charge certificate has been issued
Once you receive a charge certificate, the council has no legal duty to consider an appeal. It may still be worth contacting them if you feel there are particular circumstances they should take into account. For example, if the charge certificate is the first you have heard about the penalty, or there is a good reason why you have been unable to appeal before.
Objecting using the witness statement form
The order for recovery should tell you the date you must return your completed witness statement by. This is usually 21 days from the date the order was issued by the Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC).
You can object after 21 days or ask for more time, but you must have good reasons. You will need to fill in another form called ‘application to file a statement out of time or extension of time (parking form TE7)’. Your reasons should not be those you are using to dispute the penalty itself. Your reasons should explain why you need more time, or why your application is late. You then send this form with the witness statement itself (TE9) to the TEC.
On the witness statement (TE9), you can only use the following grounds to object. You may use more than one as long as the penalty was not issued by a London council.
- Ground one: You did not receive the penalty charge or notice to owner because, for example, it went to the wrong address.
- Ground two: You made representations to the council within the correct time limit but you did not receive a notice of rejection.
- Ground three: You made an appeal to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal within the correct time limit, but have received no response.
- Ground four: You have paid the penalty charge in full.
Getting a copy of the TE9
The council should have sent you the witness statement form, but if not, you can get a copy from the court service. Go to www.gov.uk and search for 'Traffic Enforcement Centre forms'.
What happens to my objection?
If your application was on time
If you have used ground one
If you have used ground one, the charge certificate, order for recovery and the notice to owner will be cancelled. This does not mean the penalty itself is cancelled. The council may decide to issue a new notice to owner. This means you should get the chance to pay the penalty with a 50% discount, or you can dispute the penalty by making representations to the council.
If you have used ground two or three
The TEC should refer the case back to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal. They will then decide what action to take.
If you have used ground four
The charge certificate and order for recovery will be cancelled.
If your application is late
If you have asked the TEC to accept a witness statement after the 21 day time limit has passed, they will first decide if the application uses valid grounds. If they are valid, TEC will then send the application to the council. The council has 19 working days to decide whether to accept the late witness statement or not.
If it is accepted, and the witness statement is correct, the order for recovery is cancelled. The penalty still exists and it is up to the council to decide what action to take next. If the council does not accept the late witness statement, it is passed to a court officer. They will make an independent decision about whether to accept the late witness statement.
What if I do nothing?
If you do not send back a completed witness statement or ask for more time, the charge will be enforced. See the later section How is the charge enforced?.
Can I appeal the Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC) decision?
If the court officer rejects your application to file a late witness statement, you can ask for this decision to be reviewed. You have 14 days to fill in an N244 ‘application notice’ form asking to set aside the TEC’s decision. If the TEC accepts your application, it will transfer the case to your local county court hearing centre for a hearing with a District Judge. There will normally be a fee to pay to make this application.
How is the charge enforced?
Instructing bailiffs is the most common type of enforcement for parking penalty debts. Before bailiffs can be used, the court must have sent you the order for recovery. The 21 day time limit on the order for recovery must have run out. Also, the bailiffs must give you seven clear days' notice that they are due to visit you. This is often known as the 'enforcement notice'.
If bailiffs have already been instructed, but you think you have grounds for appeal, you can ask to file a late witness statement. The council will have to suspend enforcement action whilst the TEC deals with your application. Bailiffs are also commonly known as enforcement agents. In this fact sheet we use the term bailiff.
You do not have to let the bailiffs into your home. The bailiffs should not force their way into your home unless:
- you have let them in on a previous visit;
- they took control of your goods and you have broken the agreement you made with the bailiffs; and
- they have given you two clear days’ notice.
Politely but firmly refuse to let the bailiffs in, without opening the door to them. Offer what you can afford to pay. If the bailiffs accept your offer, ask them to return to their car and go out and pay them. Make sure you get a receipt. If you have not let the bailiffs in before, keep your doors locked. A bailiff is allowed to come into your property through an unlocked door, even if you are not in at the time. Although bailiffs should not enter through a window, it is a good idea to keep windows closed.
A bailiff can take control of goods outside your home, so if you have a vehicle, keep it in a locked garage. If you park the vehicle on your drive, the bailiffs could clamp it. You could park the vehicle away from your property, but if you park it on a public road and the bailiff finds it, they could clamp and possibly remove it.
Bailiffs should not take basic household goods such as clothing, bedding, furniture and household equipment. Goods that you need to use for your business or education are also protected (up to a total value of £1,350). This can include a vehicle if it is necessary for your job or business. It is not good practice for a bailiff to take anything that belongs to, or is used solely by a child, and you should complain if they threaten to do this.
You can try to persuade the council to accept payments by instalments instead. If the council will not accept payment by instalments, you could save up a lump sum to pay the total bill later. If you do not ever let the bailiffs into your home, they may eventually give up and return the warrant to the council.
The bailiff's warrant
You cannot apply to the County Court to suspend the warrant on an N245 form and pay by instalments. This is different to other forms of county court judgment.
What fees can county court bailiffs charge you?
Bailiffs can charge you the following fees if they start the type of action described.
- £75 for being instructed by the creditor, carrying out initial checks, investigations and receiving payments.
- £235 to cover visiting and entering premises and taking control of your goods.
- £110 to cover attending to removing your goods, valuing them and arranging for them to be sold.
- The cost of storing goods which the bailiff has removed.
- The cost of hiring a locksmith, if one is needed.
If your debt is over £1,500 or if your goods are sold at auction, further fees can be charged. Contact us for advice.
The bailiffs should give you information about how much you owe before and after they visit you. If you think they have charged you too much, contact us for advice. You may be able to challenge the fees through the county court.
If the bailiffs have been unable to get payment from you or take goods, they will tell the council. The council can ask the county court to enforce the penalty charge using other methods, although this does not happen very often. Two of the possible methods are listed below.
Attachment of earnings order This means money is taken directly from your wages. See our Attachment of earnings orders fact sheet.
This means the debt is secured on your property. See our Charging orders fact sheet.
The case may be transferred to another county court for enforcement. If the council threatens to take further action against you, contact us for advice.
If you receive an order for recovery from the county court and have at least one other debt, and your total debts are worth no more than £5,000, you may be able to apply to the county court for an administration order.
You need to have at least one county court or high court judgment. This includes a TEC order for recovery.
An administration order will stop all recovery action against you and is a way of getting all your debts dealt with by making one monthly payment. See our Administration orders fact sheet for more information.
Bailiffs must follow rules and behave properly when dealing with you. If they do not follow the proper procedures you can complain. If you have a complaint about the conduct of the bailiff firm, you should take this up with the bailiff firm and the council. This is because the bailiffs are acting as agents for the council.
Write a letter to the bailiff company and the council. Set out clearly why you feel they have acted unfairly and explain what you want them to do to put things right. Keep a copy of your letter.
If you are unhappy with the reply from the council, you may be able to complain to the ombudsman.
- If your complaint is about a council in England, contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO).
- If your complaint is about a council in Wales, contact the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW).
See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.
The LGSCO and PSOW can only consider complaints about bailiffs collecting parking penalties in some circumstances. For more information see the following fact sheets.
- The LGSCO has a fact sheet called Parking enforcement, which deals with complaints.
- The PSOW has a fact sheet called Car Parking Enforcement, which deals with complaints.
You may be able to complain to the county court if the bailiff is certificated. This area of law is complicated. Contact us for advice.
Parking and Traffic Regulations Outside London (PATROL) Information on the parking penalty process (for penalties issued outside of London only). www.patrol-uk.info
Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Phone: 0300 790 0203 www.ombudsman.wales
See website for relevant addresses
Phone: 020 7520 7200
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) Phone: 0300 061 0614 www.lgo.org.uk
Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC)
Phone: 0300 123 1059
Traffic Penalty Tribunal Phone: 0162 5445 555 Email: email@example.com www.trafficpenaltytribunal.gov.uk