Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 11:28 UK

Council motoring fines 'illegal'

Car parked on double yellow lines
The parking adjudicator urged drivers to appeal

Some councils have earned hundreds of thousands of pounds by enforcing unlawful traffic and parking restrictions, the BBC has learned.

Fines are said to have been levied despite incorrect road markings and on parking bays which are too small.

The Department for Transport said it expected councils to "seriously consider" repayment of illegal fines.

A councils spokesman said refunds may not be the best use of public money "where no-one was genuinely misled".

'No right'

A councillor has highlighted one north London authority's past activities, which he described as "highway robbery".

Alan Stanton, Labour councillor in Haringey, said the borough ticketed two yellow box junctions in Tottenham, north London, which were found to be unlawful.

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Some of the unlawful restrictions that caused fines

"We have taken £120,000 from people we had no right to take," he said.

Haringey council said that when it discovered the boxes were illegal it stopped enforcing them and gave refunds to motorists who appealed.

The BBC has also discovered the entrance to a bus and tram lane which was incorrectly marked has earned Sheffield City Council £350,000, according to Freedom of Information figures.

Meanwhile, London Borough of Camden collected over £245,000 from drivers for who drove down a pedestrianised street which a ruling found was signposted unclearly.

According to barrister Oliver Mishcon, who specialises in motoring cases, local authorities have been acting unlawfully.

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He told the BBC: "It's definitely a massive problem, definitely on a national scale, and we're talking about councils making tens of millions of pounds.

"From a legal point of view, the term is unjust enrichment. And if the council unjustly enriches itself, it's got to pay the money back."

Nick Lester from London Councils, which represents authorities in the capital, argued that handing the cash back was not necessarily in the public interest.

He said: "Where there's only a technical error, a small issue, where no-one was genuinely misled, the council can take the view, is it really a good use of public money to repay the penalty?

"Is that really what they should be doing?"

Appeals against penalty charge notices are heard by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal.

Caroline Sheppard, Chief Parking Adjudicator for the tribunal in England and Wales, said motorists should appeal if they believe they have been wrongly fined.

But she said that many motorists would not want to take the risk of taking their case to tribunal because it would mean losing their 50% discount - and that the onus was on local authorities to put things right.

"Adjudicators would expect them to stop enforcing in that area until such a time as they put it right - councils ought to be able to correct these things very swiftly," she added.

Figures show that last year 60% of all appeals outside London were successful: 32% were not contested by councils and 28% were won by motorists. In London in the year to March 2007, 68% of appeals were successful.




SEE ALSO
Parking fines 'on the increase'
31 Aug 07 |  London

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