Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 13:56 UK

Ticket pursuit stopping at border

By Diarmaid Fleming
BBC News, Dublin

Parking meter
Tickets issued to people from the Republic are not being pursued

Motorists from Northern Ireland who fail to pay parking ticket fines issued in the Republic are being pursued by the authorities south of the border, under European law.

But due to an administrative anomaly, motorists from the Republic who get parking tickets in Northern Ireland, and do not pay them, are not being chased for payment south of the border.

Councils in the Republic have engaged a London-based company, Euro Parking Collection (EPC) which has powers under European law to pursue in other jurisdictions people who do not pay their parking tickets.

The company says it is not a debt-collection agency, but instead one with specific powers - or "power of attorney" - under European law to act with the legal powers of a council to pursue people in other jurisdictions who do not pay parking ticket fines.

Several councils in the Republic use EPC to chase motorists across Europe who ignore tickets.

The company estimates that more than 80% of "foreign contraveners" of parking tickets issued in the Republic, however, are owners of cars registered in Northern Ireland, so border councils are prominent among those using the company.

The BBC has learned that motorists with NI registered cars who have ignored parking ticket issued in the Republic have been receiving requests for payment, which increase with subsequent letters depending on the scale of charges which apply to parking tickets issued by the enforcing council.

But by contrast, motorists from the Republic who park illegally in Northern Ireland but do not pay their parking ticket fines are not pursued.

Motorists from Northern Ireland who fail to pay parking ticket fines issued in the Republic are being pursued by the authorities south of the border, under European law
Stuart Hendry

The Republic's vehicle licensing authority - the Vehicle Licensing Unit - based in Shannon, County Clare, will provide information on a driver's address, but only to its UK counterparts, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency NI (DVLNI).

The Irish authorities will not deal directly with councils or companies like EPC.

According to EPC, the DVLA and DVLNI are not legally empowered to deal with data relating to motorists from outside the UK and so cannot provide information to the authorities in Northern Ireland seeking information on motorists from other jurisdictions, such as the Republic.

They do, however, provide information on UK motorists when requested by EPC which is a UK-based company, which means that UK motorists can be pursued on behalf of councils in the Republic by EPC.

But this also means that motorists from the Republic cannot be traced by those in Northern Ireland pursuing parking ticket fines.

According to EPC, once letters are issued, about 20-30% of motorists in Northern Ireland pay up, with a further 10-20% paying up after a second letter.

"The remaining half or so do not pay. But another problem we have is inaccuracy in the records of who owns cars in Northern Ireland, which can be to do with movement of cars between Britain and NI," said Stuart Hendry of EPC.

"We find around 20% of names and addresses we chase up are wrong from the database, meaning those fines lapse anyway".

He says payment response rates are much higher among German, Scandinavian and Eastern European drivers after receiving letters, compared to their Irish or British counterparts.

"Payment rates in Britain and Northern Ireland of 20-30% are rather poor compared to the Germans and Scandinavians whose rates are more like 60-70% when they get a letter. We find also that around 40-50% of people from Eastern European countries tend to pay after a letter," he said.

Mr Hendry said it is up to the pursuing council to decide what to do if fines remain unpaid.

He said that, so far, debt collection agencies have not been brought in to enforce fines in Northern Ireland on behalf of councils in the Republic.

The anomaly treating motorists differently on both sides of the border is understood to be under discussion by officials.

Parking ticket offences still come under criminal law in the Republic, but since 1991 have been covered by civil law in the UK.

The Department of Regional Development said they hope to resolve the issue of transferring vehicle details.

"However, later this year clamping and removal will be introduced to the north and southern drivers who have outstanding tickets may be clamped or removed in the same way as northern drivers will be," a spokesperson said.

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