“Unlike private car parking companies who issue Parking Charge Notices for the non-payment of parking fees, the operations of the Mersey Gateway are outside the remit of Trading Standards.
“The toll for the use of the Mersey Gateway Bridge is governed by a raft of specific legislation (1) , which covers the signage, the ability to levy charges, the tolls to be paid and the action that can be taken when tolls are not paid.
“This is not a contractual arrangement between a driver using the bridge and the supplier of a service – it is a breach of specific legislation that governs the imposition of the tolls for the use of the bridge. This means that if tolls are not paid, Merseyflow has a statutory power to issue a Penalty Charge Notice on behalf of Halton Borough Council against the registered keeper of the vehicle (regardless of who was driving at the time).
“The consumer protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 does not apply to the Mersey Gateway and neither does any other legislation enforced by Trading Standards.
“The signs (displaying the requirement to pay a toll) are governed by a Certificate of Authorisation issued by the Secretary of State for Transport, which controls the size, content and location of signs. The Certificate was issued undersections 64 and 65 of The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and also amends the application of The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016.
“I am aware of the many posts on social media that are advising consumers to ignore the Penalty Charge Notices; to wait until they are in court to produce their receipts where the driver believes that the Notice has been issued in error; to make claims for inconvenience and to consider a class action against Merseyflow. This advice is incorrect and will result in increased costs for the consumer.
“It is essential that consumers understand the difference between a Parking Charge Notice and a Penalty Charge Notice.”
A Parking Charge Notice is a civil breach, issued when one party has failed to keep to the terms of an agreement i.e. used a private car park and failed to pay the correct parking fee. A consumer has the right to appeal before the matter gets to court.
• If there is no appeal, or the appeal finds against the consumer, and the charge remains unpaid, the company decide whether to issue an action in the Small Claims Court.
• If a claim is issued but the consumer still does not pay, there will be a hearing in the Small Claims Court when a judge will decide if the debt is owed and if it should be paid.
• If the company is ‘awarded judgement’, a County Court Judgement (CCJ) against the consumer is recorded in the Register.
• If the consumer pays in full within a month, they can ask for the CCJ to be removed from the Register.
County Court Judgements can affect your ability to get credit.
A Penalty Charge Notice is a civil breach dealt with by way of a financial penalty but is governed by a specific legal regime: The Road User Charging Schemes (Penalty Charges, Adjudication and Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013, which contain detailed requirements concerning the issue of notices, representations and appeals. The costs will increase at every stage in the process so, if you do not have grounds for appeal, early payment will avoid additional cost.
• A recipient has the right to make representations and details of how to do this must be contained in the letter – it is important to follow the instructions of who to send representations to and by when because strict time limits apply. There are nine grounds stated in the Regulations for representations against penalty charge notices, which the Regulations require to be made in writing:
That the recipient never was the registered keeper or wasn’t the registered keeper at the time of the crossing (if the latter, the name and address of the person to whom the vehicle was disposed of, or acquired from, must be provided);
At the time of the crossing the vehicle was being used by somebody else without the permission of the registered keeper (the crime reference number, police unique reference number, insurance claim reference or other evidence of the vehicle being stolen from that person or taken without that person’s authority and the name and address of the person who used the vehicle without consent must be provided);
The recipient is a vehicle hire firm and liability for payment had been transferred to the hirer;
The toll was paid within the time limit specified;
No toll was payable under the scheme;
The penalty charge exceeded the amount applicable in the circumstances, or,
There has been a procedural impropriety on the part of the charging authority (a failure by them to comply with a requirement of the Transport Act 2000 or the Regulations themselves.
• The charging authority has 56 days to communicate its decision to the recipient.
• If the charging authority rejects the representations, they must serve a Notice of Rejection.
• The recipient can appeal to an adjudicator.
• If the adjudicator concludes that none of the grounds listed above applies, nor that there are compelling reasons why the notice should be cancelled, the adjudicator will dismiss the appeal.
• If there is no appeal, or the appeal is decided against the recipient, and the Penalty Charge Notice remains unpaid, a Charge Certificate can be issued. A Charge Certificate confirms that the penalty charge sum has increased by 50% from its normal (not discounted) level.
• If payment is not made within 14 days, Halton Borough Council has the legal right to register the charge with the Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC) in the County Court that deals with the registration of all debts from England and Wales for all unpaid Penalty Charge Notices.
• After the TEC has sent confirmation to the Council that they may proceed to recover the charge, they have 15 days to prepare and serve an Order for the Recovery of Unpaid Penalty Charge.
• The Regulations mentioned above list four situations, in Regulation 19(2), that can be considered by the Court in deciding whether the Notice is valid. The recipient must supply the Court with a Witness Statement outlining why one of the four situations applies to their situation. If a situation is specified, the court is bound to make a decision in favour of the vehicle owner. However, it should be noted that including information in a witness statement in which you do not have an honest belief would be a contempt of court.
• If an Order for Recovery has been served and if no payment or Witness Statement has been filed in the time allowed, the Council could request authority from the TEC to use an Enforcement Agent to recover the outstanding debt arising from the PCN. This is done with a legal document called a Warrant of Execution. The Warrant allows enforcement agents (previously known as bailiffs) to collect the debt or goods to the value of the debt.
This procedure does not result in a County Court Judgement (CCJ) being registered, nor does it affect a person’s credit rating.
Penalty Charge Notices are outside the remit of Trading Standards.
(1). The River Mersey (Mersey Gateway Bridge) Order 2011 as amended, Mersey Gateway Bridge Byelaws 2016, The Mersey Gateway Bridge and the A533 (Silver Jubilee Bridge) Road User Charging Scheme Order 2017.