Friday, March 14, 2008

Is this your car? Who cares?

I have just been told about some astonishing, but only too typical behaviour, by the petty little gaulatiers who increasingly govern our lives. It is the story of two ladies, their cars and Greenwich Borough Council.

Take a look at this picture.

and then this one,This is the car owned by a pseudonymous Miss Smith. Looks OK doesn't it. Not a car that I would want but nothing particularly wrong with it.

So here is the story, according to the Ombudsman's report,

1. Miss Smith says the car was a Christmas gift from her parents, who had paid £1,500 for it in December 2006. She says it was in good condition and that it contained tools belonging to her father, which were worth several hundred pounds.

The car was registered under her own name and parked outside her own house, but she had not had it taxed for 5 months.

The Council however were not happy. I will quote their position in full, just so you can get a flavour of what happened.

10. The Council says that, on Wednesday 21 February 2007, it received a report from a member of the public that children were trying to break into the car.
11. The Council contacted the DVLA that day and found that the car was registered to Miss Smith at the address outside which it was parked.
12. The Council says that it inspected the car the next day and found the boot lock had been damaged and the brake discs were rusty. This led it to conclude that the car had been stationary for “a period of time". It also noted that the tax had expired five months earlier and, for these reasons, it decided the vehicle was abandoned.
13. The Council says that it decided that, as an abandoned vehicle, the car was fit only for destruction because it valued it at less than £1,000. This valuation took into account the damage to the car and that it did not have the key or the log book.
14. The photographs the Council took of the car are shown as Figure 1 and Figure 2 below. The Council says photographs rarely reflect the real condition of vehicles.
15. The next day, Friday 23 February 2007, the Council issued a removal order using its powers for dealing with abandoned vehicles that are fit only for destruction. The Council says the car was removed and crushed the day after, Saturday 24 February 2007.
They decided, having confirmed that the car was parked outside the owner's house that the car was abandoned. Then they valued it at a prejudicial rate, because there was no log book or key(she was supposed to leave the key in the ignition? In Greenwich?) . They say that the photos they took showing a perfectly normal car the actual car was not like the one they photoed. They then towed it and crushed it. Never once trying to contact the owner.

Who the +%&?"!;*?'+ hell do they think they are?

So much for Miss Smith, how about Miss Potter? Again I return to the Ombudsman's report.
1. Miss Potter’s car was parked in a garage she rented from the Council. The garage is in a block around the corner from her house, which she also rents from the Council. The garage block is surrounded by a high fence and the area is accessed through locked gates. The Council issues keys to the gates to the garage tenants.
2. Miss Potter says she had bought the car in good condition for £900 less than six weeks before the Council ordered it to be destroyed.
3. During those six weeks, Miss Potter says she had not used the car at all. She says that as soon as she bought the car she discovered the insurance would cost too much for her, so she had to sell it.
4. On Friday 29 December 2006, she took a potential buyer to her garage to show them the car. She says when she reached the garage the high fences were intact and the gates were securely locked, but her garage door lock was broken and the car was gone. A neighbour told her he had seen a scrap metal merchant remove the car and crush it.
5. Miss Potter complained to the Council, who told her in a letter of 19 January 2007 that her car had been burnt out and so they had judged it to be an abandoned vehicle fit only for destruction. She complains that the Council should not have treated her car as an abandoned vehicle because it knew it had been parked in her garage and because it was within a gated, fenced area, to which only the garage tenants have keys. In response to a draft of the key facts in this report, the Council commented that it cannot guarantee that only the tenants have keys to the gates because it cannot know if former tenants retained duplicate keys and it is not cost effective to change the padlock and re-issue new keys when a garage rental is terminated.
6. The Council subsequently said in a letter to Miss Potter dated 22 February 2007 that the car was not burnt out, but it was severely vandalised. It said the term
“burnt out” was used loosely to describe the car as being only fit for destruction.
7. Miss Potter says when she last saw the car it was in very good condition. She says it was not fit for destruction and she has seen no evidence that it had been vandalised or that its condition had otherwise deteriorated. She says the Council’s actions meant she did not know her car was causing any problems or that the Council was going to destroy it until after it had done so.
I note that in this case the Council failed to have photographic evidence of the state of the car, so we have to take their word for it, but as in Miss Smith's case the fact that somebody had tried to break into the boot (and apparently failed) made her car a hazard. The fact that 'burnt out' wasn't actually burnt out (one would have thought that in a locked garage the scorch marks would be very visible) but merely vandalised, but you have to trust them on that. They did take photographs of the state of the car,
27. An abandoned vehicles officer visited the site the same day to take photographs of the car and assess its condition. His note records that the car was in the garage area and had broken windows, no number plates, no wheels and was not displaying a tax disc.
but conveniently for them,
28. The Council says it cannot provide the photographs it took of the car because, due to a computer problem, they have been lost.
At no point did they try to contact the owner.

In the Councils defence the current rules governing abandoned cars include,
“one or a combination of the following could assist a local authority officer in making a decision on abandonment:

a. Untaxed
b. No current keeper registered at DVLA
c. Stationary for a significant amount of time
d. Significantly damaged, run down, or unroadworthy
e. Burned out
f. Lacking one or more of its number plates
g. Containing waste”.
But there again it also says this,
“a vehicle should not be considered abandoned solely on the grounds that it is not displaying a valid tax disc. Local authorities should use the DVLA’s free on-line link to check keepership details and vehicle taxation status prior to taking action. This is available 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year”.
As the Ombudsman makes plain,
In deciding that Miss Smith’s car was abandoned, the Council failed to act on the basic and relevant fact that it was parked outside the home of the registered keeper. The Council should have made reasonable efforts to contact Miss Smith and raise with her its concerns. Its failure to do so was maladministration. Indeed, I find its actions here utterly incomprehensible.
Incomprehensible indeed, deeply ruddy sinister.

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