Watchdog orders Redbridge Council to review use of bailiffs after error costs woman nearly £1,000

A government watchdog has ordered Redbridge Council to review its use of bailiffs after a woman had her car clamped and was forced to pay almost £1,000 in fees because of an administrative error.

The resident was spotted committing a parking offence on council CCTV in May 2011 but moved house the next day, meaning she did not receive any parking fine notices.

The first she knew of the offence was when bailiffs clamped her car five months later and charged £741 to release it.

The bailiffs had identified the vehicle using number plate recognition software and immobilised it, despite knowing the addresses on the warrant and car’s registration were different.

They should have released the vehicle without charge and returned the warrant to the council for further action.

Knowing something was wrong, the complainant asked for her £741 back but the council refunded only £172 for the parking penalty and relied on outdated legislation to refuse the bailiffs’ fees.

The Local Government Ombudsman found that the council “placed the blame” on the woman, insisting she had not changed her address with the DVLA, when the council itself had failed to check.

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The ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, found the authority “was not willing to accept it was at fault”.

She said: “The issue of councils taking responsibility for the actions of their bailiffs is a very important and pertinent one.

“Bailiffs often are the first face-to-face contact between a debtor and the council, and therefore they have a huge responsibility to ensure there are no issues with vulnerability or errors with a warrant.”

Dr Martin ordered the council to refund the £569 paid to bailiffs, £80 for court fees, £224 for consultation fees and another £150 the complainant’s “additional time and trouble in pursuing the complaint”.

A spokesman said: “We have apologised to the complainant and would like to reassure residents and those who work and travel in the borough that such mistakes are very rare and that we have introduced a review process to look at these complaints earlier and prevent any recurrence of this situation.”

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