It seems Transport for London (TfL) really didn’t want anyone to be able to get hold of their internal guidelines describing how they deal with congestion charge appeals. Now though, thanks to mySociety’s freedom of information site WhatDoTheyKnow anyone wanting to find out in what circumstances TfL will cancel a congestion charge penalty can read the document detailing TfL’s criteria themselves.
I believe there are basic principles involved here; we all ought be able to find out what the law is, both “in statue” and “in practice”; it is right that we can find out the detailed rules which are being applied to the application of the congestion charge in London. I think that this request, enabling that, has been an excellent use of the Freedom of Information Act; it also shows how using the access to information laws can redress the balance of power between the citizen and the state.
The Road User Charging (Enforcement and Adjudication) (London) Regulations 2001 (the law) describes six circumstances in which someone served with a Penalty Charge Notice relating to the London Congestion Charge can make representations against it. However in practice TfL are in-fact allowing representations on a much wider basis. Now the internal document is available it can be seen that even the detailed: “Helping you with your Congestion Charging Penalty Charge Notice” information sheet offered by TfL does not contain the full details of what is and is not accepted as a valid reason for not paying the congestion charge.
Members of the public can now find out that TfL is happy to waive the congestion charge for those who are travelling “to register a death or travelling to hospital due to death of relative”, as long as proof of the death is provided, but not for someone who is “travelling to attend a funeral”. The document also suggests TfL won’t waive the charge if your vehicle has a breakdown and is recovered while the charge is operational; but the charge will be waived if, as a result of being clamped by a local authority, you have to collect your car from within the zone. Reassurance that TfL won’t pursue you for your congestion charge after you’re dead (assuming someone proves you’re really dead to TfL) is also provided.
There is a wealth of detail in the document, including revelations that foreign military vehicles are subject to the charge, but UK ones are not; along with details of circumstances where people will be given a second chance ie. their first appeal will be allowed but second and subsequent ones will not.
The public availability of this document may well make TfL’s life easier; some people may no longer bother making appeals in circumstances where they know they’ll be rejected and others will be able to phrase their appeal letters in such a way that it makes it easy for TfL staff to assess them against their criteria and accept them.
Transport for London (TfL) is responsible for the London Congestion Charge. A document entitled: “Criteria for dealing with Representations and Appeals” describes the procedure TfL staff use to determine if someone’s appeal against a congestion charge penalty will be be accepted or rejected. This document was the subject of a Freedom of Information request made January 2008 which was initially refused. The argument TfL made against disclosure was that releasing the document would prejudice the exercise of TFL’s functions; Freedom of Information Act exemptions under S.30 (Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities) and S.31 (Law enforcement) were claimed.
On appeal the information commissioner’s office issued a decision notice saying it agreed with TfL that “the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure”. The individual who had requested the document was persistent, and took his case to the information tribunal; there the information commissioner’s decision was overturned and TfL were ordered to release the document. The tribunal ordered the document be released to the original requestor by the 23rd of December 2009. A WhatDoTheyKnow.com user had made a separate request for the same document on the 8th of December 2009, and received it on the 7th of January 2010.
TfL still have not placed the released document on their disclosure log, which is perhaps an indication they’re still not too keen on the fact they’ve been compelled to release it.