A Driving Instructor's Blog

PCN on windscreenA long, long time ago – while the ink was still damp on my first ADI badge – I discovered that some test routes in Nottingham were going through an old, narrow, one-way part of the city centre. I quickly realised that it would be wrong to expect pupils’ first encounter with these to be on their tests, so I started covering that area on lessons.

At the time, I wasn’t using technology the way I am now. To be honest, the technology was harder to come by than it is today – certainly, dash cams were not very common and were horrendously expensive. It was also before the sitting-in-on-test thing came up, so I asked pupils where they had been. Of the ones who at least recognised they were driving around a city called “Nottingham” (and believe me, that’s not as ridiculous as it sounds), I managed to nail it down to Hockley, and “a right-turn followed by another right-turn”. However, my route was going one right-turn further on than the one on the actual test route, and it wasn’t until a PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) dropped on to my doormat one fine morning that I realised I had been driving through a bus gate – a crime almost, but not quite, punishable by death in Nottingham.

It was my own fault. The bus gate was signposted and, with hindsight, I should have known (driving instructors know everything, right?) But if one PCN was embarrassing enough, you can imagine how much more embarrassing the other three were that came through over the next few days. After weighing up the possibilities, I decided against any sort of appeal on the grounds that a) I had done it, b) it was signposted, and c) if I stirred up the hornets’ nest, they might go back over any archived footage and find the other 30-plus times I’d been in that bus gate over the previous month. In the interests of financial common sense, I paid up, kept my fingers crossed there’d be no more (there weren’t), and learnt from the experience.

A PCN is a civil matter, and carries no points on your licence. You do not end up with a criminal record just by getting a PCN.

If you pay a PCN within 14 days, it’s usually half what it’ll cost you between 15-28 days. If you don’t pay within 28 days, it goes to debt collection and possibly even the county courts. If you’ve ever watched that TV series about the bailiffs, you’ll know that a simple £70 fine can turn into a £2,000 one with ease. On top of that, the last thing you want if you’re self employed is a county court judgment against you. They’re harder to get rid of than dog doo on your shoe, so it’s best to sort out any PCNs quickly.

You can contest or appeal a PCN – and it is important that you do so if it is blatantly wrong – but you must do it within 28 days. If you’re going to appeal, don’t pay up, because that would mean you’re admitting liability and it closes the case. In Nottingham, I believe that the 14 day half-price thing is suspended while an appeal is in progress, but this is not the case everywhere (and it may not be the case in Nottingham any more). If you lose the appeal you may have to pay the full price.

When a PCN is issued, it is the owner or registered keeper who receives the notification (called a Notice to Owner, or NTO). If you have a car on a lease (or through a franchise), it is usually the lease agent or franchiser who gets it, and most of them will pay up immediately to avoid the extra charges then claim the fee from you. The PCNs I got for going into that bus gate came directly to me from the council.

It’s only worth appealing if the PCN is obviously wrong (if your city has a zero-tolerance approach to bus lane infringements, and you went ahead and infringed one, your chances of having an appeal upheld are slim). I once got one through my lease agent. I had been PCNd for not paying a toll at the Dartford Crossing, and as most readers will know, I am in Nottingham and the Dartford Crossing isn’t. I hadn’t been anywhere near it for at least the previous two years (or the five since, for that matter), and when I demanded details, it turned out that the car in question was the one I’d handed back a month or so earlier, and the infringement took place about two weeks after the handover (I also had tracker and GPS evidence of my whereabouts at the time if it had been needed). They refunded me instantly, and I gave them a few choice words about not checking things properly first. Even so, someone had jumped the toll, so the PCN was still valid in that respect.

Another time – and this was before I was an instructor – I got a PCN for “not displaying a parking ticket correctly” in the city centre. The ticket was there, but as I’d closed the door it had blown across the dashboard and was upside down (though not face down) on the passenger-side shelf. It was completely legible, but the traffic warden involved was obviously a typical traffic warden, and had chosen not to see it. I appealed, with a photograph I took to show where the ticket was and how it was completely readable by anyone who made even the slightest effort to do so. The appeal was upheld and the PCN cancelled (though, it must be said, with the usual “on this occasion, we will blah, blah, blah” in the letter they sent).

PCNs have nothing to do with the police.

A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) is a different matter. FPNs are handled through the criminal justice system and often carry points as well as a financial penalty (referred to as “endorsable”). FPNs are issued by the police, or by police-employed wardens if it involves parking enforcement in areas where councils don’t have civil responsibility for it. If you pay an FPN on time, you don’t get a “criminal record”, though obviously any points will go on your licence. If you don’t pay on time, the penalty becomes a fine, and that is likely to be logged as a crime if it has to be enforced. And remember that for many people – especially ADIs – the FPN is likely to show up on a DBS check depending on what it is for.

Does a PCN give you points on your licence?

No.

Does a PCN give you a criminal record?

No. However, if you don’t pay it and they put it out to the debt collectors, aside from the huge additional cost you’re likely to end up with, it could be referred to the county courts, then it could escalate. The last thing anyone wants is a county court judgement (CCJ) against them, but for an ADI it could potentially be career-ending. It would have a serious impact on your credit rating, meaning you could run into problems if you apply for a bank account or credit card, or if you want to buy a house. That’s bad enough, but imagine trying to buy a car on finance if you have a CCJ against you. Even franchisers could see you as a poor risk and turn you away.

Can you appeal a PCN?

Yes. But only appeal if it is obviously wrong. If you committed the offence, you’re unlikely to get away with it unless you have really good mitigating circumstances to fall back on – and I mean really good ones, like the time I wasn’t in Dartford when a PCN was issued against a car I used to have being driven there. The big problem for most people is that the embarrassment of getting the PCN in the first place makes them see all kinds of mitigating circumstances that don’t really exist.

In the one where I successfully appealed for not showing a parking ticket correctly, the ticket was actually visible and legible. It was just in a slightly awkward place. If it hadn’t been legible (i.e. face down), I probably wouldn’t have won the appeal. However, in the ones involving the bus gate, I would have had to have convinced someone somewhere that the signage was misleading enough to have made me do it – and although I still think it could have been clearer (as in, no other signs to distract me), it was signposted.

Are the police involved in PCNs?

No. A PCN is a civil matter, administered by the “local authority” (i.e the council). It has nothing to do with the police.

Does an FPN give you points on your licence?

If it’s a motoring offence, quite possibly. It depends on the offence, but many FPN offences are set up to involve points on purpose. With things like speeding, there is the possibility of a speed awareness course being offered instead of points, but that depends on where you are and whether it is offered, so you can’t depend on it. It won’t be offered more than once, and if you’re an ADI, you still have to let DVSA know and hope they don’t kick you off the Register. Some regions do not have civil responsibility for parking violations, so instead of a PCN, an FPN would be issued (which may or may not involve points on your licence depending on what you did wrong).

Does an FPN give you a criminal record?

Not if you pay it on time. If you don’t pay on time, though, recovery of the fine becomes a criminal matter and that will likely end up as a criminal record. In any case, points on your licence will be visible, and if you’re applying for a DBS check or applying for a driving job then you could run into problems.

Does an FPN matter if you pay on time?

It could do. Although you might not have a criminal record as a result of paying up, the points on your licence will be there for anyone to see who has an interest – and for ADIs in particular, that means DVSA. ADIs can lose their licence to teach if they get more than 5-6 points. They could even lose it for less points if they don’t disclose it to DVSA, and DVSA subsequently finds out. Yes, other ADIs will have a fine old time telling you how to argue your case if it happens (most probably involving full moons and pentagrams) but the best way is not to let it happen to start with, then you have no worries.

Can I appeal an FPN?

Not in the same way as with a PCN. With a PCN, you simply present your case and wait for the result. Then, if you don’t agree, argue with them. With an FPN, it is a matter of either admitting guilt and paying the fine, or going to court to find out whether you’re guilty or not guilty (it’s a criminal justice situation, remember) – and the courts can issue much larger fines than the original FPN if you are found guilty.

Do all FPNs involve points on your licence?

No. There is a long list of FPNs which are classed as “non-endorsable” – no points involved – on which parking and bus lane violations (outside London) are included. On the other hand, there is another long list of FPNs which are endorsable. Rather than try to work out what our you can get away with, it’s best just not to engage in it to start with. If you’re going to listen to “advice” from others, focus on learning not to do what they did to get the FPN in the first place, and not what they tried to do to get out of it.

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