It's easier than you think to beat a parking fine. Robert Verkaik gives the lowdown on winning the appeals process

Conventional wisdom has always cautioned against challenging a parking ticket. Even if you can be bothered to fill in the paperwork and embark on a lengthy correspondence with council officials, the chance of overturning the original decision is about as remote as a traffic warden complimenting you on your expert parking.

But new evidence shows that councils do get it wrong, and that more and more motorists are winning appeals. A league table published by the National Parking Adjudication Service (NPAS) this month reveals that some councils lose as many as nine out of 10 cases on appeal. Even the very best performers in the table can only claim to be successful in three out of four appeals. The message is loud and clear: perseverance pays.

The latest figures show that a record eight million parking penalties were issued in England and Wales in 2004. Of those, only 60,000 were taken to the independent adjudicators by drivers whose initial appeal had been rejected by the council. However, when drivers did take matters further, nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of them were successful.

Caroline Sheppard, Britain's chief parking adjudicator, says she is concerned that such a high number of motorists simply accept the council's rejection of their appeal. A study commissioned by Sheppard shows that one of the reasons for this reluctance is that councils are not informing motorists that they have a further right of appeal to the NPAS. Now, a pilot scheme in Manchester aims to take the pain out of the appeals process by letting motorists challenge their parking fines online. At present, only Notices of Appeal against Penalty Charge Notices issued by Manchester City Council can be lodged online, but if the trial is a success the service will be extended across the country. On-screen guidance notes assist appellants to complete and transmit the appeal form, and each request receives an automatic confirmation e-mail message from the NPAS.

But NPAS research, conducted by the University of Birmingham, showed that even a personal appearance before the tribunal need not be an intimidating experience.

In 2004, Professor Raine and Eileen Dunstan of the University of Birmingham's School of Public Policy conducted a survey of NPAS users, monitoring, in addition to the tribunal's performance, perceptions of the appeals process of both appellants and council parking managers.

Their findings confirmed that appellants who had taken the trouble to attend a hearing in person were confident that they had had a fair hearing and recognised that the adjudicator was both independent, and a lawyer.

But there was a marked contrast in the perceptions of appellants who had attended a hearing and those who had requested that their case be decided on the documentary and photographic evidence only. Motorists who had attended a hearing were very positive; not all those who had elected for a "postal" decision were so sure about the ways in which the tribunal worked.

This could explain why more than half of those who question councils' original decisions decide not to take it a step further when their first appeal is rejected.

A much more determinative factor is the knowledge that drivers who pay within 14 days are offered a 50 per cent discount whereas those who pursue the case through to an appeal and lose will have to pay the twice as much. In this way, the system is weighted against the appellant and works in support of a more bureaucratic process.

This is confirmed by Professor Raine's research, which examined both the perceptions of the adjudicators and the council parking officials. He noticed that there was a marked difference in mindset between the council officers, who see the challenge process principally as administrative, and the adjudicators, who see their task as judicial.

How to appeal

You have 28 days from when you received the council's decision in which to lodge an independent appeal. n Appeals made outside the 28-day deadline can only be submitted by post and you must explain on the form why your appeal is late.

You can only appeal if your parking ticket is called a "Penalty Charge Notice" and has been issued by a council enforcing parking under the Road Traffic Act 1991.

You must also have received a "Notice to Owner" form from the council claiming you are liable for payment of a Penalty Charge Notice.

You must also have challenged the Notice to Owner form and have received a letter from the council saying that your representation has been rejected.

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