Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
L.T. writes: I visited Mevagissey in Cornwall and parked in the Sunny Corner Car Park. I went to pay at one of the two machines, but the one with a keypad for registration numbers was not working and its display was blank no matter which buttons I pushed.
The other machine had no such keypad and I inserted the correct money for my stay, received a ticket which I placed in the windscreen, and then went off to enjoy my visit.
Two weeks later, I received a demand for a £60 penalty charge. By then I had thrown away the ticket, and the car park company has rejected my appeal.
Charming: But many complained about parking set-up in Mevagissey
Tony Hetherington replies: The car park is run by Premier Parking Solutions Limited, which photographs every car that enters and leaves the site, and then compares the registration numbers with the records of those who paid or failed to pay. The gap in the system – as you found – is that one of the payment machines does not record registration numbers but simply takes cash and issues a timed ticket.
When you contacted me, you had already decided to pay the £60 penalty because delaying payment would have increased the charge to £100. But I asked the company’s boss Richard Cox what you should have done when you found that one machine was not working.
He denied that the machine was faulty. He told me: ‘The car park that day was used by dozens of motorists who had no issue with entering their vehicle registration number correctly into the pay and display machine or via the pay-by-phone system.’
In short, if there was a problem, you could have phoned the company. Phones are only manned during office hours, Cox explained, but at other times including weekends, calls are logged and checked later before penalty notices are issued.
But why would you have phoned, when the other machine was working perfectly, took your money, and gave you a ticket? This places on you the responsibility for proving your innocence later, rather than on the car park operator being responsible for proving that you failed to pay. I put this to Richard Cox and he replied that you should have kept the ticket for at least a fortnight as evidence in your favour.
He justified the penalty, telling me that his company had to spend time dealing with appeals as well as enquiries like mine, ‘as a result of the motorist failing to comply with our terms and conditions’. You were seeking preferential treatment over other motorists, he insisted.
But Cox offered no comment when I asked about the crop of very similar complaints I found online. One says: ‘Even if you pay and display, they will still send a penalty ticket two weeks later… do not park here.’
Another says: ‘Been going there for years with no issues. Not been for two years. Parked up and paid with coins in the machine. Displayed ticket as usual. Two weeks later, a fine through the door, just like loads of people. Will now avoid completely.’ And a third complaint is from a driver who writes: ‘The machine is set not to accept registration details, but send you a parking charge for no registered payment.’
Premier Parking Solutions, which is based in Newton Abbot, is a big business. Its 2021 accounts show profits of £974,000. Filings also show the company received over £253,000 from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and the Government paid interest of £4,858 on a Covid loan the company took out.
The local council dished out a further £20,000 to the business, which leaves me wondering how it reacts to this from a driver who used the car park not long ago: ‘It has ruined my memories of our holiday, I will not return to Mevagissey because of this cowboy firm.’
Three premium bond wins… but no cash
Ms K.F. writes: I have received three separate emails from National Savings & Investments, notifying me that I had won premium bond prizes.
I have not received the prizes, and when I rang NS&I, it said it was because someone else has the same email address as me.
Tony Hetherington replies: You sent me a copy of the congratulatory email you received three times from NS&I, telling you that you had won a prize and that you should check the premium bonds website to find out how much you would be getting. When you logged on to the website, it simply said that you had won nothing.
I asked staff at NS&I headquarters to explain, and they have told me that a mistake was made in the account of another bondholder, whose email address is one character away from yours. That one crucial character was missed off, so when the other bondholder won a prize, the email was sent to you by mistake.
NS&I has apologised and issued you with a goodwill payment of £25, the basic prize if one of your bonds really had won.
New VAT system has left me in limbo with the taxman
Ms S.R. writes: I tried to do my VAT Return online in January, but a message appeared saying that returns had to be made digitally unless a business’s turnover is below £85,000.
My turnover is well below that, so I opted out and a message appeared to say that I would hear back within two days.
I am still waiting, and meanwhile Revenue & Customs owes me two VAT repayments.
Tony Hetherington replies: Looking at the sequence of events, I think you will find that you have been caught in confusion around the launch of a Revenue project called ‘Making Tax Digital’. It is complicated, but almost all VAT-registered businesses are now expected to keep all their records electronically and submit their tax calculations online every three months.
Something appears to have gone wrong with your registration, but I have contacted the taxman and you are now back on the system.
If you need help, let me know and I can get one of the Revenue team to talk you through what needs doing. Making Tax Digital makes things simpler for the taxman but more complex for anyone without an accountant.
Anyone breathing a sigh of relief because this only effects VAT should think again.
The same system is scheduled to hit the self-employed with income over £10,000 from 2024, and small companies will follow after that.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected] Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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