Friday, 14 June 2013

Foreign Driver Debt

The BBC is this morning running a story about motoring fines unpaid by foreign drivers. In Cornwall, these average around £25,000 each year owed to the council which we cannot recover.

If the council issues a parking ticket - for failing to display a ticket in a car park or for a yellow line violation for example - then we have the right to get the driver's details from the DVLA if it remains unpaid after 28 days. The council can then pursue the debt through the courts and, ultimately, employ bailiffs to recover the money owed.

For drivers of foreign registered cars, this is not possible. Neither we, nor the DVLA, has access to the databases to allow us to find out the name and address of the driver. And even if we did, the cost of chasing the debt would be way beyond the amount we could expect to recover as neither our courts nor bailiffs have jurisdiction in other countries.

So, sadly, we are forced to write off the debt where a driver of a foreign registered car chooses not to pay a penalty charge notice. Although it should be noted that some visitors are conscientious and do pay fines issued.

In total, unpaid fines issued to foreign motorists average just over 1% of the 36,500 fines issued on average each year by Cornwall Council. Last year there were 439 valued, in total, at £25,277.

So what could be done to make these fines recoverable?

As stated above, we could seek to start sharing driver details with other countries. But we have little chance of collecting debts and the costs would far outweigh the likely income.

We could start clamping foreign vehicles immediately rather than issue a ticket. But the law doesn't allow us to charge different rates for different vehicles and, once again, the cost would outweigh the benefit. This might also seem unduly harsh on those visitors who do pay for tickets as they would have to wait to be unclamped and may view coming to Cornwall as 'more trouble than it's worth' in future, risking far more money to our visitor economy.

Finally, the government could change the law and start impounding vehicles with unpaid charges when they attempt to leave the country. But this would place a big administrative burden on both the council and Border Agency which might again prove uneconomic.

Cornwall Council doesn't view the writing-off of any debt lightly. This may be a comparatively small amount of money - but it is still money owed which could be used to fund vital services. However, unless the law changes, there is no economic way that we can hope to recover it.

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