Charging for services – the Barnet parking permit case

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A recent case is a salutary reminder of when and how much a local authority can charge for providing services.

The case of R (Attfield) v The London Borough of Barnet [1] was a judicial review of Barnet’s decision to increase the annual charge for a resident’s parking permit from £40 to £100, and the charge for a visitor’s permit from £1 to £4 each. Mr Attfield claimed that the increase was unlawful as its purpose was to generate a surplus, beyond the cost of operating the parking scheme. The council argued that it was entitled to generate a surplus, as long as it used that surplus to fund other highways measures.

The judge ruled in favour of the claimant. Although Barnet was entitled to charge for parking under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, previous cases had shown that the 1984 Act is: “not a fiscal measure and does not authorise the authority to use its powers to charge local residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes”. Barnet could only use the revenue raised to fund the cost of operating the parking scheme itself. In reality, this means it will have to reduce its parking permit charges and will therefore have reduced funds for other highways measures.

It is a timely reminder that a council’s powers to make charges need to be carefully considered and, where there are restrictions or conditions attached, they need to be complied with. The case also underlines that when authorities are looking at ways to maximise income, charges set can be challenged in the courts, who may not be sympathetic to the council’s need to raise income.

[1] R (Attfield) v The London Borough of Barnet [2013] EWHC 2089 (Admin), 22 July 2013