Ok – the author hates injustice and despises poor customer service and the general lack of respect which is constantly shown to him by corporate organisations.
I’ll probably be using this blog every once in a while to have a good rant about some shadowy organisation who has wronged me in some way. I don’t want to do it too much as it will inevitably become boring and samey and I do tend to have at least one meltdown per week due to an incorrect bill or a botched delivery or something along those lines. I don’t want to get on my high horse too much but it really does frustrate the life out of me when organisations just want to take my money but seem to make it as difficult as possible for me to hand it over. One example is British Gas, they’ve sent three different ‘Final’ bills recently and every time I try to call them to find out how much I actually owe they keep me on hold for half an hour before putting me through to someone who, let’s be honest, doesn’t really understand English so I just get nowhere, in the meantime they merrily send my completely made up final bill amount to a debt collection agency so they can threaten me in my home on a regular basis. I’m already getting myself worked up but Jesus Methamphetamine Christ it really is annoying.
The above organisation though really do top the list of the most satanic companies operating on this mortal plain. It all started back in August 2013 when I received a letter from them saying that they were issuing me with a fine of £100 for parking in my local Tesco’s car park for seven and a half hours. Now, my first reaction was to think, “Am I guilty?” I used to use this Tesco’s regularly and the letter featured two pictures of my car, one entering the car park about 10 in the morning and one of me leaving it at about 5ish. It seems unlikely that I would have just sat in Tesco’s car park all day when I was supposed to be working from home but could it actually have happened??? I couldn’t remember the day at all, could I just have driven in to the car park and just sat there, staring in to space for almost 8 hours, occasionally replying to an email on my blackberry? Had I just lost a day completely? If I hadn’t had my car would I just have been found wandering round Tesco’s in my pants with no recollection of how I got there whatsoever? Who knows, stranger things have happened and I was genuinely worried.
Then I pulled myself together and thought, come on, this is clearly a mistake. So I completed the ‘I would like to appeal’ section of their website just so everything would be recorded and done via the official channels, I just wrote something like, “Hey there. Thank you for your recent £100 fine sent to my house for the alleged offence on the 8th of August 2013. Unfortunately I think what you have here is two pictures of my car, taken at different times of day, and taken during separate visits to the store in question. I regularly use this store more than once a day so please check your records and you will see you are mistaken. Cheers.” Obviously no part of me thought that this would bring the matter to a logical conclusion as companies like this do not deal in logic, common sense or any version of the truth other than that which they conjure out of their imagination, so I waited.
Sure enough I received a response stating that I needed to prove that I wasn’t there. Interesting, I thought. How exactly do I prove where I wasn’t on that day? I can’t for the life of me remember what I did and I don’t normally take pictures of myself with a dated newspaper at every destination I visit during any given day so this is going to be tricky. I emailed them back saying something along the lines of, “You’re wrong, you haven’t reviewed your footage and the emphasis is on you to provide proof so go fuck yourselves.” This didn’t work either. They just emailed back saying that they had proof in the form of the pictures (even if they’d drawn these pictures themselves they would still have stood by them as proof) and, accordingly they had transferred the £100 fine over to a local debt collection agency who had been instructed to come round to my house and take my belongings or, failing that, rape me and my entire family as a down payment on part of the outstanding amount which would be collected in the form of cash or vicious atrocities to be carried out at the start of every week for the rest of my life, and what is more, carried out with the fullest sense of righteousness and in the name of the good people of Tesco so that they might finally be able to rest easy in the knowledge that I would not be defiling their customer car park with my insidious, cancerous parking activities now or in the future and thus securing the well-being of the local community for this and future generations to come.
I quickly realised that this was simply a shake down, an extortion attempt. They had obviously made no attempt to check any of their own records or footage, they probably wouldn’t even know how to do it, probably don’t even keep records or ever look at any footage whatsoever. They’d sent me this fine and as far as they were concerned that was the end of the matter.
So, I had one option left which was to appeal to POPLA, Parking on Private Land Appeals, who are supposedly an independent body set up to arbitrate in these kind of disputes. In reality these guys are about as impartial as a Japanese whaling fleet at a Greenpeace convention as I would soon find out much to my own detriment. This is well illustrated in this article from the Telegraph :-
It’s worth pointing out here that it’s not advisable to ignore these parking fines as many people will tell you to do. They will keep sending threatening letters and eventually one of them will be a court summons and if you don’t respond to that then they will carry out a hearing without you present and you’ll be fined and made to pay costs.
So, in a continuing effort to follow the correct procedure I explained to POPLA that VCS had got this one wrong, they had two pictures of me from different times of day and had failed to capture me leaving and then coming back later and I asked if they could please, please, please JUST LOOK AT THE FOOTAGE FROM THAT DAY!!! I was still foolishly clinging on to a belief that all of this could be sorted out if they would just look at the evidence that they were charging me with, such was my naivety.
I explained the situation to POPLA and the response I received was quite honestly staggering, the “Assessor”, Marina Kapour states, and I quote, “Although it seems possible that the cameras may miss the Appellant’s vehicle registration
number once, I am not minded to find that it is likely that the cameras would have missed both the Appellant’s first exit, and second entrance. On the balance of probabilities, I am minded to accept the Operator’s evidence.” I’M SORRY??? You’re not minded?? The balance of probabilities??? So basically Marina what you are saying is that, in your sole opinion, you don’t think it’s that likely that I’m right and therefore I should have to pay a £100 fine. Now I can’t be the only person who was genuinely staggered by this response. First of all there’s a direct admission that a mistake could have been made. Oh but hang on, they could have made one mistake but there’s no way on God’s green earth that they could have made the same mistake twice, that’s never been done. Simply not possible. Secondly this is just an admission that they have not looked at the god damn butt-fucking tapes like I asked them to do in the first place!!! Just look at the tape! I’m presuming they don’t have a copy of the tape, either that or they just couldn’t be arsed, either way the outcome is the same for them.
I nearly gave up at this point and just paid the fine just to get them off my back but first I called my lawyer, who’s not really my lawyer but actually my friend Jonny who works as Crown Prosecutor (the youngest CP in the country fuck you very much)! And he came up with a genius idea which had not occurred to me previously despite being actually fairly obvious and probably the first thing which most people would do, check your bank statement. Sure enough it showed 3 payments to Tesco’s all at different times of day, within the time period on the ticket and furthermore the payments were separated by another payment which I made at a petrol station in between my visits to Tesco. Now it was clear to me. Unless I had been sat in Tesco’s car park all day, replying to emails on my blackberry, periodically going in to make purchases and at one point walking about a mile with a jerry can to get some diesel, coming back and pouring it in to my stationary car, I was sure I was right!
I immediately took a screen shot of my bank statement and sent it to Vehicle Control Services along with a very long email which, as you can probably imagine contained enough sarcasm that by the end of writing it I could no longer even carry on an inner monologue with myself without being sarcastic and I was unable to give a serious response, or even speak normally to anyone, including myself for about a week. Predictably, having not been bothered to look at their own ‘evidence’ they subsequently completely ignored the proper evidence which I had provided to them. Or if they did look at it they probably agreed with POPLA that it was “unlikely” that a mistake had been made and quite frankly anyone with a mobile phone can hack in to and manipulate bank records these days, it’s that credit crunch isn’t it, and that 4G, and the rest of that witchcraft and devilry. No, no we’re fine for ‘evidence’ thanks, we’ll stick with what we know, thank you very much.
After receiving no response from this email I then sent an email saying “Still awaiting a response on this”, once a day, every day for 4 months. During this time VCS continued to send me threatening letters through the post from various debt collection agencies and continued to do an impression of an unruly toddler sticking their fingers in their ears and crying until I eventually started copying in the BBC’s Watchdog email address in to all of my email correspondence. Finally, at the end of May, almost 9 months after receiving the initial fine I received a letter from Vehicle Control Services stating that the matter, “was now dropped.” That was it, literally one sentence. No explanation whatsoever and definitely not even the merest hint of an apology and certainly not an admission of guilt. I suppose they can’t admit to being wrong because if they do it once then who knows who else would come forward after receiving one of their bogus fines through the post. Then again, as the gospel according to POPLA tells us, it is physically, spiritually and logically impossible for a mistake to occur twice so they’ll probably be all right.
So there it is. Sorry for ranting but life is hard enough these days when every piece of mail that drops through your letterbox is just various organisations demanding varying amounts of your money the last thing you need is companies like VCS sending you completely made up fines through the post and threatening to drag the author through the courts and besmirch his good name and upstanding reputation within the community. It doesn’t wash. Then it’s the fact that in order to defend yourself you have to go to great lengths just to prove something which they should easily have been able to check in 2 minutes. Fucking 9 months of my life that took and not even an apology! Much of modern life is automated and does not rely on human input or judgement and so I can understand that mistakes do happen but when the people who work at these companies start behaving like robots themselves then where does that leave us? Computer says no, basically. Forever and ever. Fuck off.