Council planning legal action over delayed repayments to car parking customers
Worcester City Council is planning to take legal action over the delay in repayments to customers who have been wrongly charged multiple times for parking in its car parks and has instructed its lawyers to proceed in this matter.
Despite Council officers meeting with its operator Flowbird on a twice-daily basis for over two weeks now, the matter is still unresolved – and this morning (13 October), the Council was informed that none of the promised refunds had yet been processed.
The Council informed Flowbird of duplicate payments on September 28 and immediately asked it to cease processing, which it did two days later. Flowbird was then instructed to make refunds as soon as possible and the company initially told the Council that refunds would be made by Friday October 7. When this deadline was not met, Flowbird told the Council that refunds would start appearing in customers' bank accounts the week commencing October 10.
Shane Flynn, Director of Finance at Worcester City Council said: "This is a frustrating situation. The fact that the issue of delayed payments has risen again, despite assurances last year that it wouldn't, is bad enough, but this has been compounded by duplicate payments being taken from people's accounts and refunds having not been processed for two weeks.
"In some cases, people have been left hundreds of pounds out of pocket – this is completely unacceptable and, in our opinion, a gross breach of the contract we have with Flowbird and for that reason we have issued a contractual breach notice.
"The Council is not absolving itself of responsibility in trying to get this issue sorted and we are doing all we can to keep customers updated with accurate information on the situation, but despite our best efforts, Flowbird has offered little information over the past week.
"Unfortunately, the Council has no control over the processing of these payments. The transactions are contained within the international banking system and we are reliant on the service providers to manage them. We have instructed them to reverse the duplicate payments immediately, but like our customers, we are still waiting for this to be done. The Council can make emergency refund payments where necessary and also reimburse charges – we will ensure no-one is left out of pocket as a result of this incident and I would again urge people to get in touch if they have incurred such costs."
Over 200,000 duplicate payments have been taken from customers' accounts and Flowbird has accepted responsibility for this issue. It has impacted 15,000 car parking sessions and has resulted in around £400,000 of income relating to duplicate payments being incorrectly received by the Council. The Council wants to reassure customers that a formal stop has successfully been put on all these transactions to ensure they are not duplicated any further.
Along with actively pursuing a legal remedy to bring about the full and automatic payment of refunds as soon as possible, the Council will be reviewing its contract arrangement with Flowbird.
Flowbird is the manufacturer of the car park payment machines and owner of the software within the machines and the council has a contract with them. When somebody pays by card, the Flowbird system takes transactional data (no money is taken from bank accounts at this point) and then sends this to Elavon. Elavon, which works alongside Flowbird and came as part of the contract, is a merchant service and acts on behalf of the Council in acting on the settlement files and retrieving money from bank accounts and transferring into the Council's bank account.
Anyone needing financial advice can contact Citizens Advice, with whom the council works in partnership. Citizens Advice can be contacted on 0808 278 7891.