What to do if you’ve been wrongly charged for police services

The police charging for escorting an abnormal load operator is a contentious issue at present and we’re aware of some operators feeling that they are being wrongly charged for escorting services.

If you find yourself in this position, there are options and opportunities open to operators who feel they have been wrongly charged for police services.

For a review of when the police can charge for their services, please see my previous article in this series.

Have you paid for police services?

If you have not yet paid the police for any services provided but they insist they are chargeable as ‘Special Police Services’, we urge you to seek urgent legal advice and consider resisting demands for payment.

If payment has been made to the police for their services but you feel this has been wrongly charged, you potentially have options and opportunities to consider.

Engage with the police to seek resolution

The first avenue to explore for operators, is to liaise with the police to seek answers as to why they have concluded a police escort is required, and to set out why – in the operators view – a police escort was not required.

We’ve seen firsthand that most operators engage with the police for lengthy periods to exchange information.

This approach is a necessary first step as it enables the operator to obtain the police force’s account as to why they have determined a police escort is required, which will assist the operator and legal representative (if instructed) in exploring other options.

If the police force and operator can narrow down the issues in dispute and agree on the necessity and cost of a police escort, this will help maintain a positive relationship between them. It will also prevent any commercial impact on the operator and the planned movement, and avoid legal costs associated with pursuing alternative options.

Although operators may feel it is unlikely that the police force will change their position, there have been cases where the police force did so. The change occurred because they trusted that the operator had conducted a sufficient risk assessment. Thus, engagement can be productive.

Complaint to Independent Office for Police Conduct (“IOPC”)

Operators may submit a complaint to IOPC should they feel the police are wrongly insisting their services are chargeable as Special Police Services (whether paid or unpaid).

Complaints are sent directly to the police force or organisation concerned, for them to consider.

You can also complain directly to the police/organisation.

They will assess your complaint and contact you about how it will be handled.

This option is simple, cost effective and, in our professional view, worth pursuing to escalate the matter.

This option is simple, cost-effective, and in my professional view worth pursuing to escalate the matter and can be referred to in the other options outlined here to show that the operator has taken reasonable steps.

For example, a Judicial Review (more on this later) is a remedy of last resort, so first to engage with the police force then to submit a complaint are obvious first steps to take.

Unjust enrichment claims

A claim based on unjust enrichment is one which seeks to restore to an innocent party the gains that someone else has obtained from them.

It can be considered in an array of circumstances, such as where money or property has been paid or transferred in error.

The elements required to bring a claim of unjust enrichment are as follows:

  • The defendant has been enriched
  • The enrichment was at the claimant’s expense
  • The defendant’s retention of the enrichment is unjust.
  • There is no defence to the unjust enrichment.

It therefore follows that a claim for unjust enrichment is not available if the charges remain unpaid – i.e. the police must have been enriched and it must be at the claimant’s expense.

‘Woolwich type’ restitution claims—public authorities

‘Woolwich type’ restitution claims are named after the decision of the House of Lords in R v Inland Revenue Commissioner, ex parte Woolwich Equitable Building Society 1990.

This is where the claim is for repayment of monies wrongly paid to public authorities and where there is no need to demonstrate that the payment was made under a mistake of law.

It therefore follows that this type of claim is only available where the charges have been paid.

The above case was considered in Ipswich Town Football Club v Suffolk Constabulary (“Ipswich Town FC”).

In this case, the claimant had paid the police for various services provided in relation to the club’s home games.

It was subsequently held that certain charges (in relation to specific locations) had been made ultra vires (“beyond the powers”) in terms of the police’s ability to charge for its services, with reference to section 25(1) of the Police Act 1996.

The judge also held that the club had a restitutionary claim based on a mistake, in that the police and the club had charged for and paid (respectively) for services under a mistake of law as to the police’s powers to levy such charges.

Remedies for unjust enrichment

The most common remedy for claims in unjust enrichment is restitution.

This will generally be a personal remedy requiring the defendant to pay to the claimant the value of the enrichment which the defendant has obtained at the claimant’s expense.

Other causes of action alongside unjust enrichment claims – Contract and tort claims

It is also possible (subject to the facts and circumstances) for an unjust enrichment claim to be brought alongside a contract or tort claim.

Each cause of action has its own advantages and disadvantages, as well as different elements that must be satisfied.

Prospective claimants should also be aware they must avoid recovering the same loss twice (double recovery).

As with unjust enrichment claims, a prerequisite of these types of claims is for the charges for the services to have been paid by the claimant.

Judicial review

An individual or company that feels the exercise of power by a public body, is in some way unlawful, may make an application to court for the decision resulting from the exercise of power to be set aside, or quashed.

A claim for judicial review is a claim to review the lawfulness of an enactment or a decision, action or failure to act in relation to the exercise of public function.

It therefore follows that this type of claim is potentially available to those who have paid the charges for the police services and/or those who have been charged for the services but not made payment (given this claim concerns the lawfulness of the decision to charge for the services).

Judicial review remedies are discretionary. The Court can make the following orders:

  • a quashing order (the effect of which the court has power to delay, and the retrospective effect of which the court has power to limit or remove)
  • a prohibiting order
  • a mandatory order
  • in specified circumstances, a declaration or an injunction, or an award of damages

The court does have discretion to make an award of damages in successful claims, which it will only exercise where it is ’just and appropriate’ to do so. If a claimant wishes to make a claim for damages in judicial review, this must be explicitly pleaded in the claim form.

The core grounds for bringing judicial review are based on several connected principles, including lawfulness, reasonableness and fairness.

We won’t go into detail on the various grounds available to prospective claimants but ‘keep an eye out’ for a further article which will delve into the core grounds for bringing a judicial review.

The prospective claimant must also be aware claims for judicial review must be brought promptly and, in any event, within three months of the date on which the grounds for bringing the claim first arose (except for certain circumstances where specific time limits apply, e.g. planning and public procurement).

What if I have been wrongly charged for police services?

If you feel you have been wrongly charged for police services (or for any public services) or even if you are in dispute with the police as to whether a police escort is required, we urge you to contact us on 01829 773 100.

We are well-versed in the principles relating to Special Police Services, the legislative regime that governs abnormal load movements, and understand the challenges operators face.

Our bespoke blend of expertise in Transport Law and Dispute Resolution means we are well-equipped to assist you with such matters so please get in touch.