A practice recovering unpaid parking fines has admitted storing more than £100,000 because it could not direct the payments correctly.  Warrington-based Gladstones Solicitors placed 1,242 payments over three years into the client account suspense ledger rather than to the correct client matter, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard. 

This build-up of the ledger resulted in the firm issuing proceedings and obtaining a county court judgment against at least one third party who had already settled their fine. 

The firm was also unable to identify parties who were collectively owed almost £36,000 – that sum ultimately being paid to charity because the correct recipients could not be identified.

The tribunal heard that, between 2017 and 2020, the firm received 329,228 referrals from 64 parking operators: as of September 2020, 275,070 of these referrals remained unsettled. An investigation following complaints found that in cases where the incorrect reference number was provided by the debtor, the entry was left on the suspense ledger. The firm’s automated telephone payment line did not provide a receipt and allowed payments to be accepted even where the reference number was wrong.

Gladstones’ sole director John Davies accepted that the firm’s processes were unsuitable and admitted that SRA rule breaches arose because it failed to deal with payments in a timely manner. This was due to staffing problems at the time. The firm started to clear the suspense ledger in 2020 and had completed most of this task by February 2021. It has implemented new systems and processes relating to unallocated payments which puts them through within three weeks, he said. 

The tribunal found that the firm was ‘substantially responsible’ for the circumstances giving rise to the misconduct and should have had adequate systems, processes and procedures in place.

Following an agreed outcome between the firm and the SRA, the tribunal rubber-stamped a £15,000 fine and £15,000 costs order.