Southwark council was unaware its parking fine collection page was case sensitive – nearly costing one reader dearly
Lisa Geary’s night at the cinema proved a little more indulgent than planned when she was fined £40 for lingering too long in a London car park. She appealed, lost and resigned herself to the outlay.
A few weeks later a notice warned her that since she had not settled the bill the penalty had doubled to £80. However, when she entered her details on to the online payment page of Southwark council’s website it informed her that there was no outstanding balance on her ticket. Several attempts to query the anomaly by phone failed were thwarted by permanently busy lines and so Geary transferred her attention to more absorbing matters.
The next letter from the council told her that since she had refused to stump up, her debt had soared to £120. Once again Geary entered her details onto the website as instructed and once more she was told that there was no outstanding balance. Bewildered, she presented herself at the council’s parking shop where the computers were adamant that she was in debt.
A bit of sleuthing on the part of an equally bewildered council employee revealed that the webpage is, for unfathomable reasons, case sensitive. If a car registration is typed in lower case the owner is told that there is nothing to pay; if capitals are used the full horror of the debt is displayed.
This makes no sense, says Geary: “As far as I can see, no country has ever had a case-sensitive vehicle registration system. If, despite this, you are stupid enough to have an online system that cannot connect an offer of payment for ‘XX123’ with a debt for the ‘xx123’ in your system, you should warn users to use upper-case letters.”
She reckons, reasonably enough, that this curious cyber logic has increased her debt since she would have settled the bill earlier if the system had not been so certain that she had already paid. Amazingly, it seems that Southwark council was unaware of this eccentricity. It apologises via its press office for the confusion and promises to explore ways to eliminate the case sensitivity or at least to warn users to use capitals. It will also shrink Geary’s fine to the original £40 since it claims there is no record of a payment.
Interestingly, though, when Geary subsequently went online (using capitals) to pay she was told she still owed £120. Possibly this difficulty is restricted to Southwark, but possibly it isn’t, so it’s worth being aware what a difference a capital letter can make to your family fortunes.