There's a section on reporting faults in section 4 of the society's handbook. If you haven't read it, you should read it now. This page supplements that section and does not replace it. I describe practices that I've found to be useful and effective. Other inspectors are welcome to use them, or not, as they see fit.
To report or not?
Some faults are so trivial that it's really not worth reporting them to the Highway Authority (HA). Nothing is gained by reporting a fault which exists according to a strict interpretation of the regulations, but does no harm to anyone. For example, Macclesfield FP83 is only three metres long and looks like a perfectly ordinary section of pavement in the town centre. Nothing would be gained by reporting the absence of signs.
As a general rule I tend to place a low priority on faults that don't inconvenience the ordinary footpath user. So if the public right of way is blocked but there is a perfectly sensible alternative route only a metre or two away, I record it as a fault, then shrug and move on. I might report it once to the HA but then take no further action unless the unauthorised diversion is significant. In an ideal world I'd have time to pursue every fault no matter how minor, and so would the HA. In practice our time can be better spent.
The initial report
The handbook lists the minimum information content of a report. Additionally it's my habit to:
- Send one e-mail message per fault, not group them all together
- Send a plain text e-mail (no HTML, fonts, colours, etc)
- Send the initial report to the address published on the HA's web site, not to any individual officer
- Include the PNFS reference code (for example DE-WEU-14)
- Include a full (including the two letters) grid reference with eight digits rather than the more usual six, to unambiguously and precisely locate the fault (example: SK29004505)
- Include a link to a map showing the location, created using the OS Mapping page on the society's web site
- Include a request for a reference number, or at least an acknowledgement of receipt
- Include my phone number
When I have a photograph to go with my message, I use my computer to crop it as appropriate, add arrows to highlight any notable features, and reduce the size to about 750 by 560 pixels (0.42 megapixels) for ease of storage and transmission. I then include it as an attachment to my report.
The follow-up report
If I'm reporting the same fault again at a later date, I compose the e-mail message in the same way as the initial report, with one exception. I make it crystal clear that this is a follow-up report and not a new report. Otherwise a second fault will be recorded at the HA and at Taylor House, causing confusion and extra work. I'll always include the previous reference number(s) if there are any.
It's never been completely clear to me whether Taylor House want these follow-up reports or not. I send them anyway, because if they're not wanted they're easy to ignore.
The "problem solved" message
When an inspection reveals that a problem has been solved, I send an e-mail message to Taylor House so that the database can be updated. I don't send anything to the HA. As with the follow-up report, I make it clear that this is not a new fault. The message includes the date of the original fault report and a description of the solution. Usually a day's inspection reveals more than one fault fixed and I group them all together in one message.
"Thank you" message
If I feel that the HA has done a particularly good job fixing the faults I've reported, I take the time to write to the officer concerned and express my appreciation. I have to admit it doesn't happen very often, though.
Faults in other parishes
Even when I'm not specifically inspecting footpaths I'll often come across a footpath fault that could do with being reported. If it's within the society's area but not in one of "my" parishes, I take a photo using my phone. When I get home that photo prompts me to report the fault. The GPS information embedded in the photo tells me the exact location. I then report the fault to the society using the Fault Report Form.