Official vs Private parking fines

Unfair parking tickets seem to be the bane of many of our day-to-day existence, be it parking for a paltry few minutes more than the allocated time, unwittingly parking in a controlled zone on a weekend or stopping somewhere where the signage is unintelligible or ambiguous.

Worse still are those handed out with unbridled zeal by supermarkets, shopping malls or hospitals – private car parks, in other words.

However, if you believe that if you have received such a ticket in a private car park and believe it to be unfair, note that it is NOT a given that you need to be pay up.

That’s because these fines are merely “invoices” which cannot be enforced.

Here’s a list of things that you need to keep in mind and consider before you make a final decision on the ticket.

“Penalty Charge Notice” vs “Parking Charge Notice”

A parking fine issued by a local council is called a ‘Penalty Charge Notices’ while a parking ticket issued by a hospital or a supermarket is called a ‘Parking Charge Notice’.  Here’s the difference:

A Parking Charge Notice is just an invoice.

While landowners have a right to charge for and control parking, they often impose tickets for the slightest transgression.
Mistakes can happen.  If you’ve been shopping – SPENDING MONEY – at Sainsbury’s for example and you go over your allotted time by a couple of minutes and you’re slapped with a ticket, that is patently unreasonable.

If you get a ticket from a private parking firm which you believe is unfair, DON’T just pay it!

Private parking tickets are not “fines”.

Private parking companies have no legal right to fine you although they will stop at nothing to convince you that they do.  All the parking ticket represents is a “breach of contract”.

It isn’t the ability of private companies to issue tickets in itself that’s a problem. It’s the unstructured system which puts unnecessary power in potentially unscrupulous hands.

Report unreasonable tickets to the landowner.
If the parking firm – such as NCP – which has issued your ticket has behaved particularly unfairly, it may be worth reporting it to the landowner – eg, a retailer or hospital – which employs it too.

Companies, particularly big retailers such as Sainsbury’s or B&Q, may not want the adverse publicity of a customer who is spending money at their establishment being needlessly penalized by a third party parking company.

Deny you were the driver.

Parking operators in England and Wales are allowed to hold the vehicle’s owner liable for unpaid charges if they don’t know who the driver was and the owner refuses, or is unable, to name the driver.

Bear in mind though that if you’re ticketed while driving a hire car anywhere in the UK, you’ll still be responsible for any parking tickets if you’ve accepted liability for them under the hire agreement.

Before fighting a parking ticket, gather up as much evidence as you can.  

Starting with evidence at the SCENE.  Make sure you have all your receipts of spending or whatever other activity that you were doing.  Take as many pictures as you can of signage as well as the ticket itself.  Subsequently, ensure that you file away everything that you receive from the company.  Finally, if there was someone with you at the time you were issued the ticket, get a statement from them – regarding the signage, for example.

What if you’re clamped or towed at the scene?

Clamping and towing on private land is banned in England and Wales under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, and it’s been banned in Scotland since 1992.  But there are some cases where you can be legally clamped or towed by a private company.

In England, Wales and Scotland, firms are sometimes subcontracted by the police, local authorities or Government agencies such as the DVLA.  And where local bylaws are in place (eg, at some railway station and airport car parks), they may have the right to clamp or tow you. It’s also worth noting that private companies can clamp you even on private land in Northern Ireland.

NEVER TRY TO REMOVE CLAMPS YOURSELF AS ANY DAMAGE AMOUNTS TO CRIMINAL DAMAGE AND CAN BE PROSECUTED.

How to fight private parking tickets

According to Money Saving Expert, there are three main ways to fight unreasonable tickets.

Check if the firm’s a member of a trade body

Hopefully the ticket will say if the company is a member of a trade body, but if not you need to check with the British Parking Association (BPA) or the International Parking Community (IPC).

If it ISN’T a trade body member it’s a different technique

If the company has chosen not to be a member of a trade body, there’s a totally different step-by-step to fight unfair tickets. If you’re sure it isn’t a member, jump to:

It’s also worth checking if there’s a mistake on your ticket

There’s also another route you can try, whether or not the parking firm belongs to a trade body. To see if you can appeal on a technicality, jump to:

If the firm is part of a trade body

1.    JUST IGNORE IT!
There are some campaigners who say you simply shouldn’t pay the ticket or have any contact with the company that issued it.  The company can still apply to the DVLA for your address details so watch out.

2.    BATTLE IT OUT ON PAPER.
Simply write to the company as if you’re treating the ticket like an invoice and let them know that you will not honour the invoice as you think it’s unfair.

It’s a long play so be prepared to submit documents to court – a course that most parking companies would not be willing to take.  There are never any guarantees so be prepared to hunker down for the long run.

3. The Company appeals approach – do it ‘by the book’

For most people this is the straightforward, ‘by the book’ approach. So if you’re not sure you want to fight tooth and nail but do want to challenge an unfair ticket, this is the easiest and safest route to take, and the only one that guarantees you won’t end up in court (unless you refuse to pay having been through it).

Most tickets will include details of how to appeal to the parking company on the back – this should include the address to send your complaint to.  You’ll need to outline why you believe the parking ticket was unfair. It could be because there was missing or unclear signage. The following template letter will help you challenge your ticket with the private parking operator.

You can also appeal through the official trade body process.  Most trade bodies have online appeal processes set up.  Always remember that you improve your chances of success if you include all the evidence that you have gathered.

What if the appeal is rejected?

If you lose your appeal, you need to decide whether to pay, take the company on or ignore the decision and do nothing. Both the major trade bodies in the UK say that you should pay the charge in full within two weeks.  If you disagree with the decision the parking operator can still go to court seeking enforcement.

If so, it will be in the small claims court.

Can I argue the charge is too much?

This used to be one of the main grounds on which you could dispute a ticket, but making the argument’s become much more difficult since last November’s Supreme Court judgment on “excessive” charges.

Previously, some lawyers argued that a parking charge must reflect the loss to the landowner by you parking there, so could a company really justify a penalty of up to £100?

But Supreme Court judges ruled in the Barry Beavis case that £85 was not excessive for a 56-minute overstay, and that fines have a “useful” role to play as a deterrent. They didn’t however specify what would constitute an excessive charge. See the Landmark private parking court case at BBC website.

While this is a perfectly legitimate approach to take, in the extreme you might have to be prepared to go to court, as if you refuse to pay, the company’s only recourse is to take you to court.

In many cases they will not do that. Therefore simply the fact that you’ve chosen to do this means it will go away, but there are no guarantees and there’s a possibility you will end up in court.

However, remember this company has chosen not to join a trade body which has an independent appeals process, and so has left you with fewer options.

Limitations on “Notice to Keeper”.

Whenever a company has taken a CCTV image of a transgression, you will get a ‘Notice to Keeper’ through the post.
There are specific rules around how Notices to Keepers should be sent and written. However, sometimes companies get this wrong. If they have, it’s often possible to appeal on a technicality.
This route comes from members of our forum who have a great deal of experience fighting unfair parking tickets, and campaigning to help others do so as well. Here’s what to do:

Money Saving Expert suggests you check that the notice follows the rules below:

•    Specify the vehicle, where it was parked and when.
•    Tell the keeper that the driver has a parking charge and that it has not been paid in full.
•    If a parking ticket was given at the time, the Notice to Keeper must repeat that info – if it wasn’t, it should say what the driver is being charged and that the driver has been asked to pay.
•    Say how much remains unpaid.
•    Say that the firm doesn’t know the details of the driver, and invite the owner to pay or tell it the driver’s details.
•    Warn that if the charges haven’t been paid within 28 days (from the day after a correct Notice to Keeper was given) it will have the right to recover the missing amount from the owner.
•    Include details of any discount for prompt payment and the arrangements to solve any disputes.
•    Say who is demanding payment and how they should be paid.
•    State the date on which the Notice to Keeper was sent or given.

(If a ticket wasn’t initially given on your windscreen, the same rules apply, but the Notice to Keeper should be sent within 15 days of the alleged parking offence.)

If any of these things are missing, write to the parking flagging up the error.

If you’ve found the parking firm slipped up, it’ll give you useful ammunition in your appeal. First write directly to the company (contact details should be on the ticket) and tell it that as it did not comply with the Notice to Keeper rules set out in the Protection of Freedoms Act, you won’t be paying the ticket.

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