The number of parking tickets issued by car park management firms in the UK rose by a fifth in a year, hitting a record of more than 5.5 million last year. Recent data from the RAC Foundation suggests that car owners could pay as much as £100 for overstaying at private parking spaces.
The government is preparing to introduce legislation to regulate the private parking industry but the question is: what is the real problem? If you are a car owner who is facing hefty penalty charges and are attempting to dispute it with the parking management operator or the British Parking Association, what do you need to do?
DAS Law has revealed there are a number of important differences between parking tickets from the local council and those enforced by private companies. Sarah Garner, a solicitor at DAS Law, gives the lowdown on parking tickets and tells you how to pursue a dispute and avoid paying penalty charges.
What is the difference between private and public parking tickets?
The clue is in the names – public parking tickets are issued for breaching parking rules on public land (such as on the road or in a public car park). Private parking tickets are issued for breaching the rules on private land, such as in a supermarket car park. Public parking tickets are enforced by the local authority or the police (or Transport for London, if you happen to be in the capital), and these sorts of tickets will come with fines (usually in the form of a Penalty Charge Notice, or PCN).
Private parking firms, however, which enforce private parking tickets, have no power to issue fines. Instead of fining drivers, they are technically issuing invoices for an alleged breach of contract. This means that the private firm can’t send bailiffs to recover the money from you – they will need to take you to court to enforce the notice. This also gives the driver a lot more leeway to appeal against the ticket if they think that the ticket is unfair or the charge is too high.
Private parking firms also have other restrictions – for example, unlike a council or local authority, they have no right to clamp or tow your vehicle (and they could be fined up to £5,000 if they do). However, private parking companies sometimes obscure this distinction, making drivers think that their tickets are actually local authority tickets.
For example, many private parking tickets are labelled parking charge notices, confusingly similar to the council-issued penalty charge notice. Private parking firms rely on this confusion and intimidation to bamboozle people into paying their ‘fines’ – however, if you are willing to stand up for yourself, you might be able to avoid forking out anything.
How can I tell what type of ticket I have?
The ticket should contain information on it to confirm by whom it was issued – if the issuer was a private company, it is a private ticket.
Does the parking firm belong to a trade body?
Once you have identified the parking firm, you should find out if they are a member of a trade body. There are two trade bodies for parking companies – the British Parking Association (BPA) and the Independent Parking Committee (IPC). Both organisations have lists of accredited operators BPA Approved Operators and IPC Approved Operators, and if the parking firm listed on the ticket isn’t on either of these lists, they don’t belong to a trade body.
Trade bodies have their own appeals process, so if the parking firm rejects your appeal against the ticket, you can escalate matters. BPA and IPC members also have the right to access DVLA details to obtain your name and address. Non-members don’t have this access, so unless you write to them to complain about the charge, it is unlikely that they will be able to find you and pursue you for payment.
How can I fight a private parking ticket?
If you think the charge has been wrongly issued or is too high, don’t pay the company straight away or admit any sort of responsibility for the alleged offence. There are different options for what you can do, depending on your circumstances, your particular grievance with the ticket, and the strength of your will to resist demands for payment.
Can I appeal to the firm and their trade body?
If you want to appeal against a ticket, you should start by appealing to the parking firm. You should be able to find information on how to appeal on the ticket or on the firm’s website. If they reject your appeal, you can appeal to an independent organisation known as POPLA (Parking on Private Land Appeals). POPLA is run by the Ombudsman Service.
Before you submit your appeal to POPLA, you should collect any evidence that would support your appeal (picture evidence of the car park, evidence of extenuating circumstances, etc). POPLA’s service allows you to submit and track your appeal online. When they have reviewed the evidence, they will make a decision, either upholding the ticket or throwing it out.
Can I get away with paying less than the full amount of the fine?
If you are willing to pay but think the charge on the ticket is too high, you can pay a smaller amount to see if this will satisfy the landowner. For example, if you have been charged £60 for overstaying, and you instead pay £25, the parking firm may let the rest of the amount lapse, not bothering to take you to court over the remaining £35. If you pay the ticket within 14 days, the parking company is required to offer you a discount of at least 40% on the charge.
Can I just ignore the ticket?
Some people have successfully managed to avoid paying a parking ticket by just ignoring it – if you do this, the only way the parking firm can take action is by taking you to court.
In some cases, parking firms don’t bother, as the cost of taking you to court is not worth the possible reward of getting you to pay.
If the parking firm is not an Approved Operator, they might not even be able to take you to court – unaccredited firms have no access to DVLA records, so they might not be able to find your address and track you down.
However, you should use caution when ignoring a ticket – if the firm decides to call your bluff and take you to court, you could end up paying a lot more.