The government is about to change the law to protect drivers from ‘cowboy’ private car parking firms. It follows an escalation in protests about some private companies levying unfair charges on drivers.
Figures from complaints handling service Resolver show that gripes about private parking operators doubled in 2016 compared to the year before. Citizens Advice has also seen a steep increase in the number of people seeking assistance to deal with tickets issued by private firms. Last year, nearly 10,000 people approached it for help with parking tickets.
How some private firms trick drivers
Unscrupulous operators can trick drivers by not having obvious signage. The law demands these clearly set out restrictions such as time limits. Private firms can also use bullying techniques to attempt to intimidate drivers into paying up.
Other tricks include charging people who decide not to park, repeat ticketing of drivers who’re on holiday, and using the term PCN and fine to deceive drivers into thinking it’s a legitimate fine.
Chief executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said: “While drivers have to obey the rules on parking, firms need to make sure parking restrictions are clear, and people are treated fairly where, for example, ticket machines aren’t working.”
What are the proposed changes?
The aim is to give a clear set of guidelines that protect consumers. Former Conservative minister Sir Greg Knight who is behind the Parking Bill explained: “Motorists should have the certainty that when they enter a car park on private land, they are entering into a contract that is reasonable, transparent and involves a consistent process. Poor signage, unreasonable terms, exorbitant fines, aggressive demands for payment and an opaque appeals process, together with some motorists being hit with a fine for just driving in and out of a car park without stopping, have no place in 21st-century Britain.”
The Parking Bill passed a second reading in the House of Commons in February 2018 with no objections. It will be made law by the end of the year. The government will prevent parking firms that don’t comply with the code of practice from accessing DVLA driver data. The hope is this will effectively stop them operating.
What will these charges apply to?
The changes apply to Parking Charge Notices. Land owners, or more frequently the private companies that work for them, give these. They will apply to car parking on private land such as supermarkets or hospitals.
There are currently two other types of parking fine. Councils issue a penalty charge notice or PCN to drivers who park on public land such as a road with parking restrictions or a council-run car park. Police issue the fixed penalty notice for parking on a red route or anywhere else where they manage the parking.
Are private tickets fines?
A private company might claim it has the right to fine you but it hasn’t. Tickets are simply invoices if called anything different to fixed penalty or penalty charge notice. If you don’t pay them within a defined time, the company can’t send bailiffs in. They can however register a debt against you and increase the charge. However, everyone has the right to appeal against these charges and around half of people who do appeal usually have it resolved in their favour.
If you think a parking charge is incorrect
We’ve already published a piece on how to appeal a parking charge here. If you’re not satisfied with how your complaint has been dealt with, there are independent adjudication services. Try the Independent Appeals Service.