Every day the Government sells the addresses of 23,000 drivers to private parking companies so they can send them a £100 bill for breaking their rules. And it is a bill, not a fine, because these companies have no right to fine anyone for parking their vehicle. Only local authorities or the police can do that. What these firms send is an invoice. Called parking charge notices, they are designed to look like the legal penalty notices issued when you break street parking rules. But they are not. They are simply an invoice for payment.
The parking firms say that when you enter their car parks you agree to a contract under which you pay a fee, park between the lines, and leave within a certain time. If you break these rules, they send you a bill for breaching that contract.
Sometimes the parking charge notice is put under the windscreen wipers. But in many cases the first you know about it is when it arrives in the post. Many car parks have no barriers or attendants. Cameras at the entrance and exit register your number plate and compare it with the one you give when you buy your ticket. If you are deemed to have broken the rules then the firm pays £2.50 to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and sends the notice to the address it gives them.
Most people pay up at once because you are bribed to do so. A fee of £100 is reduced to £60 if you pay within 14 days. But that is not a sensible approach.
Of course, it is reasonable for a private landowner to charge people for the convenience of parking on their property. The Supreme Court decided more than five years ago that they may also impose a reasonable penalty if you break the rules laid down. However, if you get a parking penalty on private land do not pay it without reading it very carefully.
Check the Notice
Were you – or your vehicle – there at the times stated? Are the rules set out clearly, not just at the entrance but around the car park where you can see and read them? It is useful to have photographs if you are claiming they are not clear.
Most car parking firms belong to the British Parking Association (BPA) which has a Code of Practice. Has the notice broken any of those rules? For example, you must be given time to read the rules before parking and a grace period of up to 10 minutes after your time runs out before a penalty is charged. Other firms belong to the International Parking Community (IPC) whose Code of Practice also has a grace period in some cases.
If the penalty notice seems correct are there mitigating circumstances? Was the car park very busy so it took a long time to buy your ticket? Did you leave without parking? Did you have a good reason to overstay such as an urgent phone call about a sick relative? Did just half a tyre stray outside the marked parking bay? Did you make a minor error entering your car number? Had your car broken down? Send supporting evidence – with photographs if you can.
On the back of the notice there will be details of how to appeal – normally within 21 or 28 days. However, once 14 days has passed you will lose the discount on your charge. If your appeal is rejected you can go to a further appeal. The BPA uses an independent service called the Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA). Around half of those who appeal to it are successful. IPC uses the Independent Appeals Service (IAS). A firm that does not belong to either of the trade bodies cannot get your address from the DVLA and will find it much harder to enforce the charge.
A more militant way to challenge a parking notice is to ignore it. In England and Wales the person registered as the vehicle’s ‘keeper’ (usually the owner) is liable for the penalty if the driver does not pay. So, the firm will pay for the keeper’s address from the DVLA and send them the notice. That must be set out in a very precise way and firms often get that wrong which invalidates it. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the keeper does not have to pay. That makes enforcement much harder.
If you do not pay the only way to make you is a civil action in court. That is expensive and time consuming for the firm and it may not bother - though some parking operators are getting militant about going to court themselves! Even if it does take you to court you may win, especially if it has behaved unreasonably. If you lose you will have to pay the full charge and possibly some costs as well, but as long as you pay when the court orders you to do so your credit rating will not be affected.
Government steps in
Private parking firms may soon have to obey new rules designed to end the “poor practice and behaviour of some parking operators”. The Government has announced its plans for a legally enforceable Code of Practice and a new appeals service to apply in England, Scotland, and Wales. That should happen over the next twelve mnoths or so.
If you get a parking fine from a local authority, Transport for London, or the police the rules are different. Fines are easier to enforce but if you feel the ticket is unfair challenge it and then appeal to the independent adjudicator. More than half who do win.
parkingcowboys.co.uk has useful information about possible defences.
britishparking.co.uk – the British Parking Association website
theipc.info – the International Parking Community website
popla.co.uk – for appeals against firms that are British Parking Association members.
theias.org – for appeals against firms that are International Parking Community members.
This blogpost is an amended and updated from an article I wrote for Saga Magazine in November 2020.
23 March 2021