How to fight back private companies issuing parking fines
Steep car parking fines are a modern day curse, raking in millions of pounds every year for private firms and cash-starved councils.
Although car park operators are using increasingly sinister tactics to ensure these fines are paid, victims can hit back. About half of fines challenged are overturned.
The latest trick being employed by firms is to pay the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency to provide private address details that can be traced from a car number plate.
Outlaws: Parking firms are using sinister methods to grab your money
Armed with this information, the companies – running car parks at hospitals, shopping centres and restaurants – are sending threatening letters demanding up to £100 in fines.
Last year, a record 4.7million people had their addresses bought for £2.50 a piece by car park operators, earning the agency almost £12million.
Philip Gomm, of The RAC Foundation, says: ‘Fines sent through the post often use intimidating wording and extortionate charges are often levied for minor infringements – such as accidentally overstaying in a car park by just a few minutes.’
Private companies earn an estimated £500million a year from issuing parking fines. While equivalent data is not available from councils, they pocket at least £750million from a combination of car parking charges and fines.
Parking campaigner Barrie Segal, who runs website AppealNow, says: ‘They are the modern-day version of Dick Turpin, acting like outlaws by making outrageously unfair penalty demands. It is a huge money-spinner for them.’ Key to the success of many car park operators is the use of bullying tactics.
If you pay up in 14 days, they say, the penalty amount will be halved, panicking most motorists to foot the bill rather than fight a charge.
There is also the threat of sending debt collectors round if a fine goes unpaid, though bailiffs cannot go knocking on a door without first going to court. What the parking attendants fail to reveal is that half of motorists who fight a fine eventually win. But you must arm yourself with information and have the stomach for a fight.
Got a ticket? The first golden rule: do NOT hand over your money
‘Be prepared’: Legal expert Jeanette Miller
PREPARE FOR APPEAL
If you have been issued with a ticket you deem to be unfair do not hand over any cash. If you do, you are effectively admitting responsibility.
While half of all appeals succeed, be prepared for a lengthy process.
Jeanette Miller is managing director of national motoring law specialist Geoffrey Miller Solicitors. She says: ‘It rarely pays to hire a lawyer in cases involving disputed car parking fines. But if you are aware of the law and do your homework it will boost your chances of success.’
She points out that The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 was introduced to stamp out car clamping. But as a concession to the car park operators, it paved the way for private firms to chase motorists using details gleaned from the DVLA.
Under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999, any sums demanded must be deemed ‘fair and reasonable’. But this still means an £85 fine for overstaying by a few minutes might be deemed fair in a court of law if it is seen as a legitimate deterrent.
Miller, president of the Association of Motor Offence Lawyers, adds: ‘Take time to prepare a case, do not just get angry. Revisit the car park, take photos, write targeted letters and be prepared to attend court.’
PARKING CHARGE NOTICE
Motorists fined for overstaying a paid-for period or parking without permission on private land are issued with a ‘parking charge notice’. If a motorist wants to challenge the fine, they can take up their argument with the car park firm. If it will not listen, motorists must seek redress through arbitration.
If the company is a member of the British Parking Association, such as NCP, drivers can contact Parking on Private Land Appeals within 28 days.
Alternatively, the car park operator might be a member of the International Parking Community, in which case someone disputing a fine must take it to the Independent Appeals Service.
Car park firms not affiliated to a trade group will find it harder to chase you for a fine.
In theory, only members of the British Parking Association and International Parking Community should be able to track you down through the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency database.
Parking fines: You have 28 days to appeal
PENALTY CHARGE NOTICE
A car parking fine on council-owned land is known as a ‘penalty charge notice’.
The process of appeal is more structured than for parking on private land. Motorists have 14 days to argue their case with the council, after which it will issue a ‘notice to owner’ for those intent on continuing to fight their case.
Motorists then get a further 28 days to make a formal representation. If the appeal is rejected, a ‘notice of rejection’ is issued. Those intent on battling their case can then go to an adjudicator.
In England and Wales this is the Traffic Penalty Tribunal. In Scotland it is the Parking and Bus Lane Tribunal for Scotland while in Northern Ireland it is the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (Northern Ireland).
In the capital there is a separate institution – London Tribunals. You have 28 days to argue your case with the appropriate tribunal.
Poorly marked signs: The car park firm must prove all signs were clearly visible and that the parking rules were marked out and not obscured – for example, by trees or poor night lighting.
If markings on a bay were rubbed out, this can help in disputing a fine if it is issued for being in the wrong spot.
Ticket not visible: If you had a valid ticket but it fell off the dashboard or was upside down you can present this as evidence. Councils are more likely to accept this argument than private firms.
Three-minute rule: If you get a ticket in the first three minutes after arriving you can argue that you had gone to find a machine to buy one.
A broken car park machine: If the ticket machine is out of order it is up to you to see if there is another one in the car park. If you cannot find one take a photo of the broken equipment as proof.
Emergency stop: If you can offer evidence of a breakdown or other mitigating circumstance, such as pulling over for health reasons or to help someone in trouble, this may help your cause. A doctor’s certificate can help if you are caught ill.
A legal technicality: A private firm is not issuing an official fine but notice for a breach of contract.
You might therefore ask to see the contract between the company and landowner to see if it is watertight. A firm must prove it correctly issued a charge.
Speeding fines rocket to 175 per cent of weekly salary
New guidelines were rolled out last week allowing police to hit motorists in England and Wales with speeding tickets up to 175 per cent of their weekly salary.
Offenders can also expect six points on their driving licence or up to a 56-day driving ban. Those earning £50,000 a year may now be forced to fork out almost £1,700 and be disqualified for almost two months for putting their foot down too hard.
Taking aim: Police speed trap
The worst ‘B and C’ offences include speeding at more than 100mph on a 70mph limit motorway. Even infringements, such as driving 40mph in a 30mph zone, can now land motorists with fines equivalent to 50 per cent of their weekly salary – plus three penalty points on their licence.
So a £50,000-a-year motorist can be fined almost £500. Fines will be capped at £1,000, or £2,500 if the driving offence was while speeding on a motorway.
In March, the penalty for being caught using a mobile while at the wheel was increased from £100 to £200 plus six penalty points.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online