PREDATORY parking firms are issuing record numbers of tickets ahead of a Government crackdown, experts have warned.
Every five seconds a driver is hit with a charge — although many are for technicalities such as mistyping the registration number, parking slightly awry or overstaying by seconds.
Alamy A rules delay could mean that more private parking charges are enforced
New rules are being drawn up, but the Government won’t say when they will come into effect. Now there are fears even more drivers will be targeted in a last-ditch bid to ramp up profits.
Today we look at how the problem of private parking charges has arisen – and how you can avoid being a victim.
How did this happen?
Cowboy parking firms came under fire in the 2000s for using any excuse to clamp a car and charge sky-high fees for its release.
Eventually in 2012, the Government banned clamping — and the end of charges of hundreds and even thousands of pounds if the car ended up in a pound.
But as a compromise, the new rules gave parking operators new rights to enforce fines issued in the post.
Vehicle owners became responsible for paying the penalty, regardless of who was driving at the time of the offence.
Previously operators had to prove who was driving at the time so many charges went unpaid.
Parking ticket charges were capped at £100, meaning they were lower than those for clamping. But parking operators realised it was much easier to issue them, and has opened the floodgates.
Firms can buy vehicle records for just £2.50 each from the DVLA.
Motorists were hit with nearly 6.8million parking fines for the year ending April this year — up a million on 12 months before.
Back in 2012 it was just 1.57million, according to RAC Foundation analysis of Government data.
Alamy Ticket charges were capped at £100 but operators realised it was much easier to issue them, opening the floodgates
Is there no regulation?
Private operators which monitor parking at hospitals, shopping centres and motorway service stations have their own voluntary codes of conduct to ensure drivers are treated fairly.
These include proper signage and a 10-minute grace period at the end of a stay. But campaigners say these aren’t protecting motorists from getting penalised for honest mistakes, and that’s why so many tickets are issued.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Some in this industry have been cashing in for years. Companies realised this was an all-but unregulated field in which the odds were heavily stacked in their favour.”
What’s being done about it?
In March the Government approved a new Private Parking Bill to force operators to abide by tougher new rules — and to create a new independent appeals process for drivers who get caught out.
If operators breach the code, they’ll lose access to the DVLA database so they won’t be able to track down vehicle owners any more — which will kill off their business.
Getty If you get a ticket unfairly appeal it to the operator who issued it and if that fails you can go through one of two official procedures
But what if I get a ticket before then?
If it’s unfair, fight it. You’ll have to first appeal to the operator who issued your ticket, and if that fails you’ll get a code to go through one of two official appeals procedures.
If the parking operator is a member of the British Parking Association, you must appeal to Popla — the Parking on Private Lands Appeals.
Charges issued by members of the International Parking Community trade body, you will go to the Independent Appeals Service.
These are both funded by the industry but claim to make decisions independently.
Top five parking firms to buy driver data in 2018-19 were:
ParkingEye Ltd – 1,852,085 records (1,768,233 records in 2017-18)
Euro Car Parks – 672,359 records (406,323)
Ranger Services Ltd for Highview Parking Ltd – 454,059 records (274,591)
Smart Parking Ltd – 391,048 records (390,860)
Civil Enforcement Ltd – 368,883 records (260,884)
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Popla said it processed 65,644 appeals in the year until September 30, 2018, of which 27,009 — 41 per cent — were successful.
A quarter of IAS appeals were decided in favour of the motorist according to its latest report.
Don’t ignore any charge — whether from a council or an accredited private operator — otherwise you could end up in court.
We want a clampdown
WE look at some of the ways drivers are being caught out – and what the Government should enforce when it draws up its new code of conduct.
STOP charging us for parking slightly awry: Wardens are preying on drivers who park slightly over the lines – even if it’s not causing a problem for anyone else.
Tony Taylor, who runs the Fight Your Private Parking Invoice Facebook group, has successfully appealed on behalf of drivers charged £100 for leaving their car on white parking bay lines.
Sun personal finance journalist Harriet Cooke was also charged £100 for leaving her car 10cm too far forward in a parking bay in a shopping car park in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Operator UK Parking Control later overturned the charge.
STOP charging us for mistyping reg numbers: Drivers who fail to correctly enter their reg plate number into ticket machines are being penalised – even if they can prove they paid.
College lecturer Marika Burrows, 38, from Chorley, near Manchester, is facing a court battle with the NCP parking firm after failing to correctly use one of their ticket machines in August.
As she was entering her reg plate number, her daughter Sienna put her bank card into the machine thinking it would help.
But this meant the machine didn’t get the full plate number before the £5 payment was taken. A ticket was issued and displayed under their windscreen, and Marika can show the payment on her bank statement.
But NCP claim she didn’t pay, and at first charged her £60, which rose to £100 and now £160. Marika said: “We are obviously not paying the charge.”
STOP charging us for staying slightly too long: Drivers have a 10-minute grace period from the time of their ticket expiring – but sometimes it’s not enough.
Stroke victim Joan Harrison, 85, was ordered to pay £90 for overstaying in a Lidl car park in Mablethorpe, Lincs, by 86 seconds. She and her daughter Jacqueline Harrison-Stanley, 56, had spent £96 in store but couldn’t make it back to the car quickly enough.
Lidl later apologised to the Harrisons after intervention from The Sunday Times and offered to refund them the cost of the charge as well as £50 of shopping vouchers.
Jacqueline said: “By the time we’d got back to the car and put Mum’s seatbelt on, it wasn’t physically possible to do it all in 100 minutes.”
STOP charging us for stopping: Drivers can be stung if they pull over on to private land even for just a few seconds.
It happened to Cormac O’Keeffe, 45, from Billericay, Essex, who was charged £100 after stopping in a layby on an industrial estate for 15 seconds to check directions on his Satnav in May 2017.
The City worker was tracked by a CCTV van in Calder Park, Wakefield, which was operated by Vehicle Control Services.
The company obtained his address from the DVLA and he was issued with a £100 charge. However he refused to pay and after appealing twice the matter went to Basildon County Court, where it was dismissed in December 2018.
MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis on how to deal with parking tickets