There is a private parking injustice going on in England & Wales. It appears, many motorists are receiving illegitimate fines and then having to undergo a whole process of trying to prove their innocence. If fortunate, fines are cancelled but this does not take away all hassle and stress an appealer has endured. This must stop and the system needs looking at. It’s probably the reason many folk, just pay up and cannot be bothered to challenge these fines.
At the end of last year, parked where often do to visit a favourite shop in my local town which has 3 hours of free parking. On entering the private car park, it looked the same as ever and the first sign you see driving in, indicates that there is again 3 hours of free parking.
2¾ hours later, return, get in my car and drive off.
However, 10 days later, receive a Parking Charge Notice (PCN) requesting £60 if paid within 14 days, or £100 within 28 days. [Note: PCN can also refer to Penalty Charge Notices, applied by local authorities for incorrect parking, slight difference.]
‘Maximum 1 hour free parking’ is stated on the notice.
First thing springs to mind, is that I don’t recall seeing a ticket on my windscreen, which is because there wasn’t one. I was caught by cameras using ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) and photographed driving in and out of the car park. My vehicle and contact details were then acquired from the DVLA by the parking operator. With the fine arriving over a week later, it begs the question, what would have happened if I parked there again the next day, unawares?
Also, the address listed on the parking charge didn’t look right. Having searched Google Maps, it seems the area had changed when it got redeveloped to shops from Victorian terraces. What used to be a public street is now a private courtyard which made sense to me, yet the notice is listing the old street no longer in existence and a different name for the courtyard compared to Google? I’m quite sure where parked and the timings on the letter match but still, the address cannot be correct. Looking further, many businesses are confused as to the name of the courtyard (or parking lot), and even Royal Mail stills insists on using the old street name despite the fact there is definitely no street and hasn’t been for many years. It’s simply just a car park off a main road, whose name also gets used instead to add to the address confusion.
Regardless, still convinced that the car park wasn’t restricted to an hour, decide to conduct more internet research. Quickly, I find the largest business attached to the car park listing the maximum parking time as 2½ hours (instead of 3, perhaps to prevent customers getting fines). Other tenant’s websites gave less detail and just indicated ‘free’ or ‘customer parking’. On the day in question after shopping, I recall going for a coffee with my brother and he mentioned the free car park was only for two hours and we could overstay that time limit, which I then challenged saying it was 3 hours as per normal. But, perhaps we were both wrong and the website time limit was, too.
Initially, thinking to ignore the PCN, I left it on the kitchen worktop close to the bin for a few days. Many websites advise you can literally ignore these fines without penalty, as parking charges on private land are not necessarily enforceable in law. Maybe, but there have been some significant cases in recent years e.g. ParkingEye vs Beavis, where the parking operators got their way in court. Not wanting to face debt collectors or the prospect of legal action, decide to take it seriously.
Next, I put in an appeal claim on operator’s website. These were my arguments:
- Should always be a parking ticket regardless, to prevent repeat offences.
- Nothing is made clear that any rules have changed and been parking here for years. I’m sure it’s always been 3 hours and not 1 hour.
- None of the retail outlets inviting customers to park, indicate there is only one hour of parking.
- As well, the car park address on the ticket appears to be wrong, so common sense would indicate an invalid claim with those incorrect details. As I don’t think you can be accused of any offence relating to an address, when the address in question, is actually wrong. (Thus furthermore, shouldn’t be accessing my data from the DVLA, and possibly invalid claims for all offenders for the last 15 years!)
Two weeks later, I receive a straightforward letter from the parking operator. It states my appeal was unsuccessful due to the ticket being issued correctly, for exceeding the free stay allowance as per the terms and conditions signposted.
Hmmm, still feel I am in the right though…
Luckily, the enforcers are part of the British Parking Association, and have to grant me one last appeal chance through a supposedly independent ombudsman body paid for by the BPA, called POPLA (Parking on Private Land Appeals). However, if I lose this appeal, then I will have to pay the top rate of £100, or I can give up now and pay £60 one last time.
Sod it, am going to battle, and will appeal through POPLA.
Right, plan of action. My next step is to go out of my way to double-check those parking spaces, and so drove into the town centre where this infringement had apparently taken place.
The confusing header picture on this blog post (and below), is what I saw 16 days later after receiving the charge (nearly 4 weeks after parking). Clearly someone had erred, or was this a form of entrapment? Either way, helped me capture a great piece of evidence in fighting the fine (although wished I’d used a decent camera instead of a poor pixelated mobile at the time). From the car park visit, it becomes apparent that the parking time limit had dropped all of a sudden by 2 hours to 1 hour, and the old sign confirming it used to be 3.
Armed with this photo, put in an appeal claim on www.popla.co.uk and then given a login to keep track of the proceedings; adding to above arguments with the one below:
- The signs have conflicting times and saw only the old sign when driving in and parking, the photo is evidence.
Another two weeks later, a legal representative of the car park operators responds to the POPLA appeal. They haven’t looked at anything I’ve written, totally ignored, and kept up with their standard script of how the parking terms and conditions had been breached. Apparently, I’m wrong on so many points. Bizarrely, they also included pictures, which on closer scrutiny showed the time discrepancies on the signs (and that there wasn’t any street in existence, anymore). Plus, included were scary court case accounts—allowing them to further wallow in past court victories.
Allowed to comment on their response supplied (7-day timeframe), immediately I simply point out that they haven’t even bothered to read my evidence, and that still with conflicting signs and what I believe to be an incorrect address, there cannot be any parking charge levied.
Finally, must wait for POPLA to weigh up at all the evidence from both parties and to make a decision.
Two more weeks later, and a decision has been made, the appeal has been successful!
I am surprised and wonder what tipped the scales in my favour.
POPLA assessed that the operator switched the signs over two weeks before the incident, the weeks leading up to Merry Christmas. That’s all they did without any other notification to customers using the car park. As a result, this alone was enough for POPLA to decide that motorists hadn’t been given fair warning and so I wasn’t liable for the charge. They didn’t seem bothered about the address or the incorrect signage left in place.
Interestingly, POPLA provide annual reports containing lots of useful facts and figures. The main one being that if you lodge an appeal with the ombudsman, there is a good chance you’ll win.
In 2017, over half of all parking charges were cancelled.
37% cancelled because the operator didn’t even bother to challenge the appeal.
However, if the operator does challenge, POPLA will only side with you in 25% of all cases.
On that evidence alone, it appears the parking enforcers, are trying it on most of the time.
In other recent news (28th Jan 2018), the BBC reports that:
- “’Rogue’ parking companies face government crackdown.”
- “Drivers’ growing disquiet about the rules on parking are underlined by figures showing nearly 10,000 people approached the Citizens Advice Bureau for guidance on parking tickets last year.”
- “Firms which don’t obey the rules will be blocked from accessing drivers’ DVLA records.”
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, previously quoted in 2015:
“Drivers are paying the penalty for a lack of clarity on parking.
“More and more people are turning to Citizens Advice for help with parking tickets.
“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.”
Some unlucky drivers can face fines as much as £300!
So back to my PCN:
- after almost a couple of months of waiting
- three received letters (including PCN)
- five emails
- written appeal on parking operator’s website
- written appeal on POPLA portal (login with password)
- internet research
- a visit to town again to gather photographic evidence
- operator response comments on POPLA
Finally, eventually, I’m relieved of paying £60. Wow.
Was it worth it? I ask.
Probably not, apart from a little internal satisfaction.
As you can see, it’s not fair or right.
You have been warned!
P.S. Here’s a funny video about getting a parking charge. Joe Lycett’s Parking Ticket Story | 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gkiw7zpULo