Private car parking tickets – should they be paid or can you fight them?

parked cars

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Over the last few years there seems to have been a surge in motorists receiving parking tickets when parked in private car parks.

Often this happens in the car parks of restaurants, shops and other commercial premises.

It has become common practice for the owners/operators of these car parks to enlist the help of private companies to help police their car parks – mostly to prevent people from parking there too long.

These private parking enforcement companies monitor car parks on private land and put tickets on any vehicle that is in breach of the car parks rules, which are usually posted on signs throughout the car park. The tickets they use look very much like official parking tickets that are distributed by traffic wardens on public roads – but they are not ‘official’ and should not be treated as such.

Because they look very similar to official parking tickets, many motorists automatically pay when they receive a private parking ticket – but unlike the real thing, these types of parking notices are just invoices that are often unenforceable.

In this guide we will explain how you can go about challenging a private car parking ticket.

Private car parking tickets – what you need to know

First of all, it’s important to stress that landowners have a right to charge for parking and to also set rules regarding the length of time you park on their land. If you have broken thee rules e.g. stayed too long in a shop car park or blocked a hospital entrance and you don’t think the fine is excessive or disproportionate then you should pay it.

With that being said, mistake in policing and enforcing parking rules do happen – from hidden or ambiguous signs to faults in technology or just plain and simple human error. This guide is designed to help you if you think that your parking ticket is unfair.

Do not automatically pay a parking ticket from a private company

Disputing an unfair ticket is much easier than attempting to reclaim money that you’ve already paid – so never pay a private parking ticket automatically.

The wording of the ticket does a good job of scaring you to think it needs paying, and many even have similar incremental costs as official parking tickets – with ‘discounts’ for paying early – but don’t let this fool you or scare you into just automatically paying.

If you are unsure whether the ticket you have received is from a private parking company, here are some of the biggest private car parking firms currently operating (these are not necessarily companies that give out unfair tickets): Britannia Parking Group, Euro Car Parks, Indigo Park Solutions, NCP and ParkingEye.

Private parking tickets are not ‘fines’

Not in the traditional sense of the word, anyway. Private parking companies have no official right or ability to be able to issue you with a fine, although the wording on their parking tickets will do it’s best to convince you otherwise.

The ticket they stick to your windscreen is actually a notice informing you that they deem you have breached a contract i.e. the terms stipulated on the parking signs in the car park.

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Report ‘unfair’ tickets to the landowner if possible

If you feel the parking company that issues your ticket has behaved unfairly, then it is always worth getting in touch with the landowner – especially if it is a shop, restaurant or hospital. They may well be just as enraged as you are at the treatment of one of their customers and can intervene on your behalf to cancel the ticket.

No business wants their loyal customers to be victimised by unscrupulous companies, so make sure you give them a chance to react if you have received a ticket unfairly.

If you’re planning to appeal the ticket, then start collecting evidence right away

If you’re still at the car park and you think you will be appealing the private car parking notice, then you should start putting together your evidence straight away. If you’ve already left the car park then it’s not too late to start getting your evidence together, as this can be crucial as your appeal progress.

The evidence you should be collecting can differ depending on the circumstances. The key regarding the evidence is to first of all think about why you believe the parking ticket is unfair, and then set about gathering evidence to prove that it is unfair.

For example, if the car park signs are unclear or even hidden by trees, then take a photo of your obscured view.

Here’s a general guide to what sort of evidence you should be looking to gather:

Photos. Take clear photographs of any signs that are obscured, as well as any parking bay markings etc… It’s also worth taking pictures of the exact spot your car is/was parked, as well as the parking meter and the ticket. It may seem like overkill but it’s worth making sure there’s no confusion about any of the details later on.

Correspondence. Keep all the letters and emails you get from the private parking company throughout the duration of your claim, as well as copies of everything you have sent them. If you have dealt with them on the phone then keep a note of the date and time, as well as the name of the person you spoke with – they should always be willing to give out their first name over the phone.

Proof of mitigating circumstances. If there’s a particular reason you were parked in the wrong place, or parked in a private car park for too long i.e. you car was broken down, then make sure you keep the receipts of the recovery/repair payments you made.

Witness statements. If you can find someone you don’t know – known as an ‘independent witness’ – to back you up on why the ticket is unfair, then ask them to provide a signed statement as this will go a long way to helping you convince the company the ticket is wrong.

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Your rights if your car is clamped or towed away

The practice of clamping and towing vehicles that are on private land was banned in England and Wales in 2012, under the Protection of Freedoms Act. In Scotland it has been banned since 1992.

The only way a private company can clamp or tow a vehicle is if they do so on the instruction of the police, the local council or a Government agency like the DVLA.

It’s worth noting though that there are some local bylaws in place that allow for private clamping and towing, but these are mainly restricted to places like hospitals, airport car parks and railway stations.

How to challenge private parking tickets

The methods you should take to fight an unfair private car parking ticket depend on whether the company that issued the ticket is a member of an official trade body or not.

There are two official, and trusted, trade bodies for private parking companies – the British Parking Association (BPA) and the Independent Parking Committee (IPC).

You should be able to determine if the company that issued your parking notice is a member of one of these organisations either on the ticket itself or on their website (if they have one).

You can also find a list of registered companies on each of the trade bodies’ websites via the links below:

BPA members: http://www.britishparking.co.uk/Approved-Operators

IPC members: https://www.theipc.info/aos-members

If the company is a fully paid up and registered member of one of the above bodies then the best way to challenge your unfair ticket is to first of all follow the appeals process of the company, and then if that fails refer it to the relevant trade body and go through their appeals process.

For members of the BPA, you can lodge your appeal through POPLA: https://popla.co.uk/

For members of the IPC you can lodge your appeal through the IAS: https://www.theias.org/

To give you an idea on the success rates of appeals, POPLA handled nearly 30,000 appeal cases between Sept 2015 and May 2016 and found in favour of the motorist in 35% of them.

What if the company is not a member of a trade body?

Because the company is not registered to an official trade body, you can treat the ‘ticket’ you have received purely as an invoice – which you can then refuse to pay.

There’s nothing really to gain from following the companies own disputes process, because it’s likely you won’t be treated fairly – otherwise they would have joined a trade body and ratified their appeals process.

Having said that, you also shouldn’t just ignore the ticket completely as you don’t know what this unregulated company might do to advance the claim. As they are not registered with the BPA or IPS, they won’t officially have access to DVLA records – so they won’t legally be able to track you down using your registration number, but there’s no guarantees that they won’t do this.

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Your best course of action here is to simply write to the company and detail the reasons why you think the ticket you have received is unfair, supply all the evidence you have collected and tell them firmly, but politely, that you therefore refuse to pay their parking invoice.

Once you have communicated your intention not to pay, then the company’s only recourse is to either close the file and rescind the ticket, or take you to court. If your ticket was issued unfairly and you have supplied enough evidence to show this, then the company will almost certainly close the file rather than go to court.

Again, there are no guarantees on this so be warned that you could end up defending your position in court – which is why it’s only recommended you challenge a ticket if you are sure it was issued unfairly.

Challenging the ticket on a technicality

Regardless of whether the ticket was issued by a certified company or not, you can challenge it based on a technicality.

All car parking notices have to include certain information, and if they don’t feature this information then you can refuse to pay.

In England and Wales the owner of the car is liable for any private parking tickets, not the driver, so the companies must send a ‘Notice to Keeper’ through the post. If this notice doesn’t contain the following information in it then you can dispute the ticket on the grounds that you have not been provided with the correct details.

The Notice to Keeper must:

  • State the full vehicle details and exactly when and where it was parked
  • Inform the vehicle owner that the driver has incurred a parking charge which has not yet been paid
  • Specify exactly how much of the fine remains unpaid
  • Specify that the company doesn’t know the driver’s details, and invite the owner to pay or provide the driver’s details
  • Explicitly warn the owner that if the fine hasn’t been paid in full within 28 days the the company will have the right to seek the outstanding amount from the vehicle owner
  • Include the full details of any discount given for prompt payment as well as the process for the owner to lodge a dispute
  • Clearly state who is demanding payment of the fine and how they should be paid
  • State the date on which the Notice to Keeper was sent or given