Serious concerns have been voiced around that country by motoring organisations, consumer groups, MPs and ministers, that Britain’s 35 million motorists are being fleeced by a Wild West of ‘cowboy firms’.
As a result, new legislation has been created to simplify rulings and lower potential fines and it’s due to come into action in 2023, but the Government has so far been blocked on two key measures meaning around 8 million motorists will continue to pay excessive ‘fines’ each year.
But ‘fines’ is misleading. Legally, if a local authority issues a parking ticket it is called a Penalty Charge Notice or ‘PCN’. Charges for parking on private land are different, however.
They are often called Parking Charge Notices and made to look like official PCNs, even using the same initials and branding, as consumer champion Scott Dixon explains: ‘A private parking company cannot fine you. They can only issue invoices — often disguised as a fine — for an alleged breach of contract for parking on private land.’
And ahead of the Government bringing in its new Private Parking Code of Practice next year, several major parking firms launched cases against the new code and blocked two key elements. The first of these policies was to slash — from £100 to £50 — the maximum amount for a Penalty Charge Notice.
Instead, parking firms want to raise the cap to £120 and they argued that a reduction to £50 would mean more drivers flout rules because a ticket paid at the 50% discount priced if paid within 14 days would be cheaper than paying for parking in some cases.
Their lawyers have also scuppered a plan to ban debt-collectors from hounding drivers who feel they have been treated unfairly and do not pay within a time limit.
Other measures survive though and are set to be introduced, including:
A compulsory ten-minute grace period after tickets expire.
A simpler and fairer independent appeals system to give more drivers the benefit of the doubt in cases of honest mistakes or mitigating circumstances.
Rogue operators who fail to follow the code could be banned from accessing DVLA data, principally drivers’ home addresses.
It’s worth noting that just because you have been caught with a parking ticket, or any other fine, it doesn’t mean you should necessarily pay straight away.
More than eight out of ten motorists issued with a PCN simply paid up early to benefit from the ‘discounted’ rate but more than half who did appeal were successful.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which launched the consultation for the new Private Parking Code of Practice, said: ‘Private firms issue roughly 22,000 parking tickets every day, often adopting a system of misleading and confusing signage, aggressive debt collection and unreasonable fees.’
Sir Greg Knight MP, who took the Parking (Code of Practice) Act through Parliament, said ‘unscrupulous rogues’ had undermined the parking sector with bad practice.
He said: ‘Action is needed because many dodgy operators are still engaging in unacceptable practices while using a threatening and intimidating process to fleece motorists.’