Private firms that run car parks for supermarkets, hospitals, shopping centres, railway stations and others can fine motorists who overstay the time they have paid for. A long legal campaign to stop them doing so ended in failure recently in the Supreme Court.
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The case was brought by Essex fish and chip shop owner Barry Beavis.
He had challenged the right of the private firm ParkingEye to impose an £85 penalty after he stayed for nearly three hours in a shopping-centre car park that allowed two hours’ free parking but charged a penalty for overstaying. His claim, supported by many campaigners and legal experts, was that private firms had no legal right to impose a penalty beyond the extra cost the firm incurred because he had stayed an extra hour.
In November 2015, the Supreme Court ruled by a majority that firms could impose a charge for overstaying. That was necessary, the Justices said, ‘for the efficient management of the space in the interests of the general body of users’.
If the car park firm could charge only a nominal amount – perhaps at the normal rate for parking – then people would routinely overstay and the car park would not be as available as it should be.
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Companies can only fine a 'reasonable' amount
The ruling does not give private firms a free hand.
The Justices said that the £85 charge was ‘neither extravagant nor unconscionable’ but they did not set out what would be a reasonable charge for overstaying.
They pointed out that the ParkingEye charge was similar to local authority penalties – from £60 in Scotland to £130 in parts of London. So if a firm imposes £85 or so – perhaps more in London – it is highly unlikely that any lower court would refuse to enforce the penalty if the parker refused to pay.
Mr Beavis is campaigning for the Government to introduce new laws to set out what private parking firms can charge, as it does for local councils.
Take heed of signs
Private firms pay the landowner to manage the car park – about £1,000 a week in the case of ParkingEye at this retail site. Parking for up to two hours was free, so the business model depends on a minimum number of overstayers who ‘pay’ for the free parking others enjoy. Make sure it’s not you!
If you use a private car park, look for signs and leave when you should. Otherwise you may face a hefty penalty, which the law now says you must pay.
Private parking firms must have clear signs that set out the cost and terms of parking, as well as the penalties for breaking those terms.
In this case, ParkingEye had 20 such notices, both at the entrance and throughout the car park. So Mr Beavis could not claim he was unaware of them (and he did not say that he was).
Firms that have poorer signage could be challenged if a motorist did not see the signs and could not have been expected to do so.
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Public authority parking
Street parking is usually run by local councils (the Roads Service in Northern Ireland). They also control many off-street car parks on their own land.
In some parts of Scotland parking is run by the police. The RAC Foundation reported recently that councils in England alone took £1.4 billion from motorists and half that was profit.
By law they must put the money they make back into road services, but in some cases it seems to replace other funding.
No ticket, no fine?
If you haven’t got a parking ticket on your car despite overstaying, do not assume you have escaped a fine.
Some private and public authorities use cameras with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). This enables them to know how long a vehicle has stayed. The DVLA will give them the name and address of vehicle owners so that the penalties can be enforced.
Private firms can get this information if they belong to an approved trade body like the British Parking Association (BPA) or the Independent Parking Committee (IPC).
Both these bodies have a clear and enforced code of conduct.
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Local councils in England must by law allow 10 minutes’ grace after the end of the time paid for before an enforcement notice is issued. Any notice issued before that cannot be enforced.
It applies only where the vehicle was legally parked and the time has run out. It does not give a 10-minute grace period on yellow lines or while you search for change. In other parts of the UK there may be a grace period, but do not rely on it.
Private car parks don’t have to give a grace period. British Parking Association members follow a code of conduct which specifies that there should be a ‘reasonable grace period’ to allow for getting out of the parking area. It does not say what that is.
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The Blue Badge parking scheme for disabled people is generally accepted on public roads and car parks throughout the UK, except in parts of central London, near airports, and in some congested town centres.
The badge does not give you a licence to park anywhere, for example loading bays, residents’ parking, red routes or bus stops.
Most private car parks allow people with a blue disabled badge to park free but may impose a time limit. Always check carefully before leaving the car park.
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The appeal process
If you feel your private parking penalty is wrong or unfair, you should appeal to the firm running the car park. Details of how to appeal will be on any Parking or Penalty Charge Notice.
There are strict time limits, so always start as soon as you can, but while there is no charge for this it is not necessarily a cost-free option. Normally the penalty will be less if paid within 14 days. The appeal will usually take you beyond that period so the full amount will be due should you lose.
If the firm rejects your appeal, then you can get it heard by an independent assessor through popla.co.uk if it is a member of the British Parking Association, or theias.org (Independent Appeals Service) for members of the Independent Parking Committee.
You must appeal within 28 days (21 days for IAS) from the date the operator rejected your original appeal. About half the appeals are successful so it is worth doing.
Take pictures on your mobile phone of anything that might support your case as they are accepted as part of the appeal. You may find resolver.co.uk a useful way to pursue any parking appeal on public or private land.
A so-called ‘Robot Lawyer’ is available on donotpay.co.uk. It generates appeals against official parking penalties and claims it has a great success rate.
For public parking there are four parking appeal services, depending on where you live. Note that public authorities may ‘stop the clock’ on the time limit to get a discount for prompt payment.
• London londontribunals.gov.uk, 020 7520 7200.
• Rest of England and Wales trafficpenaltytribunal.gov.uk, 01625 445555.
• Scotland mygov.scot/parking-tickets/challenge-a-parking-ticket Scottish Parking Appeals Service 0131 221 0409. In parts of Scotland where the police control parking, appeals go to the courts.
• Northern Ireland Traffic Penalty Tribunal courtsni.gov.uk, 0300 200 7812.