Another fine mess – how to appeal a parking ticket on private land

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Most of us have at some time or another returned to our car to find a parking ticket slapped on the windscreen. It’s annoying and it’s expensive, though if we have broken the rules we generally pay up.

But what if the ticket is unjustified? What if you are the victim of an over-enthusiastic attendant, a simple mistake or a technical error?

You first need to find out whether the parking ticket was issued by the council, the police or a private company such as a supermarket, railway station or retail park.

If the name of the police force or council is not on the ticket, then you are probably on private land.

The distinction is important because police and councils have different powers to private car park operators. When you park on private land you enter into a sort of contract with the landowner.

If you breach the contract, perhaps by staying longer than your allocated time, you should expect a ticket.

Fine detail

Private car park operators cannot issue a fine or a penalty charge notice.

It is also against the law for a private firm to clamp or tow away your vehicle unless they have the legal authority, which should be clearly displayed.

You have to watch out, though, as many private firms do their best to make their tickets look more official, partly in an attempt to intimidate drivers.

Ok, so you are sure you are parked on private land. Are you also sure that the parking ticket is unfair?

It’s no good huffing and puffing with indignation when you have in fact parked in a bay reserved for disabled badge holders.

The car park’s terms and conditions should be visible and if you did not break any of the rules you have every right to make a stand. So let's take a look at how to appeal a parking ticket...

Sign of the times

First, collect any evidence that the ticket is unjustified: perhaps a photo of an unclear sign, or proof that you have paid the correct amount, as you will have a much stronger case if you can rely on more than your word.

You then need to contact the firm that issued the ticket. If you are lucky, the operator will be one of the 150 or so firms that are members of the Approved Operator Scheme run by the British Parking Association (BPA).

The company should then abide by the BPA’s code of practice, which means it should have its own appeals process. You will also have access to the independent Parking on Private Land Appeals (Popla).

You can find out if your firm is an approved operator by looking on the BPA’s website at www.britishparking.co.uk.

It’s also worth getting in touch with the relevant retailer, train firm or hospital.

If, for example, your car was parked outside Marks & Spencer, the store might take a dim view of any sharp practice by its contractor and could intervene to safeguard its own reputation.

Popular appeal

You should hear from the car park operator within 28 days. If your appeal is unsuccessful, the firm will send out a verification code and a form to start the Popla process. You must make your case within 28 days and there are four grounds for a Popla appeal:

  • The vehicle was not improperly parked
  • The charge exceeds the relevant amount
  • The vehicle was stolen
  • You are not liable for the charge because you sold the vehicle before, or bought it after, the alleged improper parking.

It’s important to remember that Popla does not consider mitigating circumstances. So, if you were late back to your car because you fell down a ditch, Popla will throw out your appeal.

However, it’s worth pointing out that drivers have won roughly half of the Popla appeals since the organisation was set up in 2012.

If you park on private land and the operator is not approved by BPA, you options might be more limited and you will almost certainly not be able to appeal to Popla. However, you can still set out your case in writing, including any evidence.

Court in the act

Some drivers choose simply to ignore any unfair parking tickets in the hope that the operator will simply go away.

But it can be a risky strategy as the parking firm could pursue the vehicle owner to court, usually the small claims court, to recover any money.

The driver will not end up with a criminal conviction, but it could nevertheless be a time consuming and distressing experience. Is it really worth it?

Private parking, public concern

Motoring charity, the RAC Foundation, has suggested that millions of pounds worth of fines issued by private parking firms may have been unlawfully charged.

In the legal opinion of land and property barrister John de Wall QC, working on behalf of the RAC Foundation, fines issued for overstaying in private carparks – which are often £100 or more – were, at best, disproportionate and, at worse, ‘extravagant’ and ‘unconscionable.’

Mr de Wall said: “Payments at the level that operators presently demand as sanctions are unlikely to count as genuine pre-estimate of loss; they should be seen by the courts as penalties – and this means they are unenforceable.”

The research also highlighted that some parking operators employ a business model which means they can only make a profit if members of the public overstay and can be charged an excessive penalty.

Private parking companies made 2.2 million requests to the DVLA in 2013 for registered vehicle owner details and – in the same year private parking penalties revenues may have reached £100m.

Director of the RAC Foundation, professor Stephen Glaister, called upon the legal argument outlined in the paper to be tested in court so a binding precedent could be set.

If the courts agree with the findings, thousands of motorists who have been issued with tickets could be in line for a refund.

The Court of Appeal will hear a test case next week where two drivers will claim that they were unfairly treated by parking companies and that they should be reimbursed for the penalties they have paid. We’ll let you know what happens…

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