Author Topic: The motorists driven to desperation by private parking contractors  (Read 110 times)

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Offline The Bald Eagle

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The motorists driven to desperation by private parking contractors

Car owners are having to wade through piles of paperwork to defend themselves from charges often dismissed in court


Ian Lamoureux from West Yorkshire, who has battled with a parking enforcement company for many years.

Peter Holden’s* nightmare began when he bought a car in 2015. Notices in the car park of his housing association block in Cardiff required residents to display a permit and Holden was issued with a temporary permit by the concierge while he waited for his application to be processed. The temporary permit did not pass muster with Premier Park, the company that managed the car park, and he was issued with three parking charge notices (PCNs).

Over the next three years he was harassed by letters and phone calls demanding escalating sums, culminating in a court summons in October 2018. On the night before the hearing he was called by Premier Park’s legal representatives and urged to pay the £691 “debt” there and then or face an additional £1,000 in legal fees. The case was dismissed by the judge, who ruled that the terms of his lease granting him the right to park on the land overrode any rules imposed by Premier Park.

That, it seemed, was it. But only briefly. Last April a letter arrived from BW Legal, a debt recovery firm acting for Premier Park. It threatened Holden with court action unless he paid the PCNs that had been dismissed in court seven months previously. In July he was informed that he was being taken to court.

Holden’s ordeal exposes the aggressive tactics employed by the private parking industry, which demands sums of £100 or more for minor or, in some cases, non-existent parking breaches. Nearly 7 million PCNs were issued by parking management firms in the last financial year, a 20% increase on the previous 12 months. Until 2012 drivers could safely ignore these because private parking firms had no way of getting drivers’ details, and if the driver denied liability, nothing could be done. But since the introduction of the Protection of Freedoms Act, parking firms can buy the details of the “registered keeper” – ie the owner who is held responsible – from the DVLA at £2.50 each and companies have become increasingly litigious.

Holden, who survives on benefits, claims he was driven from his home by Premier Park’s conduct. He had to spend £200 to move and is issuing a counterclaim for damages from Premier Park and BW Legal.

Alarmingly, his experience is not unique. In Southampton, Charlene Thompson had been pursued by Premier Park and its representatives over the same period. She had been issued with four PCNs for parking outside her flat without a permit in 2015. Since she paid a service charge for parking and her tenancy agreement did not require a permit to be displayed, she ignored them.

She says part of the reason she moved home was to escape Premier Park’s operative, which is why she didn’t receive the court claim issued by the company in 2017 and missed the chance to file a defence. A default judgment was issued, which she only discovered when she noticed her credit score had plummeted. She settled the £812 within the deadline, but two years later, in July, received notice from BW Legal, acting on behalf of Premier Park, that she was once again being taken to court over two of the paid PCNs as well as three more incurred at her old address.

“Premier Park is taking over my life,” she says. “I was a single mum with a baby when all this started and it was either move home or get rid of the car. The stress of having to find a new home and the money to move was the worst and now I’m faced with a mountain of paperwork for charges I paid two years ago.”

The court claims against Holden and Thompson were withdrawn in July when the pair pointed out that they had already been heard. Premier Park insists it had no idea the claims had previously been to court, blaming its former lawyers for the error.

It told the Observer: “The motorists in question had received multiple parking charges for residential parking areas, which remained unpaid. The solicitors, acting on these cases, failed to notify Premier Park that these two accounts had previously been to court. We have now changed legal provider, and these cases were included with a number of other outstanding cases as part of their hand-over. As soon as our new legal provider [BW Legal] and ourselves were made aware of this, the duplicate cases were cancelled and we apologise for any inconvenience this has caused. A full review of all cases with our previous provider is under way.”

Ian Lamoureux’s experience is even more outrageous. In July the Yorkshire charity manager received three letters from BW Legal, acting on behalf of the parking management firm Excel, threatening enforcement action because of unpaid county court judgments (CCJs) worth more than £800. The judgments did not exist, however. Excel had issued two court claims against him in 2016 but both had been thrown out by a judge. “Since then Excel/BW Legal have never left me alone,” he claims. “They have continued to call and send me threatening letters, culminating in these … CCJs. Shortly before the second hearing Excel issued four more court claims against me before eventually admitting an error. Shortly after the second hearing Excel/BW Legal issued yet another court claim, then discontinued the case just before it was due. I’ve had to spend hours upon hours over the last three years researching my rights and filling out court papers.”

BW Legal later admitted to Lamoureux that the CCJs had been cited in error. When approached by the Observer, neither Excel nor BW Legal appeared to take responsibility.

“As the matter was placed in the hands of our representatives to pursue the outstanding parking charge notices, it is not appropriate for us to comment,” a spokesperson for Excel said. “However, we are aware that our representatives, BW Legal, have dealt with issues raised by Mr Lamoureux under their complaints procedure that subsequently led to his complaint being upheld due to their error. We have nothing further to add.”

In a statement to the Observer about its contact with all three drivers, BW Legal said: “BW Legal is a dual-regulated law firm who rely on the good faith of instructions received by our clients and we follow those instructions. We do not comment on individual cases or privileged discussions with our client. All cases in which we are instructed upon go through a pre-legal process whereby a customer is contacted to discuss the matter and the options available.

“We always advocate the need to discuss cases in full so that legal proceedings are not required. If customers, however, choose to ignore such correspondence and our client instructs us to issue legal proceedings, then we carry out their instructions as one would expect a solicitor to do. If customers have a cause for complaint then our full complaints process can be located on our website and we shall respond in line with the same.”

Holden, Thompson and Lamoureux are victims of a business sector that is more or less self-regulating. In order to obtain registered keeper details from the DVLA, parking management firms are obliged to sign up to one of two trade bodies which operate their own codes of practice and appeals service. Premier Park is a member of the British Parking Association, which promised to investigate its handling of Holden and Thompson’s cases. Its conclusion was to replicate Premier Park’s quote to the Observer, absolving the company of all blame.

It failed to comment on the fact that Premier Park refers drivers querying an PCN to a premium-rate number. Premium-rate numbers cannot legally be used for customer services, but Premier Park insisted to the Observer that its 13p-a-minute line would stand, since the cost is advertised and was “lower than many other numbers in use across the country”.

The government is belatedly planning a partial crackdown on unscrupulous methods used by parking companies. The Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019 will create a single code of practice and an independent appeals service which all operators must abide by in order to access DVLA databases. It will also cap the charges imposed on drivers who are deemed in breach of an operator’s terms and conditions. In the meantime, motorists are left at the mercy of companies who appear to ruthlessly exploit the system to boost profits and get away with it.

The cost goes well beyond money. “Excel and BW Legal have admitted that the claims about the CCJs were completely false yet they are unrepentant about the effect this has had on me,” Lamoureux said. “At the time I was applying for a loan to buy a new car and feared that if it was refused because of outstanding CCJs my credit score would be further damaged. I had to wait weeks until I was sure Excel’s claim was a lie and by then the car had sold.”

*Name has been changed

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/nov/03/the-motorists-driven-to-desperation-by-private-parking-contractors
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