Break the rules in a council run car park, or on a public road, and you can be fined by the local authority or police.
Break them in one of the many car parks run by private companies, and you'll be hit with a charge – which can be for a higher sum.
They don't have any legal powers to prosecute - but a new legislation in England and Wales under the Protection of Freedoms Act which banned wheel clamping on private land, has also made it easier for them to pursue car owners for payment.
Those companies demand that we adhere to strict terms and conditions if we want to avoid their parking charges, so it’s a pity some of them seem to be ignoring their own industry rules.
Richard Couzens parked his car in a car park near Cavendish Retail Park on a shopping trip with the family. He purchased a ticked which would allow him to park for an hour. Although he returned to remove the car after 40 minutes, two weeks later he was surprised to receive a parking charge notice from Excel Parking.
Richard assumed there’d been a simple error with Excel’s automated systems. And as he’d kept the ticket which proved his case - he thought getting them to drop the charge would be just as simple.
“I sent them numerous emails, over the space of several weeks. And it wasn’t until about I think it was 106 days later they actually finally got in touch with me to say that the parking charge had been overturned.”
According to the Industry’s Code of Practice, issued by the British Parking Association (BPA) companies or landowners are required to acknowledge or reply to a motorist’s appeal within 14 days of getting it. If they send an acknowledgement, they must fully reply in writing within 35 days of getting the appeal.
And only companies who are signed up to that code can buy your details from the DVLA - Excel was in clear breach.
Last month the DVLA suspended Excel’s access to their database for three months because of another breach - issuing misleading information to drivers.
Luckily for Richard he had his parking ticket and could prove his innocence, but the situation could have been different, leaving him £40 out of pocket.
The DVLA has also suspended five other companies for issuing misleading information to drivers.
MET Parking Ltd
VP Parking solutions Ltd
Combined Parking Solutions Ltd
ANPR PC Ltd.
“We take the management and the control of our data extremely seriously. But we also have to strike a balance in terms of the data that we provide to organisations that have reasonable cause to have that data...” Says DVLA spokesperson Phil Bushby.
While the DVLA have taken action, these companies are still members of the British Parking Association – the body that’s in charge of the Code, and which is supposed to regulate the industry.
Premier Park Ltd is also a member of the BPA. They issued Ian Peat with a parking charge without him even parking.
Ian Peat had gone the wrong way on a holiday in Cornwall. The first port of call for him was to use the car park he saw on the side of the road to turn around. He was in and out of there in around 3 minutes - He received a ticket.
Despite the BPA code saying that parking companies should allow drivers a reasonable “grace” period to leave without actually parking – Ian received a £60 charge after just three minutes.
Premier Park said he’d entered a restricted area. And Ian noticed that the charge soon began to rise, with a threat of reaching £150 if he didn’t pay within 28 days. Ian says he thinks it is ridiculous. Ridiculous maybe, and arguably against the BPA Code.
So while the DVLA are finally starting to take action – when will the BPA?
A spokesperson for Excel says,
We haven't issued any misleading information to drivers that breaches the CoP, neither does our signage breach the CoP.
We are contesting the DVLA's suspension, as there has been no breach of the CoP or our agreement with the DVLA
We can confirm that Mr Couzens was issued with a Parking Charge Notice (PCN) in relation to a visit he made to the Cavendish Park Retail Park on 29th April 2012. The PCN was issued because he did not purchase a valid Pay & Display ticket.
The Cavendish Retail Park Car Park is monitored by Automatic Number Plate Recognition Cameras (ANPR) linked to Pay and Display machines which match “in” and “out” images against the records of Pay & Display (P&D) tickets purchased using the Vehicle Registration (VR) Number. It is important that the full and accurate vehicle registration number is entered at the time the ticket is purchased. Instructions are detailed on the P&D machine and tariff sign.
Mr Couzens appealed against the PCN and produced copies of the 2 P&D tickets he had purchased; his appeal was received on 17th May at 21:00 hours via email. At the time of reviewing Mr Couzens appeal, we identified the reason why the PCN had been issued.
In effect, Mr Couzens inputted an ‘O’ (Oscar) as part of his registration plate upon the purchase of his first Pay and Display ticket when the actual reference was to a ‘0’ (Zero). The correct registration was inputted with the purchase of Mr Couzens second Pay and Display ticket.
In explaining the situation, it is appropriate to summarise the key facts which are as follows:
1. The ANPR cameras captured Mr Couzens vehicle entering and exiting the car park at the following times:
Time Entered: 13:45
Time Exited: 14:25
Duration of Stay: 40 minutes
VR Number: ***0 ***
2. The P&D ticket information:
Ticket 1: Time Purchased: 13:49
Expiry Time: 14:49
VR Number entered: ***O *** (Oscar)
Ticket 2: Time Purchased: 14:23
Expiry Time: 15:23
VR Number entered: ***0 *** (Zero)
The system processing matched the 2nd ticket only as this was an identical match to the correct VR number captured by the ANPR camera. In doing so, the (gap) between Mr Couzens entering the car park and purchasing this valid P&D ticket was 38 minutes, which significantly exceeded the grace period required to purchase a ticket and, hence, resulting in the issue of the PCN.
However, we do recognise that motorists may input an incorrect digit(s) of their VR number when purchasing a P&D ticket and as such our processing allows for a manual review/quality check of PCN’s before they are issued. Unfortunately, on this occasion our check failed to identify the 1st ticket. On further investigation Mr Couzens case raises an unusual set of circumstances, as Mr Couzens purchased a 2nd ticket and left the car park almost immediately, even though the 1st ticket was not due to expire for a further 26 minutes.
The issue was discovered at the point we reviewed Mr Couzens appeal and we duly placed the PCN on hold pending formal cancellation. The actual cancellation paperwork was drawn up on the 23rd of May for the cancellation of Mr Couzens PCN. On the same day incorrect correspondence was sent to Mr Couzens advising him that the PCN was being investigated. This correspondence should have stated that the PCN was being cancelled.
It is with regret that Mr Couzens was sent a standard acknowledgement letter rather than a cancellation letter explaining the position to him. Furthermore, we are embarrassed to find that despite further correspondence received from Mr Couzens, we did not process it in the manner that it should have been. Mr Couzens also states within his correspondence that he has incurred an administration fee by his company for the issue of the PCN. We will therefore be offering Mr Couzens the value of the £40.00 Parking Charge Notice to cover both his fee and out of pocket expenses.
We take customer complaints very seriously and have initiated an internal investigation and appropriate action will be taken to rectify the situation. Additionally, we are re-reviewing our complaints escalation procedure.
As established members of the British Parking Association Approved Operator Scheme, we are committed to delivering high levels of customer service and we can assure you that the instances of poor standards of service experienced by Mr Couzens are very rare indeed.
A spokesperson from Premier Park Ltd says,
Premier Park Limited complies fully with all current legal and voluntary requirements set out for the Private Parking Sector.
Mr Peat contacted us by telephone on the 27th September and he confirmed that he had entered the private land in question and that he was the driver. He also stated that he was unhappy to have received the Charge Notice regarding this. He was advised during this call that there are certain procedures we are required to follow and that he had the right to appeal the Parking Charge Notice and formally notify us that he was the driver at the time. In addition to this information being stated on the Charge Notice issued, he was further advised of the appeal process. To date we have not received any appeal or notification in writing or by email from Mr Peat regarding this matter.
A spokesperson from the BPA says,
The British Parking Association’s Code of Practice states that operators must allow the driver a ‘reasonable grace period’ in which to decide if they are going to stay or go and a ‘reasonable period’ in which to leave the car park.
The British Parking Association is now investigating the allegations made by Watchdog regarding Excel and Premier Park Ltd.
A spokesperson from Combined Parking Solutions says,
There was a concern raised by the DVLA in late August 2012 in respect to wording on signage in place at a very small number of the sites managed by Combined Parking Solutions and as a result, and in line with their rights as the data holder, our access to the DVLA database was suspended until the matter had been rectified to the satisfaction of the DVLA.
Combined Parking Solutions has never received any complaint or comment from any member of the public in relation to our signage which is very clear and sets out, in plain English, the terms and conditions for parking at any of our sites. This is evidenced by our high compliance rate and the fact that on each occasion we have taken unpaid charges to court, at the hearing, the wording, design and structure of our signage has been reviewed by the Judge and deemed to amount to a legally binding contract.
The issues that DVLA raised were solely around the possible interpretation of a keeper liability statement and once Combined Parking Solutions were informed of the wording issues we took immediate and appropriate action to resolve these concerns.
Following the matters raised by DVLA, Combined Parking Solutions have been audited by both the BPA and the DVLA and neither organisation have found issue with our amended practices and signage. In addition we even invited local trading standards to visit us and review all our documentation and procedures to which they did recently and no problems were identified.
Combined Parking Solutions do not request data via the electronic link and wait 28 days following the issue of a charge before making a manual request for keeper details from DVLA, we can confirm that we are able to request keeper details for all unpaid parking events from 2nd November 2012.