Not all parking fines are equal – some are fines, while others are more like invoices. Only councils and other licensed authorities including the police are allowed to issue parking fines – known as Penalty Charge Notices – which are legally enforceable. Private parking operators, on the other hand, are not able to issue these types of parking tickets and so often resort to underhand tactics to make their correspondence look official and menacing.
If you get a ticket in a public car park, on a street or in an NHS hospital car park, this will be clearly marked ‘Penalty Charge Notice’. Private parking operators will often attempt to mimic this legally enforceable fine by copying the look of a Penalty Charge Notice, calling it a ‘Parking Charge Notice’ or PCN, dressing their parking attendants to look like Police Community Support Officers or putting threatening phrases on the ticket like ‘Warning – Do Not Ignore’. These private parking tickets and notices are not fines – they are merely invoices for something that the operator issuing them is trying to get you to pay.
Where you might get private parking tickets
Unfortunately, parking tickets are big business and are seen by companies and other organisations as ways to make a quick buck for little effort. You could get a private parking ticket in a supermarket car park, outside an office or even, amazingly, at a motorway service area.
What you should do
If you do get a ticket in one of these places, it is highly likely that it will be dressed up to look official in an attempt to panic you into paying it immediately. There may be an incentive to pay up quickly like a “discounted fine” if you pay it within 14 days, for instance.
The important thing is not to panic and not to pay it immediately. If you think that the ticket is unfair, exorbitant or disproportionate compared with whatever it is you have supposedly done wrong, then do not get your cheque book out.
If the car park’s signage was unclear, there was a technical fault which led to the fine, you made an honest mistake or believe that parking attendants were overzealous, then you have the right to fight the ticket. If you pay and then try to get the money back later, it is extremely unlikely that you will be successful.
You should gather as much evidence at the time of the ticket as possible. That means taking pictures of unclear signage, lines or parking bays. Take a picture of your car and where the parking meter is. Some motorway service stations give you two hours of free parking and then expect you to go online or phone a number to buy parking and it is questionable whether this is fair to people who may not have a phone on them or are unable to go online for several hours.
If you are sent letters by the company issuing the ticket, then make sure you keep all of this as well as any mitigating evidence like receipts from a vehicle recovery operator if you broke down
- Ignore it – this is a high-risk strategy which does work in some cases. A lot of parking operators – particularly those who are not members of a trade body like the British Parking Association (BPA) or Independent Parking Committee (IPC) – will be unwilling to spend time and money pursuing parking tickets through court action which they are not guaranteed to win.
- Tell them you won’t pay – this works in many cases. Write back to the company telling them why you think the ticket was unfair (inadequate signage, poorly marked bays, etc.) and that you will not pay their invoice. You may have to go to court if you go down this route so make sure you’ve gathered enough evidence but, in most cases, the parking operator will quietly drop the action.
- Appeal – the operator should have an appeals process which you should use before resorting to a trade body appeal. Write to it, telling it why the fine was unfair. If the operator is a member of the BPA then you can appeal to Popla, PO Box 1270, Warrington WA4 9RL. If the operator is a member of the IPC then use the Independent Appeals Service’s website at https://www.theias.org/
- If you lose the appeal – you need to decide whether to pay up, do nothing and ignore it or take the company on. The operator is still going to have to take you to court to enforce it and there is no guarantee that it will do this. If it does take you to court, it will be through the small claims service and the worst that will happen is that you will be ordered to pay the ticket plus, possibly, any court fees (which are likely to be between £25 and £400).
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