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Bonfire of the penalties; UK motorists owed millions for unfair parking fines

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UK motorists could be collectively entitled to “tens of millions of pounds” for unfair parking fines, according to the RAC Foundation.

John de Waal QC has prepared a report for the motoring organisation, which concludes that private parking enforcers are imposing extortionate fines on drivers; in some cases, charges exceeding £100 were levied for minor infractions.

Clamping on private land was made illegal in 2012, but drivers who outstay the welcome of their parking permit can receive tickets and payment demands.

“Payments at the level presently demanded are unlikely to count as a genuine pre-estimate of loss. They should be seen by the courts as penalties, which means they are unenforceable,” de Waal notes.

de Waal also argues that “early payment discounts” offered by private enforcement firms breach consumer protection act guidance on fairness, as they place implied pressure on alleged offenders to pay up speedily. To the barrister’s mind, such ‘offers’ constitute coercive “price escalation”.

“Millions of drivers could be in line for a refund,” said Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation. We estimate that in 2013 alone drivers might have been overcharged by some £100m.”

There are no accurate figures available for how many private car parks there are in the United Kingdom, but it is projected to be over 20,000. Likewise, annual profit figures for the private parking sector are unobtainable – but the RAC estimates them to be approximately £1.43bn a year.

The RAC Foundation report also criticises current and previous government ministers for failing to tackle high penalty charges issued by private operators, and for not putting put more protection in place to prevent misconduct.

“Officials missed the opportunity to enshrine in legislation some means of interpreting the legal basis for limiting the level of extra parking charges by specifying a clear method of calculating them – a method which precludes unfair overestimates of loss incurred,” said Jo Abbott, the report’s co-author.

“They failed to foresee the danger of business models arising within the parking industry which contravene regulations, and do more than merely recoup costs of transgression.”



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