How private parking profiteers got a grip on Britain (and how to beat them)



Millions of us have experienced that heart-sinking feeling of the yellow penalty charge notice sticker on your car’s windscreen and the wry smile of the traffic warden.

A record 8.6 million people were handed fines by private parking enforcement firms in 2021-22, according to the DVLA, equal to 23,000 every day. It is the largest number ever recorded, up from 8.4 million in 2019-20, the year before the pandemic, and is 50pc higher than four years ago.

Private parking firms – and the number of tickets they have handed out – have grown exponentially in the last 15 years. Fewer than 300,000 fines were handed out by private firms in 2006-07, according to the RAC Foundation trade group. The number of fines have increased rapidly every year since then, apart from in 2020 when coronavirus caused traffic levels to plummet.

Meanwhile, Britain has been taken over by private car parks. There are now 103,000 public and private car parks across Britain, which amounts to a land area of ​​almost 50,000 acres, according to estate agent Knight Frank. Almost two thirds of this land is used for public car parks that are privately owned, with the rest the property of local authorities.

So how have these private parking profiteers managed to grow their business ends by almost 3,000pc in less than two decades and get a grip on British drivers?

The rise and rise of private ends

There has been a vast increase in the use of private motor vehicles over the years, as well as massive gaps in regulations which are yet to be plugged.

There are almost 40 million vehicles on Britain’s roads today, compared to 26 million in 1996. The number of cars on the road has increased by two fifths over that time, while the number of motorbikes has almost doubled.

These numbers have risen in line with a growing population, increasing prosperity and the availability of cheap financing deals for personal vehicles made possible by ultra-low interest rates.

The population of England and Wales alone has jumped by around 10 million people to 60 million since the early 1990s, while central interest rates have stayed below 2pc since the financial crisis. More than a third of households now have access to more than one vehicle, compared to just 8pc in the 1970s.

It is not just the number of private car parks that have increased to meet higher demand for spaces, according to Will Hurley of the International Parking Community trade body.

“We have all been in a situation when it is impossible to find somewhere to park. The massive increase in demand over the years has also created the need for more enforcement in areas where parking is not allowed, such as residential streets, loading bays and in and around places like airports,” he said.

“Landowners caught on to the fact people were using their property for free parking and have either started charging for parking or applied strict restrictions.”

Soaring ends and low regulation

Fines have soared as private companies have been able to increase the amount they charge without proper regulation.

In 2010 the Government banned clamping, claiming firms were holding drivers’ cars hosting until they paid large sums to have them released.

Since then, these companies have employed an array of different restrictions and language on signs, such as varying time limits for parking, enforcement and no-return periods, and diverging detail on the enforcement of penalties. These varied massively across the country and by provider.

Telegraph readers have written to this newspaper to tell of how they have been caught out. One reader from Carmarthenshire said they were landed with a £250 fine for stopping on the side of the road, unaware that the “leafy lay-by was in fact a car park with solar panels managed by a private company”.

Another reader from the Isle of Wight complained at having to pre pay for parking via a mobile phone app, only to find that, upon arrival at the car park, there were no spaces left.

“Their terms and conditions say there is no guarantee that a parking space will be available. How can this be legal? Surely it is taking money by false pretences if the fee is non-refundable and applies to a specific time,” they said.

This year the Government stepped in with tougher rules to clamp down on private firms, which it said were pursuing motorists with “non-specific, pseudo-legal and aggressive language”.

Firms were told to standardize and make their parking terms and conditions clearer. The plans also proposed imposing a cap on most ends of up to £50, resulting in some charges being cut in half.

It was meant to be brought in by 2024, but a month ago, the Government temporarily withdrew the plans in the face of legal action from private firms, further delaying its implementation. A spokesman said: “We’re determined to end rip-off parking practices, and it’s very disappointing that some in the parking industry are resisting this.

“We will continue to work with industry and consumer groups to introduce our new Parking Code of Practice as quickly as possible.”

How to fight back

There are still ways to beat the private firms. Firms must be registered to a trade body, such as the British parking Association, in order to request your details from the DVLA; check the ticket to see if they are. If not, in theory you can ignore the bill and the company will not be able to find you.

Penalty notices from local authorities or from the police are harder to ignore, but, as with purposes from private firms, drivers can appeal if they have a reasonable excuse. These could include the ticket being issued incorrectly or extreme circumstances such as your car being stolen.

One driver made a successful appeal in 2020 for a ticket, after entering just one digit of the license plate incorrectly on a car park machine. Another had their penalty dropped, having successfully argued that the signs explaining the time limits in the car park were not clear.

Drivers must appeal with supporting evidence to the company issuing the ticket. If the appeal is rejected, they can escalate their complaint to an independent authority such as Parking on Private Land Appeals or the Independent Appeals Service.


www.telegraph.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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