New system to "protect drivers from unfair and extortionate charges"
Private parking firms will soon have to abide by new rules designed to rein in the worst excesses of the industry, government has announced.
A new Code of Practice will cut fines by up to 50% in England, Scotland and Wales, though they will be higher in London.
There will also be a new appeals charter which will “eliminate fines for motorists who make genuine errors or have mitigating circumstances”. A new appeals body will also be introduced.
Parking firms which ignore the new rules could be banned from accessing DVLA vehicle keeper records which they use to send out penalties for supposed parking infringements on private land.
RAC Foundation analysis shows that in 2019-20 – before Covid and travel restriction – more than 8 million penalties were issued.
The proposals include a maximum cap for parking fines, a 10-minute grace period before a late fine can be issued, and a requirement for parking firms to clearly display pricing and terms and conditions.
In England outside of London and in Wales, charges will be reduced from £100 to £70 or £50, depending on the seriousness of the breach.
The new provisions will “protect drivers from unfair and extortionate charges, with a new Code of Practice to help keep cowboy private parking firms in check”.
Currently, private parking firms are able to hide behind what the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities calls “non-specific, pseudo-legal and aggressive language when pursuing motorists”.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said:
“This is another welcome step on the long road to creating a fairer system. No one wants a parking free for all, but equally there has long been a suspicion that many parking firms are too quick to issue fines in dubious situations. The government has agreed and this new code of practice helps define what is reasonable.”
Neil O’Brien MP, the minister for levelling up, said:
“Private firms issue roughly 22,000 parking tickets every day, often adopting a system of misleading and confusing signage, aggressive debt collection and unreasonable fees designed to extort money from motorists.
“The new Code of Practice will set out a clear vision with the interests of safe motorists at its heart, while cracking down on the worst offenders who put other people in danger and hinder our emergency services from carrying out their duties.”
Sir Greg Knight MP, who too the Parking (Code of Practice) Act through parliament as a private members’ bill, said:
“Some car park providers are honest and fair but a number of unscrupulous rogues have undermined the sector with bad practice. I warmly welcome the government’s action which will prevent motorists being unjustly treated in future and will make parking a vehicle a fairer experience for all.”
“Action is needed because many dodgy operators are still engaging in unacceptable practices whilst using a threatening and intimidating process to fleece motorists.”
Fresh measures proposed in the new Code and Framework include the creation of a mandatory single Appeals Service and Appeals Charter for motorists to turn to if they are unfairly fined. Under options set out in the Appeals Charter, motorists could be able to appeal their fine and see it cancelled entirely if:
- they have a mitigating reason for overstaying their parking ticket such as their vehicle breaking down
- they have made a genuine innocent error, like keying in a digit in their number plate incorrectly
- they have a valid ticket, permit or Blue Badge but failed to display it correctly
The Code also states:
- New parking charge levels which will mirror the local authority system for publicly accessible car parks, halving parking charges for millions of motorists to £50. It will keep the current £100 cap in some circumstances such as abusing Blue Badge bays or if a motorist is trespassing on private land.
- Motorists will be offered a 50% discount if they pay within 14 days.
- Parking debt collectors will be banned from adding additional excess fees to the level of the parking charge, currently as much as £70.
- A compulsory 10-minute grace periods before firms can issue a late fine.
- A compulsory 5-minute cooling-off period in which a motorist can consider the terms and conditions and change their mind about parking.
- A crackdown on parking firms using aggressive or pseudo-legal language to intimidate motorists into paying fines.
- A requirement for parking firms to clearly display pricing and terms and conditions of parking, contact details and how to appeal a charge.
The Parking (Code of Practice) Act became law in March 2019 and builds on action the government has already taken to tackle rogue private parking firms, including banning wheel clamping and towing and stopping over-zealous parking enforcement by councils.
Currently there are two parking trade associations, the British Parking Association (BPA) and the International Parking Community (IPC). Each has a Code of Practice that their members are required to abide by, but there is no single set of rules, so motorists are vulnerable to bad private parking practices such as deliberately poor signage and unfair parking fines.