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Have you been caught out by an unfair parking charge notice?

Private parking fines by post are on the rise, and so is the number of appeals. Find out how to contest an unfair parking charge notice

Have you been caught out by an unfair parking charge notice?

Parking charge notices are on the rise. Private parking firms requested over three million more drivers’ details from the DVLA in 2018-19, compared with 2015-16. But don’t despair if you get a demand for payment from a private firm: a quarter or more of appeals to the adjudicators are successful.

Increasing numbers of drivers are getting charges through the post, rather than stuck to their windscreen. This is because private parking firms are turning to digital systems, including automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and car park cameras, to monitor drivers.

This means you may not know you have incurred a charge until days later – when you have thrown away or lost the evidence needed to prove your innocence. Our research found that motorists are often unclear about car parking rules and some could be paying unfair tickets if they don’t appeal.

  • Private parking firms have requested driver details 20.8m times from the DVLA since April 2015.
  • Electronic requests to the DVLA for driver details were up 85% between 2015-16 and 2018-19.
  • The biggest firm requested driver details more than 158,000 times in March 2019 alone.
  • A quarter or more drivers who appeal beyond the private company have their charges dropped.

Keep reading to find out which firms are the least likely to win an appeal, the little-known legal know-how you can use to appeal and which companies are issuing the most parking charges.

Read more on how to appeal a parking ticket issued on private land.

Parking charge challenge success: video

Watch our video, below, to find out how one Which? member used her car’s technology to successfully challenge a parking charge. Plus, get parking charge notice appeal tips from our legal expert.

Not all dash cams can record footage that can prove your case. See our round-up of our Best Buy dash cams.

A private parking company must be a member of one of two associations (British Parking Association, BPA; or International Parking Community, IPC) in order to request your details from the DVLA. Both associations have a code of practice governing firms’ behaviour, which also gives you access to an independent appeals service if you appeal and the private firm rejects it.

If I appeal my parking charge notice, will I win?

We’ve discovered that you have a reasonable chance of not having to pay a parking charge if you appeal, according to the adjudicators’ own data.

There are two independent bodies you can appeal to: Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA) and Independent Appeals Service (IAS).

  • POPLA told us that, overall, 41% of appeals in 2017-18 that completed its process resulted in cancelled parking charges.
  • For IAS, 25% of appeals were found in favour of the motorist.

Both of these figures include appeals that were overturned because either the parking firm didn’t contest it or withdrew.

We’ve also discovered that appeal success rates vary between companies. When we analysed POPLA data for 2017-18, we found that London-based Spring Parking lost an extremely high 93% of its 376 cases, while Local Parking Security, headquartered in Warwickshire, lost 81% of 509 appeals.

Overall, a third or more of appeals about the biggest firms result in drivers not having to pay.

Parking charge notice appeals you may not know about

Do I have to pay a parking charge notice?

If the parking firm isn’t a member of the BPA or IPC, it can’t get your details from the DVLA. So if you get back to your car and find a ticket, check whether the firm’s a BPA member or an IPC member.

You don’t have to give your personal details to a private company, so bear this in mind if you contact a firm that isn’t a BPA or IPC member. If you reveal your name and details, this may make it easier to chase you for payment.

You shouldn’t ignore a parking charge notice from a company that’s a member of either the BPA or IPC, as they have access to your details from the DVLA.

Your parking charge notice won’t go away. If you know you broke the rules and don’t have ground to appeal, it’s best to settle quickly. Otherwise you will lose your ‘prompt payment’ discount (usually between 40 and 60% if you pay within 14 days) and it can ramp up to the full amount (often £100).

Some firms use debt collectors to chase non-payment and often the amount owed increases to around £160 at this point. Parking firms can raise a claim up to six years after the original incident.

Ultimately, some companies will take you to court, which can add £25 in court issue fees, £50 fixed solicitor costs and potentially more.

However, don’t be intimidated into paying if you receive a parking charge that you feel is unjustified. You don’t have to pay if you’re planning on appealing. You can choose to pay the charge or appeal it; not both.

Which? Legal experts can advise you on your rights with both private and council parking charges, how to appeal them and what to do if they threaten legal action.

Parking charge notice vs PCN

Private parking firms issue Parking Charge Notices. These are charges for breach of contract (you enter into a contract when you park in an area managed by a private firm).

They should not be confused with their council-issued cousin, the Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). These are fines for a civil offence.

The companies issuing the most parking charges

Private parking is big business and the largest firm of the lot is ParkingEye. It manages parking at around 3,500 sites across Britain, including supermarkets, shops, NHS hospitals and restaurants.

  • ParkingEye claims it can ‘dramatically increase parking compliance and space availability’ and ‘improve the income potential’ of car parks.
  • Its profits were up 49% (to £9m), according to its last annual report.

The table below shows the number of times ParkingEye requested drivers’ details from the DVLA.

How companies get your details

When there’s no parking warden in a car park, firms monitor remotely, using cameras and number plate recognition technology.

If a firm deems that you have broken the rules of its car park, it can request the details of the car owner from the DVLA.

Companies must be members of either the BPA or IPC to do this. Plus they must provide information about the car, date and location of the incident (and pay £2.50) for the DVLA to give them details.

The details are those of the registered owner, though, which might not be the same as the person who was driving at the time. If so, you’ll need to tell the parking firm the details of the driver in question. If you don’t, you’re liable (except in Scotland).

How to challenge a private firm’s parking charge

If you do think you have grounds to appeal, the private firm that issued the charge should set out how to do this on your charge notice or its website.

You have 28 days with BPA firms, and IPC companies should allow you at least 21 days to appeal. They should respond to your appeal within 35 or 28 days, respectively.

If the firm rejects your appeal, don’t give up if you think it’s unfair. Go to the relevant appeal adjudicator with your rejection reference number.

  • POPLA (Parking on Private Land Appeals) for BPA firms
  • IAS (Independent Appeals Service) for IPC firms

State clearly your reasons for appeal and provide relevant evidence (this can be receipts, witness statements, or even footage from your dash cam if you have one).

BPA appeals take up to 27 days and IPC appeals take 19 days on average (once all evidence and comments have been collected). You must appeal to the IAS within 21 days of your appeal to the company being rejected, or pay it £15.

Use our free tool to help you create a parking ticket appeal letter.

A faulty parking ticket machine led to a charge

Steve Pollard, from Derbyshire: ‘I park at Luton Airport Parkway once or twice a month to catch the train to London.

‘On 17 December, both ticket machines near the railway station had a piece of A4 paper stuck on them saying that they were out of order, so I couldn’t make a payment. I was rushing to get the train so I didn’t think to take photos.

‘On 8 January I received a £100 charge through the post from Indigo Parking Solutions (or £60 if paid within 14 days) for failure to obtain a valid ticket. I felt quite aggrieved by it as I always pay for parking; I only didn’t because the car park machines were out of order.

‘I didn’t want to pay as it wasn’t fair. I paid a company I found on the internet £25 to appeal the parking charge for me. It was dropped. I would rather have paid nothing and spent the time fighting it myself but I just didn’t have the time.’

Can I pay and appeal the parking charge?

You can choose to pay the charge or appeal it; not both.

Both the BPA and IPC state that firms must make it clear to drivers that they have to choose between the two options.

The IPC advises operators to say that payment constitutes a ‘full and final settlement’ and negates your right to appeal. To take your appeal beyond the company, you’ll need it to give you a rejection reference number. It’s unlikely to give you this if it feels that you have settled the charges and closed the appeal.

If you choose to appeal, you risk losing the prompt payment discount.

  • BPA firms must not increase the charge while you’re appealing to them. But if your appeal is rejected and you take it to POPLA, if you’re unsuccessful you will have to pay the full, undiscounted rate.
  • IPC firms can decide whether a payment discount is allowed if your appeal to the IAS is unsuccessful.

We think this unfairly pressurises drivers into paying charges when they may have solid grounds to appeal.  

You could try writing to the company requesting that it freezes the discount based on the fact you’re appealing to POPLA or the IAS – but it’s not obliged to agree.

Future of parking charges

Parliament has recognised that parking is a bit of a minefield, expecting drivers to recognise when a parking firm is or isn’t a member of an association; and what rules apply, depending on which one it’s signed up to.

The newly passed Parking Code of Practice Act will create a single set of rules for all private parking firms, ‘raise standards’, and could set up a single appeals service, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

It told us that this is ‘an opportunity to raise awareness for consumers – if you get a ticket on your windscreen and the company is not a member of a trade association, it’s not enforceable’. However, this puts the onus on drivers to be wary of firms which operate outside of trade associations, rather than tackling them directly.

Plus, it’s all some way away yet as the government is still ‘considering what the obligations by private parking companies to motorists should be’ and hasn’t set a date for its consultation.

Having a reliable, economical car that’s great to drive won’t stop you getting a parking ticket, but it will cheer you up. See our pick of the top cars for 2019.

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