Private parking tickets - know the law

Caroline Cassidy

Returning to your car to find you have a parking ticket is an irritation many of us could do without but when that ticket is issued by a private parking company, the frustration is often greater.

Private parking laws
Private parking laws

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Tickets issued by a private company, ie for overstaying, not paying or parking in a reserve space on private land, do not come under criminal law but contract law and, as such, the rules are different. These private parking tickets are often cunningly disguised as council or police-issued PCNs so it is important to check exactly from whom and for what you have incurred a ticket.

To pay or not to pay?
Pay a private parking ticket immediately (as you would a council-issued PCN) and the chances of getting your money back are pretty slim. If you believe the ticket is unjust, you should avoid paying and hoping an appeal will right the wrong.

Gathering evidence should be your first port of call - take photos of unclear signs, road markings (or lack thereof) and your car in situ, if that is deemed to be the issue. If your ticket was the result of metered space get a snap of the meter itself to show when parking expired, or if from a pay and display car park, keep the ticket.

What next?
When you park on private land, you agree to pay a particular sum as part of a 'contract' with the landowner - it is not a fine.

Should you choose to appeal the ticket, you effectively acknowledge its legitimacy and will soon become lost in a mess of protocol and appeals processes.

Many suggest that simply ignoring the ticket and any subsequent correspondence is the best way to deal with unfair private parking tickets. Private firms often rely on worrying you into paying but very few companies actually end up going to all the expense of taking you to court. But be warned - there are no guarantees that they won't.

Clamped or towed away?
By clamping or towing your car, private companies ensure they get the money up front thereby reducing the risk that you'll simply ignore their invoices. That means appealing for a refund is your only option.

First of all, if your car has been clamped, do not try to remove it - you may be liable for criminal damage. Secondly always be sure that the company is registered with the Security Industry Authority. A 16-digit licence number should appear on your receipt and you can check its legitimacy on the SIA website. Those that are not licensed are breaking the law by clamping your vehicle and should be reported to the police.

If you believe the company has acted unfairly, once again, you'll need to gather as much evidence and paperwork as possible and ensure that you make a note on any documentation stating that you are paying "under protest". That way the company cannot claim that you accepted liability by paying the charge when you appeal.

Thereafter you can begin to appeal the charge by writing to demand a refund - if your request is accepted, job done. If not, you may want to take your appeal to county court.

Have you had any experience of unfair private parking tickets? What action did you take? Let us know below...