New regulations come in today which will finally make it illegal to clamp cars parked on private land - or tow them away. It will bring an end to the misery of motorists who find themselves at the mercy of parking firms. At the same time, a new appeals service has been launched, to enable motorists to fight back.
There's just one catch...
Clamping bannedToday is a bit of a landmark for parking. The government has brought in a ban on wheel clamping and towing on private land (excluding airports, railways and ports). The regulations, part of the Protection of Freedoms Act, should halt the outrage of rogue clampers stalking poorly signposted private land to pounce on unsuspecting motorists and bully them into handing over hundreds of pounds. It will give new rights to people who park everywhere from hospitals to shops.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Home Office Minister said: "This common-sense ban will give motorists the protection they deserve against rogue wheel-clamping and towing companies.
"It will save motorists £55 million each year in clamping charges and finally penalise the real criminals - the corrupt firms themselves."
To ensure landowners retain the power to control parking on their land, at the same time, ticketing powers will be increased - so that the owner of the vehicle can be pursued for payment of the fine as well as the driver.
AppealsAt the same time, the British Parking Association has established an Independent Appeals Service. It'll be similar to the one which is currently available to motorists who receive parking tickets on public land.
Currently, if a motorist wants to challenge a parking charge received on private land, they must appeal to the parking company directly and if they still feel that the decision is unfair, they must challenge the charge in court.
From today car parking operators who are members of the BPA's Approved Operator Scheme, will be bound by the decision of an independent adjudicator who will review evidence submitted by both the motorist and the operator and determine whether the charge should stand or not. The costs will be met by the industry, so appealing will be free.
Patrick Troy, Chief Executive of the British Parking Association commented: "The service represents a step-change in our drive to raise standards in our profession."
It will make a dramatic difference. At the moment, roughly 2 million fines are handed out by these firms every year, and many people feel they have no choice but to pay up or face pursuit by debt management firms - or even court. That's an incredible sum of cash that motorists are set to save - almost £100 million.
The catchSo what's the catch? Car parks managed by operators who are not members of an accredited trade association will not be covered by the appeals service. And that's a pretty big catch, because only 700 of the 2,000 private parking firms in this country are signed up - which means that the majority can still ignore the guidelines, don't have to make it easy to appeal, and can continue to bully drivers into submission.
An AA spokesman said: There is nothing to stop cowboy clampers turning into unscrupulous and heavy handed issuers of parking 'tickets'. They may well issue these tickets personally with the same threats and intimidating manner they used when they were wheel clampers. We strongly advise drivers not to pay cash to anyone issuing a parking charge notice (ticket); any bona fide parking control company will allow payment by post/credit card after the event."
The spokesman added: "The AA, British Parking Association, private parking enforcement companies and other groups all wanted private parking enforcement to be fully regulated by government but this has not happened."
He offered his tips for those parking on private land:
- Always look for signs setting out parking rules
- Read and note the parking rules.
- Stick to the rules e.g. don't park in bays reserved for disabled badge holders.
- Just because you don't see enforcement taking place it doesn't mean it isn't; cameras may be in use.
- If you have a parking charge notice put on your car don't ignore it.
- If you feel a parking charge notice is wrong or has been applied unfairly, gather evidence before you leave; take a careful note of signage and take photos if you can.
- If your car is wheel clamped in a car park where no by-law is displayed call the police.
- If heavy-handed ticketers demand money on the spot and threaten you to pay in cash, drive away or consider calling the police.