Motorists are being hit with unnecessary fines because councils are failing to explain their right to challenge parking tickets, the local government watchdog has warned.
A report by the Local Government Ombudsman for England found that when motorists did seek to challenge a fine "all too often" their claim was rejected out of hand without any proper consideration or explanation.
"Our work investigating these cases suggests that sometimes motorists may be paying more than they need to because they have not been given the correct advice about how to challenge their tickets," it said.
"Councils should do more to inform motorists of their rights when issuing parking and traffic penalties."
The report said that they had found that in cases where motorists did make a formal challenge to a parking ticket - or penalty charge notice (PCN) - and were rejected, they were not informed they had a further right of appeal to an independent adjudicator.
Although official guidance said councils must exercise discretion when imposing fines "objectively and without regard to any financial interest", it could be difficult in practice for motorists to query a charge.
In some instances, the only telephone number that appeared to be available was for paying a fine, rather than discussing it, while the report said they had also seen councils use premium rate numbers incurring additional costs for the motorist.
"This practice may be quite common and it is perfectly legal. However, it does not appear to us to be good practice, as it may discourage people from contacting their council with valid inquiries," it said.
Under the guidance, councils are required to consider all challenges to parking tickets, and where they find there are no grounds for cancelling them, explain their reasons.
"All too often, we see cases where a council simply rejects the motorist's explanation of why they incurred the PCN, without giving reasons; or fails to consider them properly at all," the report said.
It highlighted one case where a woman received a ticket when she had parked across a dropped kerb outside her home while helping her elderly grandmother into the house.
When she challenged the fairness of the charge, but still enclosed a cheque in order not to lose the 50% discount for paying with 14 days, the council ignored her claim and simply banked the cheque.
In another case, a man found he was being pursued by bailiffs for a fine issued to the previous owner of his home who had moved away without informing the DVLA.
Despite telling the council what had happened, the man was left to deal with the enforcement agents on his own.
The ombudsman, Michael King, said: "Local authorities need to ensure parking enforcement is fair for all.
"If motorists genuinely feel a parking ticket they've received is unfair, they should be aware that they have a legal right to appeal to an independent parking tribunal and the council should not reject valid concerns out of hand."