Shropshire Star

Could parking fines issued to Shropshire drivers be illegal?

For Ron Cotterill, the £60 charge was because his daughter's disabled badge had slipped out of place. For Ron Lucas, it was because he overstayed his welcome by 88 seconds.

Stirchley resident Tracy Newdell is pictured with two fines she was sent after visiting Asda twice in a day

For Tracy Newdell, it was simply going to the same supermarket twice in one day.

It seems a lot of people in Shropshire have been issued with "fines" from the burgeoning civil parking enforcement industry in the county.

  • First contact the company which issued the fine, appealing on the following grounds. A template letter is available on the website but the key grounds are: (a). The sum does not represent a genuine pre-estimate of loss, nor is it a core price term. It is a disguised penalty and not commercially justified. (b). The signs were not seen, the wording is ambiguous and the predominant purpose of the business model is intended to be a deterrent. (c). The “notice” fails to comply with the POFA 2012 and breaches various consumer contract/unfair terms regulations. (d). There was no consideration nor acceptance of any contract.

  • If the company insists that the fine must stand, appeal to Popla - Parking on Private Land Appeals - at on the grounds that there has been no genuine pre-estimate of loss on the company’s part, no standing or authority to pursue charges nor form contracts with drivers, and that the sign was not seen so there was no valid contract formed.

  • You can sign up to Mr Green’s legal challenge through the website

But how enforceable are these "fines"? And indeed, do private companies actually have the authority to fine anybody?

Not according to 22-year-old Cambridge University law graduate Michael Green, who is taking on the parking companies through the courts. Mr Green says the companies are acting unlawfully, and if his legal challenge succeeds it could mean that every motorist who has been fined could see their charges refunded.

"The only people with the power to fine you for parking offences are the police or the local authority," he says.

"These are not official fines. At best they are claims for breach of contract that only be pursued in a civil court. And almost all of them are simply unlawful."

Mr Green is taking up the case of more than 15,000 motorists across the country who believe they have been unfairly fined, but he says hundreds more are getting in touch with him every day. If his case, which he expects to start in the summer, is successful, it will set a legal precedent.

Private parking enforcement is certainly a fast-growing industry. According to Mr Green, parking companies rake in around £175 million a year through fines, compared to £20 million eight years ago.

"It's grown so much because the parking firms are issuing more and more 'fines' each year, in the pursuit of profit," he says.

"This is not justice."

And what is not in doubt is that many thousands of these fines are being imposed in error. According to industry watchdog, Parking On Public Land Appeals, in the 12 months up until March last year, the body dealt with 23,500 appeals – and more than 10,000 of these fines were quashed.

But if the companies have no powers to issue fines, how are they able to issue them? Operating under contract law, they argue that by parking on the land they control, motorists are entering into an unwritten contract with them, where they agree to set conditions and time limits – and to pay a charge if they breach them.

Ron Cotterill and his daughter Emma, of Albrighton, who were fined £60 because their blue badge slipped

Ron Cotterill, from Albrighton, was caught out when he took his wife Elizabeth and disabled daughter Emma to Wrekin Retail Park in Telford on December 24.

He received a notice telling him because the blue disabled parking badge had slipped out of place, the car was deemed to have been illegally parked. Parking operator G24 told him he was liable for a £100 charge, although this would be reduced to £60 if he paid promptly.

Mr Cotterill paid £62.50 – including a £2.50 charge for paying by card.

G24 Parking declined to comment.

Tracy Newdell has twice been incorrectly issued with parking fines for visiting Asda in Malinsgate, Telford, because the cameras did not pick up her car leaving the car park.

On both occasions, the store admitted there had been a mistake and quashed the £40 charges.

Mrs Newdell, who lives in Stirchley, Telford, says she has spoken to staff members who worked at the store, who told her that a number of people had experienced the same problem. She says. "I would urge people to be careful and make sure they keep their receipts."

Asda apologised to Mrs Newdell for any inconvenience caused.

Usually, the terms and conditions will be outlined on signs in the car park, although many motorists – such as Albrighton man Mr Cotterill, who was fined after the disabled badge on his adapted car slipped out of position when he parked at Wrekin Retail Park in Telford – insist they never noticed them.

However, Mr Green says these costs have to be proportionate to loss incurred, which in most cases is minimal.

Given that it is a legal grey area at best, what should somebody do when they have received such a notice?

It is at this point where the bar-room lawyer will usually chip in with the advice that there is no need to do anything, that the motorist should simply ignore the penalty notice as there is nothing the company can do about it. Mr Green, however, says taking this advice can have disastrous consequences.

"A lot of the parking operators are taking the motorists to court, and when they haven't gone through the proper appeals procedures, the courts are coming down on the side of the companies."

"It can affect your credit score if you have an outstanding county court judgement against you," he says.

"In one case, a woman was prevented from being able to secure a re-mortgage and move house, owing to a parking ticket dispute that began over failing to pay £1.

"She ended up losing the court case without knowing it had happened."

Mr Green says the first thing that anybody should do if they think they have grounds to challenge the fine is to write to the company which issued the charge, explaining why they should not have to pay.

"You normally have a 28-day deadline," he says.

"They can either accept or reject your appeal, and if they reject it you can go to the relevant appeals body. The biggest one is Popla, but there are other trade associations which some car parks have signed up to."

Mr Cotterill, who had taken his wheelchair-bound, cerebral-palsy suffering daughter Emma shopping when he was issued with his charge, admits that he paid up simply because he was frightened by the tone of the letter.

"They were threatening court action and debt collectors, and I thought I would hate them to come round to my wife and daughter if I was out," he says.

Mr Green says he has noticed around a fifth of the people who contact him have disabilities, raising the prospect that some of the companies may be targeting them.

Mr Green is urging anybody who has been fined by a private parking company to register their details with him, so he can challenge their case on a no-win, no fee basis. There is no charge for signing up to his campaign.

If he is successful, all registered charges will be refunded to the people who have signed up. Twenty per cent of the payout will go towards the legal and operational costs of the case.

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