CHRISTMAS SHOPPERS: BEWARE OF DODGY CAR PARKS
CHRISTMAS SHOPPERS: BEWARE OF DODGY CAR PARKS
Poor signage, broken ticket machines, confusion over disabled parking bays and bad advice from attendants are some of the reasons drivers got slapped with a parking ticket of up to £150 from a private car parking company this year – and came to Citizens Advice for help to dispute it.
Consumer Focus estimates that consumers are likely to be paying at least between £38 million to £58 million in these charges each year.*
That’s why today (Tuesday 20 December) consumer groups -Citizens Advice, Consumer Focus and Trading Standards Institute - are warning Christmas shoppers to be alert when parking in a car park run by a private firm. There is also advice on what to do if you are clamped or get a ticket.
And they called on the Government to introduce an independent complaints process – for all people who feel they have been wrongly given a ticket
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “Thousands of people have come to us this year for help because they have been stung with a ticket from a private car parking company that they felt was unfair.
“We’re worried that with Christmas around the corner, unscrupulous private car parks will go ticket crazy as they look to make a buck from busy shoppers – issuing tickets with little or no grounds to do so.”
It’s the level of charges , poor signage and lack of any fair way to challenge claims without going to court that people think is unfair.
If you get a parking fine from your local authority you can complain to them about the ticket and if you’re not happy with the outcome – you can take it up through the appeals system. But there is no such system for parking tickets in private car parks – which include shopping centres, supermarkets and hospitals - the only place to complain to is the company that gave you a ticket.
Once clamping and towing are banned**, the risk is that rogue clampers become rogue ticketers. If the Government wants to stop the rogues the parking public needs an independent appeals process to sort out disputed tickets when they use car parks.
In the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, the Government has looked to the British Parking Association – the parking industry’s membership body – to develop an appeals process. Citizens Advice and Consumer Focus does not believe that this addresses the problem as it would not be independent and would only apply to those who are members.
Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus, said: “These extortionate charges are an outrage, especially as a time when money is short. Sadly Christmas shoppers should read the fine print of parking conditions if they want to avoid being ripped off. Parking your car shouldn’t be such hard work.
“Rogue ticketing could take over where rogue clamping left off. Consumers need the same protection in private car parks as they get in public car parks – and that means we need an independent complaints body.”
Trading Standards Institute's Chief Executive Ron Gainsford said:
"We are very pleased that clamping on private land will no longer be permitted thanks to the Protections of Freedoms Bill, as this practice has caused much distress to consumers who have been faced with huge charges to have the clamp removed.
“We are concerned that rogue clampers will become ticketers so to address this we fully support any proposals for an independent appeals process to help consumers who feel they have been unfairly ticketed.”
Examples of bad ticketing
A man and his disabled wife found a £60 parking ticket on their windscreen when they parked in a shopping centre car park. He had displayed his wife’s blue badge on the dashboard and his tax disc also shows that he is a blue badge holder. However the blue badge had fallen on the floor when the man closed the car door. The man appealed to the parking company but it was not accepted and instead his charge went up to £120 – because the ticket was not paid within a set time.
A man in Wales got a £140 parking ticket through the post after parking in a shop cark park. He did not get any ticket on his car so was shocked to get something through the post, the signage was not very clear or prominent in the car park.
A woman in the South East was charged with a £75 parking ticket – despite paying for parking. The machine did not issue her with a ticket so she told the parking attendant and then put a note on the windscreen saying she had paid but was not given a ticket. When she came back to her car she had a parking charge.
A young man in the North East was hit with a £60 fine (which would go up to £90 after 14 days) for not displaying a ticket in a hospital car park. The man had bought a ticket for two hours parking but it had blown it upside down when he closed the door. A photo from the parking company confirms that he had bought and ticket but it was upside down. Despite appealing the charge the man the parking company still expected the man to pay the ticket.
Citizens Advice has a fact sheet to help consumers who have been given a parking ticket. You can download a copy of the fact sheet here: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/index/t_parking_fines.pdf or get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureaux.
There is also a fact sheet if you have been clamped on private land. You can download it here: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/index/t_wheel-clamping_on_private_land.pdf
For more information contact:
Tel: 0207 833 7178 or 07792 295083
Our out-of-hours contact number: 0845 0990107
Notes to editors:
*This estimate is based on the following figures. The DVLA issued 1.1 million sets of registered keeper details to private parking operators in 2010. Not all of these will result in a charge or payment. The figures for the charges range between £40 – 170. Taking £70 as a conservative average payment amount and if 50% of respondents pay the charge this would be a combined 38.5 million of payments. If 75% of respondents pay that would add up to 57.75 million. This figure excludes people who would pay on receipt of the ticket without being written to. The BPA estimates that about 30-40% of those ticketed pay without being contacted further so this would add additional millions of pounds to this figure.
** In the Protection of Freedoms Bill which is currently going through Parliament, the Government has said it will ban clamping and towing to tackle rogues in this market. Citizens Advice welcomes this move but is concerned that clamping will be replaced by ticketing.
1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more information in England and Wales see www.citizensadvice.org.uk
2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality. For online advice and information see www.adviceguide.org.uk
3. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 7.1 million problems from April 2010 to March 2011. For full 2010/2011 service statistics see: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/pressoffice/press_statistics.htm
4. Out of 22 national charities, the Citizens Advice service is ranked by the general public as being the most helpful, approachable, professional, informative, effective / cost effective, reputable and accountable. (nfpSynergy’s Brand Attributes survey, May 2010).
5. Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,300 service outlets across England and Wales.