Parking Tickets – Fish nor Fowl?

by Richard Davies

We are often asked for our opinion on the fairness and validity of parking charges issued against clients of the firm. The law on the enforceability of parking charges has evolved in recent times and guidance on the matter has developed in accordance with these changes.

 

Firstly, when you are issued with a parking ticket, it is important that you are able to spot the difference between a “penalty charge notice” and a “parking charge notice”. Penalty charge notices are usually issued by the local authority or the Police and can sometimes be referred to as an “excess charge notice” or a “fixed penalty notice”. The name of the issuing authority will always be included and where it is not, no matter how official all valid a ticket may appear, it is most likely a demand for payment from a private company.

 

Regardless of whether a ticket has been issued by the local authority or a private company it is a well-established principle of UK law that landowners have a right to charge people for parking on their land. Parking tickets are not therefore, contrary to popular belief, inherently unfair and if you have breached the rules it is probable that you are liable to be fined as a consequence of that breach. This is particularly true when you are issued with a penalty charge notice however this is not to say you should automatically pay any parking ticket you are issued with. Each case will turn on its own facts and it is advisable to obtain as much evidence as possible to support your position at the earliest possible opportunity. Take photographs of your vehicle from a variety of angles ensuring that any road markings, or lack thereof, of visible. You may also wish to take photographs of any signage in the area relating to parking. If you intended to pay for parking in advance and were unable to, if for example a machine or automated service was out of order, you may wish to take a video of your failed attempt to make payment. Signage may not be visible, if for example it is placed too high for you to be able to read it or if it is obscured by trees or in a dimly lit area of a car park and evidence of this will assist you greatly with any appeal. We have seen instances in the past where tickets have been issued against people who have valid parking, be it permission from someone with authority to give permission or where tickets have been paid for and either ignored or obscured in some way, for example by being blown off a dashboard onto a seat or foot well as a driver exited a vehicle. You may also be able to avoid a fine if you were parked legally but strayed over the allotted time by only a few minutes. Collating this evidence at the earliest possible opportunity will offer you the best prospect of successfully challenging the ticket. You should also ask the ticket issuer to provide their evidence to you of the alleged offence. Sometimes it will be obvious that an offence has been committed and other times you will have committed an offence without knowing it. You should never therefore take their word for it should always asked them to corroborate their accusation that you have breached their conditions of parking. If they are unable or unwilling to provide any evidence the incentive and indeed the obligation for you to pay diminishes greatly.

Signage can often be obscured or difficult to understand

Sometimes you will not be issued with a ticket “on the spot” and may instead receive a ticket through the post. In these instances it can be difficult to gather evidence, particularly if you do not intend to revisit the area where the ticket was issued in the near future. Google Street view is a helpful tool you may wish to utilise to examine the layout of the area and whether any signage is in place however you should be aware that this can often be out of date and that the layout of an area may have changed. This is particularly true of more rural areas where, if Street view images exist at all, they can often be 10 or more years old.

Very often where tickets are issued by applying them to your windshield there will be an opportunity for an informal appeal to be made to the issuing authority. In the case of tickets issued by the local authority through the post there is no informal appeals process and you must therefore make your appeal formally to the relevant authority. There are a number of grounds for appeal which, if proved, could lead to your ticket being cancelled. These include errors in signage or those made by whomever issued the ticket or if the fine imposed exceeds the local authority standard charge. Guidance as to what constitutes a standard charge for a particular area is available online. You may also be able to successfully appeal a ticket if there were mitigating circumstances prevalent at the time, if for example you had broken down, were dealing with an emergency situation or if you became unwell and were unable to move your car.

Above all else you should remember that, in the case of tickets issued by the local authority, you will likely be obligated to pay the ticket unless there is a valid reason why you should not. Reduced fees for paying within a short period of time means that it is sometimes not advisable for you to appeal a case which does not have a reasonable prospect of success. It is important therefore that you assess the prospects of success of your appeal before it is made. You should also check whether the local authority will honour their offer of a reduced fee for a period of time in the event of an appeal is made and is unsuccessful. This information should be available on the ticket.

In the event that you are issued with a “parking charge notice”, which is in effect a demand for payment from a private company, you should never automatically pay the fine. Once you have paid it is very difficult for you to recover your money, so, if you wish to challenge the ticket it is best to appeal first and only pay the fine if and when you have to. It is also important that you appreciate the difference between a “fine” and a “demand for payment”. Private parking companies have no official right to fine you. Instead they will send you a demand for payment when they consider you to be in breach of contract. Although in the vast majority of cases you will not sign a formal contract when you park your vehicle on someone else’s land you are still in effect entering into a contract with them by doing so. This is where signage becomes important as it is this signage which sets out the terms of the contract and, by parking your vehicle, you are in effect agreeing to abide by the terms stipulated on the signage. It is a common misconception that you need to sign an agreement to be bound by its terms. This is often incorrect and is an important point for you to remember when entering into any contract by acting in a certain way which brings said contract into force.

Private companies operating car parks will often be a member of a trade body such as the British parking Association or the international parking community. If they are not then the way in which an appeal is handled differs so it is worth checking with a regulated body to determine whether a private company is a member. As with tickets issued by the local authority it is also important to establish whether the ticket issued by a private company is correct in principle or whether there are any mistakes or errors on the ticket.

Complicated rules can lead to accidental repeat offending

Very often “Dave down the pub” may insist that there is no obligation on you to pay a private parking ticket and that you should simply ignore it. He will have done the same previously and will have never heard from the parking company again. While this may very well be correct in Dave’s case it is important you remember that this will not always be everyone’s experience. Private parking companies issue millions of tickets a year and it is simply not feasible for them to take every offending party who does not pay to court. Neither the parking companies nor indeed the courts have the resources to be able to do this. So while millions of tickets are issued, only tens of thousands of cases will be taken to court. This does indeed stack the odds in your favour but doesn’t mean that you cannot be taken to court for a ticket issued by a private parking company. You should also remember that if you are one of the unlucky ones and are taken to court and found to be liable to the parking company you will need to pay the original fine in full, with no discount offered at that stage, plus interest, plus a court fee and a small contribution to the parking company’s costs of issuing proceedings if they have instructed legal representatives to do so on their behalf. This can often double the amount of the original fine. Ignoring a demand for payment in the hope that you will not be pursued is therefore a “high risk, high rewards” strategy.

If, having collated your evidence and having considered the evidence of the alleged offence provided by the parking company, you determine that you should not be liable for the parking fine and should you choose not to ignore it, you should first write to the company that issued the fine and set out your reasons as to why you do not believe you should be liable to pay. If this appeal is unsuccessful and the parking company is a member of a trade body, you can then progress your appeal to the relevant trade body. Again guidance as to how you can do this is available online and should also be provided to you by the parking company. If you lose your appeal you can either pay the sum demanded or allowed the parking company to take you to court and continue to fight your case. Remember a court will not be bound by the decision of a trade body’s ultimate discretion as to whether you should be liable for the fine issued against you rests with the court.

If you are unclear on your rights or obligations which exist following a parking ticket being issued against you please feel free to contact Richard here and he will be pleased to speak with you.

 

While correct at the time of print nothing in this article constitutes legal advice or is intended to give rise to a solicitor/client relationship. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to the merits of each individual case.