Thousands of Illegal Private Parking Fines may be Refunded
Drivers who have fined excessive amounts by private companies could be entitled to repayments, RAC Foundation report finds
Hundreds of thousands of drivers who have been illegally charged for overstays while parking on private land could be entitled to repayments totalling many tens of millions of pounds, a new report by the RAC Foundation has found.
Some motorists have been threatened with, and have paid, huge charges by private companies, even though these fines are not enforceable by the courts, the report said.
Many fines issued are “extravagant and unconscionable”, according to John de Waal QC, a barrister who co-authored the Foundation’s report. Payments at the level that operators presently demand as sanctions are unlikely to count as genuine pre-estimate of loss,” Mr de Waal said. “They should be seen by the Courts as penalties, which means they are unenforceable.”
Mr de Waal also said that European consumer legislation requires contracts to be fair means so-called ‘early payment discounts’, which are often used to put pressure on the public to pay up quickly, or face a higher charge, are in fact unlawful because they constitute a ‘price escalation clause’. He also said that when signs are not clear or prominently displayed, the charge can also be challenged on the grounds of unfairness.
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: “Millions of drivers could be in line for a refund. We estimate that in 2013 alone drivers might have been overcharged by some £100 million.”
In one case highlighted by the foundation, a mother from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire was forced to pay £100 even though the reason she ran over time was that she was attending to her upset three-year-old son. In another incident, a woman from Stokenchurch in Buckinghamshire forked out £100 after a demand was left on her windscreen when she parked outside her partner’s home where she had parked without a problem every weekend for two years.
The foundation said that although the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 banned clamping on private land, drivers who stay longer than the time they have paid for were still likely to receive tickets that demand payments of up to £100, and in some cases significantly more.
Prof Glaister said: “We would like to see this legal argument tested in a higher court so that a binding precedent is set. “At the same time we would like the Government to do what it should have done at the outset and set out what are reasonable charges. “Ministers thought that the ban on clamping would end parking problems on private land. As we warned at the time, they were wrong. “They allowed a system of ticketing to emerge which is barely regulated. In effect drivers have been short-changed.”
Commenting on the report, Brian Koffman, an expert in motoring law, said: “This is a very welcome development. At the moment motorists and the public generally are being persuaded by these companies that they have to pay. “Even those that don’t want to pay feel it is so difficult to take action, many just give in and think they will pay it. It is an area of law which it is in the public interest to be determined.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said that the Government is “on the side of the motorist”. She added: “We have been clear that we want to see an end to unfair parking practices – including taking strong action to ban clamping on private land. “Parking in private car parks means that motorists enter a contract with the landowner and the courts must decide if the level of a parking fine is justified should there be a dispute.”