Citizens Advice Bureau is warning drivers that it is legal for retailers to apply parking charges for using their car parks as more people wind up in court for refusing to pay.
The organisation is concerned that people believe overstaying your welcome on private land cannot result in a fine as it is not issued by police or a local authority, but this is not the case and an increasing amount of people are being caught out.
According to the Scottish Government, there is no specific legislation dealing with parking on private land in Scotland as the general principles of contract law apply.
More and more large companies are using private firms to police their car parks to prevent non-customers filling them up and when you park on private land you are entering into a contract with the landowner.
If you are unlucky enough to receive a fine from a private company, there is no right to appeal it other than to the company issuing the charge itself, which many feel may not inclined to entertain appeals as this is how they make a profit.
In England and Wales, there are independent review panels you can take your beef to, but they do not exist in Scotland. If you are not happy with the outcome of your appeal through the company, your only option is to then go to court – a situation the Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) wants changed.
According to the Grangemouth and Bo’ness CAS, staff are seeing up to four people a week who are concerned about the parking charges that have landed on their doormats.
The branch’s Bill Knox said trends are showing that the majority of fines are from ‘parking eyes’ – cameras in car parks which clock registration plates.
Citizens Advice Scotland is also campaigning against the “unjustifiable” charges firms are imposing.
Grangemouth and Bo’ness CAB manager Bill Palombo said: “It is legitimate for firms to apply a parking charge to manage their car park for the benefit of their customers, but in many cases this results in the company managing the car park enforcing unfair and unjustifiable charges as a way to make money.
“Further, they fail to adhere to their own code of practise that includes using a fair and transparent appeals procedure and some deliberately try to catch out drivers with poor signage and/or deliberately using the same design on their ‘Parking Charge Notice’ as the police use in order to give the impression the charge has the same legal standing as a police fine, which it does not.
Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald also says he is receiving a increasing number of complaints about these types of charges and is advising people not to ignore charge notices.
He said: “Act as soon as you receive any notice stating there is a charge to pay. Read the small print on the charge sheet.
“There should be details of the companies appeals procedure. Delaying until the next reminder may result in a bigger charge.”
How do I appeal a fine from a private company?
Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) enforced by police or a local authority (council) on public land can be appealed through the Parking and Bus Lane Tribunal for Scotland.
Information from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) points out that if you receive a charge for parking on private land without permission or staying longer than you should have, the document you receive may look like an official fixed penalty, but it is not one.
It is a notice of the agency’s intent to take you to a civil court, but is offering to let you pay to settle out of court.
CAS point out that this will not be a criminal matter and if you receive one of these charges contact your local CAB office who will help you deal with it.
Members of the British Parking Association must comply with a Code of Practice to issue parking fines. It is also illegal for a private firm to wheelclamp a car on private land.
If you do get a ticket you want to challenge as you feel you didn’t break the rules or it wasn’t obvious what the rules were where you parked as signage wasn’t clear or you feel the charge is too high, you can challenge it.
Following a court case known as ParkingEye Limited v Beavis, it is not now easily possible to challenge a high charge in court. You may see a reference to this case in the ticket that you are sent. Under the professional codes of practice, the charge should not exceed £100 unless it can be justified, so you may be able to challenge a charge of more than £100 using this if the parking enforcer is a member of a professional trade association.
CAS has two template letters available on its public advice website www.citizensadvice.org.uk which can be used.
To find your local Citizens Advice Bureau office visit www.cas.org.uk.