In today’s blog, Stewart Clure, Managing Director at Debt Recovery Plus, discusses anticipated amendments to UK parking legislation, considering what was initially proposed, why this was opposed and how changes have now been informed and impacted by a unified industry approach.
Over to Stewart…
Debt Recovery Plus (DRP) is the leading provider of debt recovery services for the private parking sector, recovering money on behalf of private landowners and private parking companies across the UK. We are proud to be part of the Bristow & Sutor Group, comprised of ourselves, Bristow & Sutor and Credit Style.
We adhere to the Parking Code of Practice (part of the Parking Code of Practice Act 2019), which is set out by the government and in recent times, has come under review. An updated version of the code was proposed last year, but despite the efforts of the International Parking Community (IPC) and the British Parking Association (BPA), these proposals contained elements that were widely rejected by the industry. The new code was appealed and is currently back under technical consultation. The industry now awaits an imminent reveal of what a further updated version, with all raised concerns considered, will contain. This is expected in early 2022.
Why was the previous proposal universally opposed?
The suggested changes to parking legislation revealed last year surprised many, including the IPC and BPA, as despite conveying understanding and appreciation of the debt recovery process, this contained changes that would damage every business in the industry. Debt recovery fees play an important part of private parking enforcement. Currently the maximum fee of £70 can be charged which is considered to be sufficient to cover the costs of enforcement and provides a strong enough deterrent to motorists. In all cases, there are various checks, searches, diligence and operational aspects to enforcement on unpaid parking charges which need to be considered before debt recovery companies can engage with a motorist on an unpaid parking charge notice. Removing this would not only make recovery action unfeasible for specialist firms, but data suggests would also result in catastrophic outcomes for councils and private operators seeking to recover the money they are owed.
This is not to suggest that improvements to the existing code cannot be made. For example, there is continued debate over the value of fees and different charges applying in different areas (such as London) and for different providers (council and private). But reducing the charges placed on vehicles nationally for deliberately ignoring payment is not a sustainable solution. This can result in scenarios where vehicle owners discover it is more expensive to pay for a parking space compared to the cost of paying a fine should they receive a ticket; which in turn promotes non-compliance, increases the amount of PCNs issued and makes parking problematic for members of the public who do pay and park legally.
Any changes suggested to the rules around parking will also take significant time to be implemented nationally, as this cannot be implemented overnight. PCNs can be issued for various reasons relating to breaches of terms and conditions that must be stipulated on a specific car park’s signage. Needless to say, these will all have to be updated, installed and communicated before new rules and restrictions can be enforced. All in all, a transition of this nature can be expected to take around 2 years.
How has a unified industry approach impacted the situation?
When the first draft of the code was released, there was uproar amongst our clients, competitors and counterparts. It was clear this was a widely opposed solution and very different to what industry personnel expected. In response, I formed a fortnightly networking group that would provide a forum for discussion, offer thoughts and opportunities to hear developments and encourage reacting as quickly as possible. My colleague, Samantha Wilson, would co-chair these events, record minutes, devise an agenda and consistently communicate actions to all involved.
The ‘DRP parking code catch-up’ was initially attended by eight representatives and as this continued positive word of mouth spread, growing to as many as 40 attendees at its peak. These Q+A sessions would last for between half an hour to an hour and would mainly be led by guest speakers, providing insight and raising different thoughts and concerns. Both the IPC and BPA were as taken back as we were by initial proposals and have supported our attempts to unify and collaborate to spearhead the march on improving the refined code.
As this movement progressed, our partners at Bristow & Sutor introduced us to GK Strategy, the political, policy and regulatory risk communication experts. A mini group of 6 firms, including DRP, then worked with GK Strategy to devise plans for lobbying and to improve our attempts to communicate and reach MP’s. This culminated in a Q+A session in parliament last October, attended by me and also representatives from the BPA, IPC and Parking Eye. Our communications thus far with MPs have been responsive, positive and supportive; we have built many meaningful connections and look forward to progressing discussions on this and further topics in future.
What should be anticipated for 2022 and beyond?
The reality of the updated code is that it is unlikely to fix every drawback or issue that was previously raised as a concern. However, even if one or two significant changes can be achieved then our efforts will not have been in vain. By presenting a unified and collaborative industry response, we have facilitated a merited and valid appeal for consideration that we hope will protect the future of the industry and ensure clients can continue to expect the best possible outcomes when attempting to recover outstanding parking debt.
In our quest to respond to the challenge we faced, we have unexpectedly increased networking possibilities and recognised the value in sharing best practices, thoughts, fears and advice with others. We are proud to have formed a united front alongside comrades and competitors alike and will benefit from the lessons learned from this experience, regardless of how parking legislation may change both this year and in the years to come.