Unscrupulous car parking operators, including those operating on behalf on major supermarkets and shopping centres, are in the sights of Citizens Advice Scotland. Their new ‘It’s Not Fine’ campaign aims to highlight bad practice and empower consumers to fight back.
The campaign has been launched in the wake of a 50% rise in the number of people asking for advice about private car-parks over the last year. Customers are being charged up to £200 for overstaying allotted time slots by as little as half an hour.
Today we publish that evidence, while launching a national survey for people to tell us their experiences of this problem at www.surveymonkey.com/r/itsnotfine.
The attached report, ‘It’s Not Fine’, details a number of common problems which have emerged regularly in the cases we have seen. These include:
- Private car parks with unclear signage, meaning drivers don’t know how long they can park and how much they will be charged, if at all;
- Parking tickets which are misleading – for example tickets using terminology such as ‘Parking Charge Notice’, which is easily confused with ‘Penalty Charge Notice’ – the name of statutory parking fines distributed by local authorities;
- Private car parks noncompliance with their own industry guidelines, e.g. on how much should be charged and not dealing fairly with appeals and complaints
In addition to taking our report and recommendations to major retailers and car park operators, we are also contacting the Scottish Government, asking them to regulate the industry in a similar way to what currently takes place in England and Wales.
CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch comments,
“The evidence we are presenting today will strike a chord with many drivers. This is an issue that has affected thousands of people across Scotland. We are urging anyone who has experienced unfair treatment by a private car-parking company to tell us about it, through our online survey which is at www.surveymonkey.com/r/itsnotfine
“Meanwhile we want to make sure that the private car parking industry, retailers, the Scottish Government, and drivers all take heed of what our report today says.
“To the parking companies we say clean up your industry and offer a fair deal to your customers. To the Scottish Government we say introduce regulations so that Scottish drivers have the same protections as those in England and Wales. And to drivers themselves we say make sure you know your rights and that you stand up for them. We will help you do that, and between us we can end this problem and create a fairer system.
“I want to be very clear that we are not telling people not to pay parking tickets. We have no problem with charges which are levied fairly, with clear terms and conditions, appropriate signage and robust appeal mechanisms. Parking on publicly-owned land generally follows these patterns, so we are not talking here about charges by traffic wardens or the police. Nor are we talking about those private parking companies who do behave fairly and follow the guidelines set down by the industry.
“What we are talking about is those parking companies who don’t use proper signage, charge inflated fees and then fail to respond properly to people who appeal.
“We are hoping to start a campaign that will reform the way this industry operates in Scotland. Anyone who feels they have been treated unfairly by a parking company should contact their CAB for advice on what their rights are and how to stand up for them. We will help you all we can, and by mobilising consumer power we hope to bring about the changes that are long overdue to make parking the fair service that people deserve.”
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
Today’s CAS report, ‘Its Not Fine’ is attached. It contains a number of case studies. We list these below.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had parked his car near to his house but later found out that he had parked on private land, although he reports it wasn’t clear that this was the case. He has received a demand from a debt collection company for £675 after ignoring the original request as a friend had told him it was unenforceable. The client is now not sure this is correct but feels that £675 is completely unreasonable for a legitimate mistake.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has received a parking charge through the post which states she stayed 28 minutes over the allowed free time of the car park. The client wasn’t aware that the car park had restrictions as she has parked there before for even longer with no issue. The parking charge demand is for £120 and she has been receiving threatening letters from solicitors who state if she does not pay she faces County Court Judgments (which are not actually applicable in Scotland).
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has received three letters in the course of one week from a debt collection agency stating she owes them a total of £149 for parking charges. The client has not received any parking notice. However, on contacting them they are adamant she did. She has asked for proof but has been referred back to the parking company who say they cannot deal with it as it has been passed to debt collectors. The client is refusing to pay on the basis she has not received any notice of the ‘fine’ in the first place.
A consumer in the West of Scotland reported that he had received a parking charge for parking in a taxi bay at a supermarket. The client says there were no signposts or marking that where he was parked was a taxi bay and disputes this fact. After contacting the firm they claim to have photographic evidence although when he asked to see it they refused. The firm are requesting him to pay £140 in parking charges.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who received a parking ticket in the post saying he had not kept to the restrictions of a local supermarket car park. The client says there was no signage in the car park and after getting the charge went back to check. He has found there is one small sign next to the disabled bays but not at the entrance and says the wording of the sign is unclear as to whether it just applies to the disabled bays or to the whole car park. The client is really annoyed as he says he spends a lot in the supermarket and has never parked there other than to do shopping in the store.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had parked in a car park which was advertised as ‘FREE PARKING’. When she came back to her car she found a ticket on the windscreen demanding a £100 payment. It turns out that although the car park is free it is on condition that you take a ticket from the machine after putting your number plate details into it. The client only realised this after reading the notice on the machine in the car park as the signs just advertised free parking for four hours (which she had complied with). The client had appealed the charge but the company ignored her appeal letter and she has been sent a new demand for £160 threatening court action and bailiffs (who don’t operate in the Scottish legal system). The client is now very worried that people will turn up at her door demanding large sums of money.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has been issued with a parking charge of £40 after parking in a supermarket car park for ‘more than the allowed time’. The client states that the ticket was issued BEFORE the signs about restrictions went up, as she remembers them being installed at a later date when she was in shopping. Further the ticket states the time as 10am however the client remembers she went to the supermarket before 7am and her work. The charge also gives details of how to appeal to POPLA (an English appeals system) even though it doesn’t apply in Scotland. A consumer in the East of Scotland reports that he received a parking ticket after parking for two hours at a retail park. The signage says ‘3 hour free parking’ in large writing but on closer inspection in small writing at the bottom it states ‘on match days 1½ hours max’. The client has no idea if it was a ‘match day’ or not and feels this is completely unfair to have rules that people wouldn’t know if they applied or not.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who received a parking charge for parking in a disabled bay in a supermarket. However the parking is advertised as free to blue badge holders and the client says she was and always does display her blue badge. She wrote to the company stating this and they have responded saying they have reduced the fine from the original £50 to £15 as ‘a gesture of goodwill’ and would donate 10% of this charge to a disability charity. The client is offended by this offer and feels the firm are being discriminatory.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who parked in a disabled space in a private car park with her blue badge on display. The signs in the car park have printed “disabled parking also available” and took this as meaning the parking was free to blue badge holders within the time limit stated. When she returned however she found a charge notice for £75 had been left on the car. When she queried it with the parking company they confirmed that disabled parkers also needed to pay at the machine and parking is not free. The client felt this was not clear from the signage but is worried about them taking action if she doesn’t pay the fine.