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Parking can be like wandering into the Wild West. Drive in to your local supermarket car park and the chances are as soon as you’ve crossed the threshold from public highway to private car park, you’re being watched – either by cameras or a clandestine parking enforcement operative lurking in a dark corner. The same goes for parking in motorway service stations, hospitals, airports and residential developments. You might be parked legitimately, but put a foot wrong and the reward is a malevolent yellow pouch decorating your windscreen.

Private car park sign

What to do if you’ve been landed with one? There are two options: roll over and pay, or fight.

If you’re in the latter camp, take heart – thousands of people have launched successful appeals against private parking companies (‘PPCs’) and won.  Here’s a few tips to guide you if you want to take up arms.

If you'd like more information about parking law, why not visit our guide page?

1. Penalty Charge Notice or parking invoice? Check first

There’s a totally different set of rules for appealing parking fines issued by public bodies such as the Police or local councils – so check who issued the ticket. PPCs usually issue ‘parking charge notices’ (‘PCNs’) which sound very similar to the penalty charge notices issued by local authorities. It’s no accident that they also look confusingly similar – but the law governing private parking is contract, as opposed to criminal law. PPCs have no power to issue fines – they hand out invoices dressed up to look like fines. Don’t be fooled.  

2. Ignore it?

This approach seems quite appealing. Picture the scene  it’s Saturday morning – would you prefer: a) a well-earned lie-in; or b) putting finger to keyboard to research appeal strategies to get the PPC off your back? The old school of thought, before the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 came into force, would be to simply file the PPC’s demands for payment in the bin and avoid engaging them in correspondence. These days, the registered keeper of a vehicle can be held liable for parking charges incurred on private land, so hoping it’ll just go away may not be a recipe for relaxation.

3. Driver or registered keeper?

Note that if you’re not the driver that parked the car, but are the registered keeper, the PPC can pursue you but must have served you with a ‘Notice to Keeper’ requesting the driver’s details. You are under no legal obligation to provide them, but you can be pursued for payment if you don’t. However, the PPC must comply with specific procedural steps in order to legitimately attempt recovery of any charges from the registered keeper. If they fail to do so, the registered keeper can decline to provide the driver’s details without further liability. See this site for more info: http://www.parkingcowboys.co.uk/keeper-liability/

4. Appeal to the retailer or the landowner

Got carried away browsing for drill bits in B&Q and lost track of time? If so, you’re not a parking nuisance, you’re a legitimate customer (please note that other DIY stores are available). Being rewarded for your custom with a large fine is obviously rather galling. The common sense approach dictates any business worth their salt is unlikely to sanction militant parking enforcement on their turf. Likewise, if you stopped at a motorway services for a 20 minute power nap which turned into a 3 hour snooze – appeal to the company operating the service area. Tiredness can kill, but taking a nap for safety reasons shouldn’t cost anything.

5. Go through the official appeals process

If your unfair parking invoice was issued by a BPA approved operator (see list here) there will be an independent appeals process. This means that if you appeal to the PPC and they reject it, they are obliged to provide you with information on how you can appeal via POPLA (Parking On Private Land Appeals). They should also provide you with a verification code that identifies your case. You’ll normally have 28 days from receiving the PPC’s rejection letter to make a POPLA appeal.

6. Check the signage

Car parks operated by PPCs typically have signs placed all over the place, setting out their ‘terms and conditions’. By parking, you effectively sign up to a contract and agree to their terms and conditions – the breach of which (by for example, failing to display a valid permit) leads to the issue of a charge. The signage is not infallible though. Check any signs are legible from where you parked, and if it was dark – whether they were lit. The name of the company issuing the PCN should also be displayed and signs should be written in understandable English. If the signage doesn’t comply, there may be no valid contract and no grounds for the charge.

7. Notice to Keeper? Check they have obtained your details lawfully

Only PPCs belonging to an Accredited Trade Association (ATA) body such as the BPA or the Independent Parking Committee (IPC) can lawfully obtain the registered keeper’s details from the DVLA. If the PCN comes from a company not registered with an ATA body then you may have grounds to complain to the DVLA and seek cancellation of the ticket.

8. If it’s unfair, hold your ground

If you're convinced the ticket has been issued unfairly, don’t let the PPC bully you. Dig your heels in and be prepared for some hard work. A PPC may well instruct debt recovery agents, but they have no power to force you to pay the charge without going to court and certainly cannot damage your credit rating.

9. What if the worst happens?

If you are taken to court and they win? Don’t panic – such matters normally go through the Small Claims track. Your liability should be limited to the original penalty charge amount – normally £60 or £80 depending on the operator – there is no power to award costs.

10.Research, research

It might take a bit of time commitment but it’s worth doing some research if you’ve received an unfair parking charge – there is a wealth of useful information on the internet. Try www.pepipoo.com or www.parkingcowboys.co.uk for more information. Remember none of this constitutes legal advice – if you do receive court papers you may want to seek professional legal advice appropriate to your circumstances.