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BFP legal column: Car park companies and their fines
4:44pm Friday 30th August 2013 in News
AS chaos over the parking fines at the Wycombe Rye Lido rages on, Peter Bysshe, legal advice columnist for the BFP’s monthly Talking Business section, considers private car parking companies – and how seriously the penalty notices they issue should be taken.
Mr Bysshe is a partner at Kidd Rapinet LLP Solicitors in Castle Street, High Wycombe.
Note – the information given below is of a general nature and is not intended as specific advice on the situation at the Lido, although some of the points raised may be relevant.
An increasing number of car parks, like Wycombe Rye Lido, are owned or administered by private companies rather than directly by local authorities.
If you park on a public street where payment is required and fail to pay, you are committing a criminal offence which can be penalised through a magistrate’s court. The position in a private car park is completely different. Your obligation to pay arises out of the civil law of contract, not the criminal law.
The owner of the car park offers you a parking contract which is set out in the terms and conditions displayed. You accept it by parking there. Within certain limits it is lawful to impose a penalty for failure to pay and those imposed by the Lido are normal.
The contract is made between the car park owner and the driver of the car. This gives the car park owner a problem because he won’t know who the driver was. It was not necessarily the registered keeper of the car.
Car park owners used to be able to get round this problem by clamping the car. However that was mostly banned by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. That act also created a new way of enforcing parking penalties, which is used by the Lido.
Camera-based enforcement systems are common and legal. The car park owner can lawfully get details of the registered keeper of an offending vehicle from DVLA. Then it sends a Parking Charge Notice (PCN) to the keeper asking him to pay the penalty or, if he was not the driver, to say who was. If the keeper does either within 28 days then he has no further liability.
If he does nothing then the penalty can be recovered from him, but only by a claim in the County Court.
There are strict requirements about the contents of a PCN which must be served within 14 days of the date of the infringement and must include information about how to appeal.
The one issued by Civil Enforcement Ltd, who administer the Lido, skates close to the edge of these requirements and some vital information is only contained in very small print at the bottom of the form.
In general PCNs should be taken seriously. The companies who issue them are geared up for making large numbers of small claims in the County Court, so you are quite likely to receive one if you ignore a PCN.
Provided the PCN was in order - which seems to be in doubt in the cases of many of those issued at the Lido - you are unlikely to have a defence and will be put to a lot of additional trouble and expense.
For more information, googling “Private Parking Fees Guidance” will take you to a guide issued by the government which is very helpful and relatively easy to understand.
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