The 90-year-old Fareham blue badge holder and his wife Yvonne were at the end of their tether, locked a two-year battle with the national grocery chain over leaving David exposed to unfair parking charges.
Their stressful stand-off began two years ago when David found himself struggling to complete their weekly shopping in the maximum 90-minute timeframe permitted by the Lidl’s private parking contractors.
‘I go to Lidl at Portchester and Hilsea because they sell pretty well nearly everything, so I don’t need to go shopping anywhere else, but I found an hour and a half a bit ridiculous’ said David.
‘Inevitably I’m unable to do all my shopping within that time because of my disability as it takes me some time to get around the shop, go through the checkout, get to my car with the shopping, return the trolley and exit the car park.
‘I’m constantly getting parking fines from Parking Eye who manage the car park because I’m sometimes as much as 20 minutes over time.’
David said it all started one Christmas when the previous car parking management company Athena started dishing out fines when he couldn’t get back to his car on time.
As his disability also inhibits him from writing, Yvonne challenged them to justify the situation in what ended up in a bulging file of letters exposing a callous disregard for their predicament.
When Parking Eye took over the management of the Portchester parking operations, they were devastated to discover they were about to become victims of more parking fines in the pipeline.
A furious David said that he’d complained to the Lidl’s Portchester store manager, one manager three times and two other managers after a request for a half-hour extension to Parking Eye was conspicuously ignored.
‘You would have thought Lidl managers would be anxious to protect their customers,’ he said. ‘Basically, they didn’t want to know, claiming it was nothing to do with them as they employ third-party contractors to monitor and control their car parks.
‘One said I had to write in and send a bill in to prove I’d spent the money. That may be alright if you can write but I can’t use a pen or even do emails at my age. It all wound up with my wife Yvonne who has got heath problems and it upsets her putting her under enormous stress when we couldn’t get a satisfactory reply.’
Determined to stand his ground for what amounted to being penalised for mobility disablement, David point-blank refused to succumb to what he regarded as an unconscionable bullying and harassment campaign by Parking Eye to get him to pay up.
‘That’s what I’m so annoyed about. I haven’t accepted any of their charges and what I’d really like is for them to take me to court, but they didn’t. It wouldn’t look very good if they did,’ he said.
What finally took the biscuit was when their son started receiving the Parking Eye charge notices despite the fact he hadn’t lived at their address for some time.
At the end of her tether, Yvonne emailed Streetwise for help and advice.
We took the view that no responsible company should have left the couple struggling month after month with a situation that penalised them and led them up a blind alley.
We got onto Lidl and indicated in no uncertain terms that customer service experience started in their car parks - not just confined to their stores. There could be no pretence of customer service if the loyalty and concerns of disabled customers were viewed and summarily dismissed as irrelevant.
Unlike parking charge demands from local councils or the police, private parking operators cannot impose fines or penalties, but merely issue what amounts to an invoice for infringing their ‘small print’ terms and conditions to park on private land.
We reminded Parking Eye the Equality Act 2010 outlawed any small print terms in their parking contracts that discriminated against the disabled. They were legally unenforceable
We asked Lidl to investigate the issue and hopefully apply a Lidl lateral thinking to come up with a solution. To their credit the company moved swiftly to finally defuse the situation in an about-turn.
Provisions had been put in place to ensure any car parking charges David had received were cancelled and prevent any further parking charges arising again.
A spokesperson said: ‘We were extremely sorry to hear of this matter as it is never our intention for a customer to be dissatisfied in any way. Our car park management systems are in place to help ensure availability of parking spaces for all our customers, and it’s therefore disappointing when we learn that a customer has wrongfully received a fine. We can confirm that all charges for this customer have been cancelled, and in the extremely unfortunate event that a Blue Badge holder receives a parking charge, we would encourage them to get in touch with Parking Eye directly and explain they hold a Blue Badge so that the charge can be cancelled as swiftly as possible.’
The couple were greatly relieved at the good news, but also grateful that Lidl’s policy concerning the treatment of shoppers with disabilities had been clarified so other disabled people wouldn’t have to go through their prolonged victimisation.
‘We can’t thank you enough,’ said David. ‘I’m just grateful that it took the intervention of Streetwise and the threat of publicity to bring this matter to an end.’
Parking Eye did not respond to our invitation to comment.