Gosport driver hit by £100 car park 'fine' - despite saying she'd paid £2 parking fee

When Ann Simmonds made a routine visit to the Gosport Community Association, she paid to park her car, displayed the ticket on the dashboard as she’d done previously, and thought no more about it.

Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 9:07 am
Ann Simmonds from Gosport Picture: Sarah Standing (061219-3091)

But Ann, who lives in Gosport, was astounded to find after returning home from a short holiday break, she’d been clobbered with a £100 ‘fine’ by the controversial Thorngate Halls parking management company, Parking Eye.

It all started out innocently enough in mid October, when she turned up one Sunday at the Thorngate to meet some friends for lunch.

Although the retired school teacher’s membership had expired, the friends were minded to lunch occasionally together to help support the Gosport Community Association’s café.

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When she fed the pay meter £2 for a two-hour parking slot and the machine dispensed the ticket, she believed there was no reason to retain it on leaving.

However, it came back to haunt her when she subsequently complained to the Thorngate reception and received a knockback when they promptly declined to take the matter up for her unless she had the original parking ticket.

Smart Parking claimed photographic evidence established she had parked for 83 minutes on the community association’s private land but on checking their payments system insisted she hadn’t paid up.

They asserted their initial parking charge notice demanding a discounted £60 fee – subsequently upped to £100 – was valid and enforceable. They confirmed she could contest the charge, but when she took up the matter it was abruptly turned down flat.

An exasperated Ann said: ‘I then went to Citizen’s Advice, who gave me a sample letter for complaining and advised me to send it by recorded delivery.

‘Our letters must have crossed in the post because all I received was another demand for the £100.

‘I felt highly indignant. Friends advised me to write to the MP and my local councillor. My councillor advised me to request a copy of the print-out from the ticket machine as it should have registered my payment.

‘In the meantime I spoke to another friend who used to attend the Thorngate band practice with me and he said he’d been done the same way by Smart Parking five times.

‘When a third letter arrived, saying they were giving me an extension to pay up until December 4, I began to get increasingly upset and angry at being harassed for money I didn’t owe. That’s when as a regular reader of The News, I decided to get in touch with Streetwise.’

Complaints about Smart Parking have appeared on our radar on a number of occasions.

A succession of furious readers have complained about being slapped with outrageous ‘fines’ for becoming ensnared by the firm’s 32-line maze of ‘small print’ petty infringement stipulations, and contract law terms.

Contrary to popular belief, car parking management firms have no legal powers whatsoever to impose fines or penalties on motorists. Those powers are reserved solely for the police and local councils.

Their parking charge notices are simply an invoice for infringing a contract between them and the landowner granting motorists the right to park on private land for a stipulated period.

As a very last resort if the contract is breached they have to provide evidence the motorist is in debt to them and obtain an order from the county court to pay up.

Smart Parking makes much of its membership of the British Parking Association (BPA) and their appeals process, but the BPA exists to further the interests of their 750 plus members, not the motorist.

They’ve consistently refused to allow appeals to go to the Ombudsman Services, a genuinely impartial dispute resolution body.

In an effort to make a bad situation good again, Streetwise took up Ann’s complaint with Smart Parking bosses Paul Gillespie, and CEO Nigel Coltman.

Although they had automatic number plate recognition of her car entering and leavening the site, it didn’t prove she’d parked and not paid up. The claim they had no record of her payment had not been substantiated by one jot of evidence.

We asked them to investigate and supply proof of their accusation by submitting records from the parking machine.

We also asked for sight of independent maintenance schedule, establishing the payment meter had been regularly serviced and calibrated in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications.

But the opening response from the company indicated they weren’t prepared to draw a line under the matter, ignoring our request to produce the conclusive evidence we requested to substantiate their claim.

A spokesperson said: ‘Smart Parking are proud members of the BPA, and operate a BPA-audited appeals process. We cannot find any evidence that Mrs Simmonds paid for her parking, and during the appeals process we were not offered any evidence of payment. Our records show no evidence of a faulty machine at the car park at the time of the parking event.’

Streetwise adheres to the view Smart Parking’s failure to distinguish between allegation and evidence in support their accusation Ann hadn’t paid to park her car, is unsustainable.

We’re continuing to pursue them for an explanation as to why they believe they have a right to issue her with a penalty charge notice rather than accept her explanation.

Streetwise understands complaints about the firm’s management of the Thorngate Halls car parking had given rise to concerns by the Community Association’s trustee board.

Sue Desbois, the trustee chair, said she was unable to provide us with a comment by deadline but would do so after the board of trustees had discussed the matter further.

In the interim, we’re advising users of the Thorngate car park not to bin their parking tickets, but retain them for a minimum of six weeks.