New shots fired in war against bully-boy parking firms

David Massey (81) from Warsash  ''Picture: Sarah Standing (170890-5219
David Massey (81) from Warsash ''Picture: Sarah Standing (170890-5219

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Hardly a week passes without Streetwise receiving complaints from angry readers about private car parking tickets and the intimidating bounty-hunting tactics deployed by some debt collecting agencies.

We’ve previously highlighted complaints from readers who’ve told us of their experience battling to contest unfair crippling charges by firms – employed by retailers, train operators, fast food chains and hospitals – for trivial parking infringements or simple mistakes.

They’ve expressed their exasperation about the distress and worry of challenging firms exploiting their lack of legal knowledge by threatening to take them to court.

Although parking companies have no powers to issues fines, instruct bailiffs, or trash credit reports, their carefully-crafted letters invariably scare people into paying up.

Those who stand their ground and refuse to be intimidated by outrageous repeated demands that have no legal status are given a hard time.

Baffins reader Angela Marks is a typical example.

She has been fighting an unfair £85 ‘fine’ and inflated costs slapped on her by Smart Parking and Debt Recovery Plus for more than five months.

She paid £3 to use the Matalan car park in Portsmouth city centre, but only discovered the parking meter was out of order when it failed to issue her a ticket.

Despite informing the firm at the time and knowing she was in the right, they insisted she hadn’t paid to park.

Another reader Sara Elsmore had a similar experience when a parking meter confirmed her car registration number and accepted the £1.50 parking fee.

Unbeknownst to her, she had inadvertently entered an ‘O’ instead of a zero when she punched her car registration into the machine.

Sara ended up struggling unsuccessfully for three months trying to fight a £155 ‘fine’ and convince the firm she’d paid to park. The charge was only withdrawn after Streetwise intervened.

Retired pensioner and former oil industry engineer David Massey was scathing of the arrogant methods used by determined debt collectors to scare people into paying grossly inflated parking tickets.

Keen Pompey supporter David admits he was caught out when he failed to notice an uncontrolled car park he’d used for years close to Fratton Park was unexpectedly policed by a parking firm.

He lost sleep with worry when despite promptly paying the £40 parking penalty in April, a further curt demand for £152.00 turned up in the post six weeks later from Woking-based debt collectors ZZPS.

Although he protested it was obviously a mistake, they insisted – contrary to regulatory guidelines – it was up to him to prove he hadn’t paid up.

ZZPS promptly hid behind the Data Protection Act 1998 and did not respond to our requests for a comment.

Drayton double-glazing fitter Darren Hubbert was stunned when he received a £100 parking penalty out of the blue – more than two months after being treated for a medical emergency at Queen Alexandra Hospital’s A&E.

He’d rushed to the hospital when surgery for a hernia had left him in agonising pain, only to find the nearest parking meter was out of order. A parking warden assured him he wouldn’t be ticketed after he alerted the attendant to the situation, but it turned out to be a particularly nasty deception when the unexpected parking charge notice arrived without explanation.

Good Samaritan and Wecock community volunteer Ann Waters took Gillian Patterson, her 67-year-old friend and neighbour to QAH for a specialist consultation about ongoing treatment for bowel and breast cancer.

She was cynically fleeced of £100 because the parking ticket she displayed on her van’s windscreen was fractionally obscured by a black border around it.

Because the demand was so high, Gillian, a vulnerable pensioner and single lady, felt compelled to reimburse Ann the money at a time of maximum stress for her.

The car parking management industry is self-regulated by the British Parking Association, but only a minority of firms are members.

The BPA claims its Parking on Private Land Appeals process (POPLA) is fair and easy to navigate, but critics maintain that allowing the industry to mark its own homework results in unacceptable abuses.

Despite nearly two million parking charge notices issued annually, only around 15,000 are appealed, and of those almost half are upheld and the penalty withdrawn.

Although trading standards has powers under the consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 to prosecute traders for aggressive harassment and coercion practices, none have been recorded.

Government promises to crack down on the bully-boy activities of parking companies have all come to nothing.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles vowed in 2014 to stamp out cowboy ticketing abuses, but the expectation did not live up to the promise and quickly disappeared from the minister’s radar.

Pursuing and threatening worried members of the public for what they wrongly perceive as ‘fines’ has become a multi-million pound money spinner for the car parking industry.

Streetwise takes the view it’s high time the conduct and practices of parking firms was properly regulated.

Thoughtless or careless parking must of necessity be controlled, but we have a number of concerns.

We believe far too many private parking charge notices are being issued, frequently unfairly or for a contrived trivial breach of contract.

The complaints and appeals procedures are excessively complicated and regularly fail to take into account mistakes or genuine mitigating circumstances.

Penalties, frequently for overstaying by a few minutes, are little short of highway robbery.

We are urging our MPs to get behind and sign up to the all-party House of Commons early day motion 846 which calls for measures to bring private parking operators under statutory regulation.

The aggressive tactics of corporate bullies making money through misleading marketing or aggressive enforcement tactics is a national disgrace.

They have been tolerated for far too long.