Smart Parking sets aside charges after Gosport drivers complain of defective parking meters

Streetwise reader Dave Watt had an unfair £100 parking charge notice cancelled after a long hard four-month battle with car park management company Smart Parking.

Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 12:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 2:56 pm

He was just one of a number of Gosport readers who were driven to distraction when they complained they’d been wrongly accused of parking violations at the Gosport Community Centre car park.

The 74-year-old Lee-on-the-Solent pensioner drove to Gosport War Memorial Hospital to return some surgery registration paperwork on the very last day of December.

But there was no hint of New Year good cheer for Dave when he discovered on arrival the hospital car park was full, and went to use the Bury House overflow car park next door instead.

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Smart Parking in Gosport. Picture: Streetwise

To his mounting frustration, he found all of the pay and display parking meters were unserviceable, and not working.

‘I parked up right next to the first parking meter,’ he said, ‘and put my car’s registration number into the machine.

‘I popped a pound coin in and it just kept coming out, cancelled. I had another coin so I tried it and it did exactly the same thing.

‘As I only had two one pound coins on me, I went over to the NHS overflow parking meter and to my astonishment it just rejected them in the same way as the first one.

‘On looking around I noticed there was another meter right at the back of the building, but it did exactly the same thing. Every time I put the coins in it rejected them and cancelled the payment.

‘On walking back to the first meter I tried again, but it still kept rejecting the coins, so I thought where do I go from here.’

Help was apparently at hand when Dave, with years of experience in the road haulage business behind him, was prompted to ring the firm’s premium rate helpline number listed on one of the parking signs.

When his call was finally answered he reported the unserviceable parking machines to a woman who insisted they’d no record of any defect with the payment meters.

He enquired whether the phone call was recorded to confirm his complaint was on record, but instead of being assured it had been noted and he wouldn’t be penalised, he was told he should appeal the parking charge notice when it turned up in the post.

True to form an outraged Dave was subsequently hit with a demand for £60 with a threat to escalate it to £100 if he failed to appeal it within 14 days.

Despite explaining what had happened when he appealed the non-payment of the £1 parking fee, Smart Parking promptly gave him the thumbs down and upped it to £100.

Streetwise was aware Dave was one of a succession of Gosport motorists who insisted they’d been remorselessly coerced to pay up after appealing against unjustified parking fines due to the firm’s defective or unserviceable payment meters.

The complaints first kicked off the previous October, when furious reader Ann Simmonds was landed with an eye-watering £100 charge and accused of overstaying after a meter failed to record her length of say correctly.

Following our intervention, the parking charge notice was rescinded, but was quickly followed up by further complaints.

Businessman Ian Chase was another incandescent motorist who got onto us after a group ladies night function at the Thorngate Halls ended up in another parking charge fiasco.

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The event overran but when they returned to their cars and attempted to settle up the additional charge he, the group organiser, were among another five complainants who discovered all the payment machines were kaput.

Although Ian was alerted to the alternative card payment facility, he didn’t have any cards on him and despite his protests to the firm a £170 parking charge escalation notice eventually turned up in the post.

Streetwise became concerned the volume of complaints about parking management at the site was developing into a long-running war about what site visitors claimed was the unfair imposition of unjust parking charges.

We first asked the company for their proof the parking charges could be substantiated, along with evidence the parking meters were regularly inspected and serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s schedules.

When the firm declined to provide the information, we reminded them that harassment for payment of unsubstantiated parking charges was a clear breach of unfair trading regulations. It could ultimately end up in enforcement action by trading standards.

It was also out of order to insist on premium rate phone numbers to call their help line, and Dave Watt was entitled to reclaim the £8 bill for his call plus cancellation of the £100 ‘fine’.

We were fully supportive of the firm’s legitimate right to penalise motorists who flouted the contract to park at Bury House, but the number of ongoing complaints involving clapped out payment machines had emerged as a major factor and was clearly unacceptable.

February turned into March with Smart Parking flatly refusing to budge or offer any explanation for the £270 parking charges demanded from determined complainants Dave Watt and Ian chase.

However our campaign to insist on Bury House parking charge justice had clearly hit home.

The company, without admission of liability, had replaced all the parking meters with modern solar powered machines and dispensed with the premium rate number helpline.

Simultaneously we became aware the number of incidents we’d been receiving had dropped significantly.

We put it to them it was time to draw a line under the outstanding complaints.

To their credit, a company spokesperson agreed to call time on the parking charge demands we’d flagged up, and as a gesture of goodwill promptly set them aside.

Both Dave and Ian said they felt exonerated by their determined stand. They thanked us profusely for taking on the battle and fighting their corner.

Dave’s objection was firmly against lining the firm’s pockets for their defective ticketing hardware. If push came to shove he was prepared to battle it out in court if necessary.

‘I wasn’t trying to avoid paying,’ he said, ‘which is why I rang their helpline to report the problem and expected them to provide a way to solve it. They didn’t help me at all but just tried to get money out of me.’

Streetwise recommends readers who experience parking problems at the Thorngate Halls to report any issues in writing to the trustees. Windscreen parking tickets should be retained and not discarded for a minimum of one month as they provide additional evidence of payment.

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