Man collecting his terminally-ill mother-in-law from QA hospital speaks of anger at fight to overturn unfair parking fine

When Tony Chipps was called by Queen Alexandra Hospital to say that his terminally ill mother in law Margaret was in the discharge lounge ready to be taken home, he didn't bargain for a months-long parking penalty battle.

Tony Chipps from Portsmouth. Picture: Sarah Standing (180581-163)
Tony Chipps from Portsmouth. Picture: Sarah Standing (180581-163)

But the routine collection of Margaret turned into a furious seven-month standoff with PCP, the hospital's parking contractor, when it slapped him with a £100 parking '˜fine' after she'd been sent to the wrong discharge location and he couldn't find her.

Tony explained that he and his wife Jane had been carers for the 76-year-old who had become housebound and dependent on them after being diagnosed and treated for pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable debilitating lung disease.

To add to the couple's distress and anguish, doctors gave Margaret just a few months to live, and they were compelled to see her becoming ever frailer as her life began to slip away.

As she'd been in and out of the hospital for treatment for almost a year Tony knew precisely where to go to pick her up and get her back home.

But last December things didn't quite go to plan. On receipt of the hospital call he immediately jumped in her car and couldn't believe his luck when he arrived and found a parking space just outside the discharge unit.

Since he knew the drill and only had to pop in and out of the suite to fetch her he fed the parking meter with the minimum hourly charge,.

But once inside the lounge to his surprise she was nowhere to be found. Margaret wasn't there so he enlisted the help of staff to try and track her down.

By the time they got the muddle sorted and he waited for her to be discharged, the confusion contributed to being ten minutes over the allotted parking time.

Tony said: '˜I didn't move the car because no one was certain where she was, but eventually she turned up in  A&E discharge for some reason so I thought if I went there I could get a wheelchair to get her back to the car.'

When they both finally arrived at the car to his fury he found he'd racked up a £100 penalty charge.

Subsequently sparks began to fly when the following February a parking charge notice turned up from PCP addressed to the terminally ill Margaret demanding immediate payment of the £100.

To add insult to injury and despite dashing off a letter to the firm to explain what had happened, PCP made it crystal clear they weren't prepared to waive the charge. They threatened to take legal action against Margaret if she didn't pay up.

An incandescent Tony wrote back to say Margaret was unable to deal with the matter as she'd sadly just passed away and he'd more pressing matters to deal with.

But the parking operator stepped up their relentless hassle, transferring the charge to him as the driver and increasing it to £150. There was not a word of condolence for his loss.

Tony, 55, added: '˜In this sort of situation, a parking ticket is not your top priority. When we were caring for someone who was so ill it's a 24-hour-a-day job, it's just so exhausting. An unfair parking ticket just adds to the stress and misery and makes you so angry. It's just legalised extortion.'

An exasperated Tony called in Streetwise.  He was astounded to learn the hospital previously told us they allowed the private firm to manage the car park in return for pocketing the lucrative parking '˜fines'.

Streetwise has crossed swords with PCP before, and regularly receives complaints from angry readers who claim they're being targeted at the NHS hospital by heavy handed wardens.

They allege wardens hang around cancer and A&E departments because these are the locations where cars were likely to overstay or could potentially be ticketed for minor infringements.

After we highlighted the case of Good Samaritan Gillian Patterson who was hit with a £100 penalty for a minor part of her parking ticket being obscured on her van windscreen, PCP insisted she paid up.

She'd taken a vulnerable elderly cancer patient to QAH for a breast and bowel check up. On reading of her plight a kindly reader paid the fine off for her.

We also took up the case of double glazing fitter Darren Hubbert. He'd rushed himself to A&E after a hernia incision wasn't healing properly and left him in considerable pain. When he arrived the nearest parking meter was out of order.

A roving PCP warden, who just happened to be nearby, assured him a note had been made of the circumstances and he wouldn't be ticketed.

But two months later an angry Darren received the familiar parking charge demand for £100 and they refused to back down on appeal.

Another reader, Linda Wallis, paid for five hours parking at A&E when her young daughter was being treated for agonising stomach pains. Hospital staff gave her an official pass to display on her car for an overnight stay.

On returning to it in the morning she found a penalty charge notice attached which she adamantly refused to pay.

But following our latest intervention there was better news for Tony Chipps when we brought his case to the attention of the hospital authorities.

A spokesperson said: '˜We try to ensure that parking controls are carried out in a manner which is sympathetic to the fact that we are working in a hospital environment.

'˜After investigating the matter, the parking operator has agreed to extend the period of time which Mr. Chipps has to appeal independently through the IAS system '“ it is at that point that the operator will be able to consider Mr Chipp's mitigation

Tony was relieved that there was finally light at the end of the harsh parking penalty tunnel.

'˜I can't praise the treatment my mother-in-law received from the hospital staff sufficiently,' he said, '˜but the lack of empathy by the parking operator for our no-fault situation was outrageous.

'˜I accept there must be parking controls, but operators should be required to act responsibly with integrity and compassion when things obviously go wrong'