Regular shoppers in Portsmouth’s city centre have learned to their cost that there was nothing ‘smart’ about parking at the Matalan Station Street store.
Until the end of January, the car park was run by Smart Parking, one of a number of high-profile parking management firms that claim they design and develop leading edge technology to provide clients with the perfect parking management solution.
But angry Streetwise readers claim they are being hounded by parking management companies after complaining about reliability problems with complicated ticketing machines, or making an honest mistake.
Gemma Scarsbrook, a 34-year-old Portsmouth primary school teacher, regularly shops at Matalan and is familiar with the car parking arrangements.
In early January she parked up as usual, paid at the nearby meter and obtained a ticket. After leaving the store, she drove home and thought no more about it.
Gemma had been over the moon as the outing with her mother and six-week-old son had been their first together since the birth.
But the gloss quickly came off the experience when, to her astonishment, a week or so later a parking charge notice turned up demanding £85.
Fortunately she hadn’t discarded the ticket and when she looked at it she discovered only the first letter of her car’s registration number had been recorded on the receipt.
Realising what happened, she immediately went back to the Station Street store to alert the management.
They told her they’d received a number of similar complaints, but said there was nothing they could do.
Angry and frustrated, Gemma appealed against the parking ‘fine’, but that was rejected on the grounds she’d entered the wrong registration number.
Smart Parking, which routinely uses debt collectors to enforce payment, claimed that all the ticket machines were working on the day, although didn’t provide any evidence.
Gemma said: ‘I was furious. They knew I’d paid to park because I sent them a copy of the ticket. When you’re on maternity leave you don’t have a spare £85 to pay when you know you’ve done nothing wrong.’
Baffins reader Angela Marks was another victim of Smart Parking’s defective technology at the Matalan premises.
Familiar with the parking routine, on January 29 she entered her car registration number into the parking machine and fed it £3 to park, but no ticket was issued.
Angela went out of her way to alert the store and Smart Parking to the problem, but just four days later a parking charge notice turned up. She appealed and time-consuming letters and emails were exchanged. Her appeal was rejected by the firm, which bizarrely insisted she’d not provided the correct details of her car.
‘It was so annoying and frustrating,’ she said. ‘It’s not as if they didn’t know about it as I called them the day after it happened to tell them.
‘It’s amazing they think they can get away with it. I was gobsmacked when the fine came through. If I’d done something wrong and I hadn’t paid, I wouldn’t have minded.’
Hours of driver Sam Warren’s time was wasted appealing a £70 penalty charge after a payment machine at the Meridian Centre in Havant failed to dispense a ticket when he paid to park.
The site is controlled by Parking Eye, another car management firm boasting cutting edge car management technology. It only withdrew the charge after it couldn’t provide evidence he hadn’t paid, and appealed to POPLA, the appeals service set up by the industry to try to counter complaints about unfair parking tickets.
Another enraged reader, Dave Worsfold, told Streetwise a Parking Eye infringement charge for £70 arrived like a bolt out of the blue at his Gosport home, accusing him of overstaying at a hospital car park in Wales. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been to Wales and the videograb showed a car that didn’t even belong to him, but with a similar registration number.
It was withdrawn after he complained, but left him furious when the firm didn’t even apologise for its mistake.
Streetwise got on to Smart Parking, pointing out that both incidents at the Portsmouth Matalan car park were potentially outlawed by regulations to prevent people from being taken to the cleaners by unfair trading.
Gemma and Angela wouldn’t have paid to use the car park if they had been warned the parking machines were out of order and not working properly.
We advised them not to succumb to Smart Parking’s bully-boy tactics.
It was for the firm to prove they were in breach of contract.
Only a court of law could order them to pay up or send in bailiffs.
Streetwise can reveal that Smart Parking has been named and shamed in parliament by a campaigning group of MPs for its trading practices.
They’ve put down an early day motion for debate urging the government to introduce statutory controls on bounty-hunting practices and outrageous charges by the industry following countless complaints from their constituents.
In a statement, Matalan said: ‘In February Matalan awarded the contract for running its Portsmouth store car park to Euro Car Parks.
‘We are aware of a number of difficulties that customers have had with the previous car park provider, Smart Parking.
‘We are sorry that our in-store staff were unable to help regarding the car park. Our customer care team (available on 0333 004 4444 and firstname.lastname@example.org) would be very happy to support any customer who needs help with their appeal to Smart Parking.
‘To improve the parking experience, we have changed our car parking provider to Euro Car Parks Limited, who now manage the car park.
‘This offers a simpler and more efficient way to park whilst visiting Matalan (for instance, the site will be monitored by an attendant on foot alongside the pay and display system, rather than visitors needing to use the previous automated system).
‘Further information on Euro Car Parks can be found at https://www.eurocarparks.com/’