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Parking Ticket Appeals Fight unfair council parking tickets

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Reclaim unfair parking tickets

It's a hideous moment. You return to your car, van or motorbike to find a parking ticket on the windscreen or a clamp on the wheel. That's if you haven't been towed away.

This is a step-by-step guide to appealing against unfair parking fines, including free template letters. Out of roughly 70,600 motorists who went all the way to the official, independent appeals body in 2012/2013, 50% won.

While every effort’s been made to ensure this article’s accuracy, it doesn’t constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act on it, you acknowledge that you do so at your own risk. We can’t assume responsibility and don’t accept liability for any damage or loss which may arise as a result of your reliance upon it.

Quick dos and don'ts before you start

Our printable A4 guide is packed full of tips on what to do if you're ticketed and how to avoid tickets by parking right in the first place. Print it out and and keep it in your glove box in case a ticket's slapped on your windscreen.

MSE's glove box parking guide

Should you appeal?

Usually, pay the fine within 14 days and it's half price. For further info, check out typical parking fines and the costs if you don't pay.

Even if an appeal's unsuccessful, you're often still allowed to pay at the half-price rate within 14 days of the rejection, although this isn't guaranteed. Maximise your chances by clearly asking for the fine to be put on hold in your appeal letter.

The chances of success

If you get all the way to the last, independent tribunal stage, the success rate is 50%. This means if you believe in the justice of your cause, you've a chance, but it can be a slog. Here are a few examples to give you inspiration (also read about Martin's appeal success on his blog).

MSE Guy had parked in his usual residents' parking bay. No problem normally, except this day a sign had been placed quite a distance up the road to say it was suspended for a few days. The road name it gave was incorrect, rendering the sign invalid. Guy's appeal was rejected by his local council twice. But at the Independent Tribunal stage, the council didn't bother to put up a defence and it was uncontested, so he won.

MoneySaver JWF: "I got a PCN issued by my council in July 2008 and my first appeal was rejected. I heard nothing for a long time, then just before Xmas I received the Notice to Owner, some five months after the original ticket was issued. I made formal representations in January 2009 and the ticket was overturned, due to a 'procedural error', a few weeks later."

Gathering evidence

Don't waste any time. All your evidence should be contemporaneous to reflect the situation when you got your ticket. Gather as much evidence as possible, as without it, winning an appeal is more difficult.

Of course, if your car isn't there when you get back, you first need to establish whether it's been towed or stolen. Contact your local police or the firm that owns the car park, if it's parked on private land. In London, call Trace, the 24-hour car locating service run by London Councils, on 0845 206 8 602.

Take photographs

Parking sign reflected in camera lensIf you can, photograph the scene, if it'll help explain your argument. Don't worry about the type of camera, even a mobile phone picture will do, providing it's clear. Things to photograph include:

  • Road signs. Any unclear signs such as suspended bay signs or residents' parking signs.
  • Road markings. Any unclear bay markings or yellow/red lines.
  • Lack of signs/markings. Areas without signs or markings you believe should be there.
  • Your car. If you're disputing where you were alleged to have parked, take a picture of your car and capture the immediate area around your car.
  • The meter. If you were parked in a paid-for bay, keep your ticket or take a photo of the meter if it still registers the time your paid-for parking expired.

Gather the paperwork

Any documentary evidence you can gather is also useful. Sometimes this can be tricky to get, but everything that proves your part of the story is helpful. This includes:

  • Proof of mitigating circumstances

    Keep anything relevant. Examples include travel documents if bays were suspended when you were on holiday, a death certificate if you've had a bereavement, a doctor's note if you were ill or the ticket/permit if it fell off. Read a list of further possible mitigating circumstances.
  • Crime reference number

    If your vehicle was stolen, include a crime reference number and any correspondence from the police.
  • Gathering the paperwork Witness statements

    If anyone will corroborate your story, get their details and ask them to sign a statement. For example, if it was impossible to see the signs or you were loading or unloading goods from your car and you stayed within the rules. For more details on parking rules, read the How To Park Right guide.
  • Keep copies of all correspondence

    Appeals can sometimes drag on, so keep the ticket and any correspondence safe.

If your vehicle's been clamped or towed away

There's no definition of a ticketable, clampable or a towable offence. Generally speaking, it's purely down to the discretion of the officials on patrol at the time. So, any offence worthy of a ticket can result in your vehicle having a lump of metal attached to its wheel or being removed.

Again, if you've returned to your car and it isn't there, the first thing to establish is whether it's been towed or stolen. The local police or the firm that owns the car park, if parked on private land, should be able to help. In London, call Trace, the 24-hour car locating service run by the capital's borough councils, on 0845 206 8 602.

Don't delay

Whether you've been clamped or towed away, you need to pay to get your vehicle back. Here, paying DOESN'T count as an admission of guilt so you can still appeal. One word of warning though: don't try to remove the clamp yourself. That's classed as criminal damage and is also likely to damage your vehicle.

If a vehicle is clamped and you ignore it, it can be moved to the car pound within hours, meaning you'll pay towing fees plus clamp release costs and the ticket charge.

If your vehicle's in the car pound, for every day it's left there, the cost to get it back rockets. If you don't collect it, it will eventually be destroyed, meaning further costs.

When you collect your vehicle from the pound, take your driving licence (counterpart and photocard), the vehicle registration document and a utility bill with your address on it.

Beware tickets that come through the post

Regulations brought in during 2008 mean you can get a ticket through the post in England and Wales, if caught on CCTV.

This makes it more difficult to gather evidence for an appeal because the 'contravention' would have taken place days before. The only plus side is that if caught on CCTV you have 21 days to pay at the reduced rate, instead of the usual 14.

If you can't afford to pay

If you can't pay the fine, it will end up as a court debt like any other. This will NOT go on your credit file, as the judgment won't be from a civil court.

If your car has been towed away and you can't afford to pay, you'll need to negotiate. Technically, there is no leeway and eventually your car will be crushed and you'll still be liable for all the charges, though kind-hearted officials may help. If not, urgently contact Citizens Advice for help.

How to appeal against parking fines

The appeal process is in place so that you can fight your corner if you believe the fine is unfair. You have a right to appeal, whether you think the council got it wrong or you broke the rules due to mitigating circumstances. Some tips and rules before you start:

  • You can't appeal if you've paid the fine

    Paying the fine is considered an admission of liability. However, if you've been clamped or towed away you have to pay to get your motor released, after which you can appeal.
  • The appeal can take a couple of months

    How long it takes depends on who issued the ticket. There can be three stages to the appeal: an informal appeal; formal appeal; and if all else fails, an appeal to the independent adjudicator.
  • Most people have nothing to lose in the first stage

    Those who make an informal appeal within two weeks and lose it will usually have a further 14 days to pay the ticket at the reduced rate. So you'll lose nothing by making that first appeal, although this isn't guaranteed.
  • Stick rigidly to the timeline

    Stick to the deadlines or you'll lose by default. Don't worry if the council, police or adjudicator take a while to respond. During that time, the appeal's effectively frozen. This means any time period you need to abide by begins from the date on the reply.
  • Submit full evidence at each stage

    Ensure you submit full evidence at each appeal stage. There'll always be a different official dealing with it, who will often have no idea what you've previously sent.

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Step 1. Work out who issued the ticket
(or clamped/towed your vehicle)

Step OneThere are four different issuers of parking tickets and the appeals procedure operates separately with each. The biggest difference is whether they operate under civil or criminal law.

If it's criminal, don't fret that you'll be branded a convict. As long as you pay it on time or win your appeal you won't encounter any legal problems or get a criminal record. Criminal tickets are more difficult to successfully appeal against though.

The four types of agency are:

Step 2: The grounds for appeal

The grounds for appeal differ, depending whether yours is a ticket under civil or criminal law.

  • The civil system

    The appeal grounds and procedures to follow are consistently laid out. They're detailed in full below.
  • The criminal system

    Criminal rules can vary. So check your council's website, or if the police issued a ticket, call the number listed, to make sure you know the rules. In general, it's worth reading the civil guidelines below as the same principles usually apply.

    Where procedures differ, it's usually about the levels of fines, timescales and any correspondence you receive.

The grounds for appeal for civil penalties

There are eight official grounds for appealing against a ticket and eight for clamping and being towed. Don't get too worried - they're mainly in place for the council or adjudicator's benefit. If you pick the wrong box on the form, they'll just allocate you to the correct one.

They can exercise discretion, so appeal even if you don't fit into a category. In particular, if there are mitigating circumstances to explain why you parked 'illegally', councils should listen to them.

We've focused on the rules for England and Wales. It's by and large the same in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with only minor differences. For precise info, call the Scottish Parking Appeals Service on 0131 221 0409 (it has no website) or go to the NI Traffic Penalty Tribunal site. Citizens Advice also has some useful info on the process in Scotland.

Appeals based on mitigating circumstances

If you hold up your hands to parking illegally but believe there are mitigating circumstances why the penalty should be waived, you can still appeal. The Traffic Penalty Tribunal says councils must show discretion.

If possible, it can be a good idea to tell operators about any mitigating circumstances before you park, as this can avoid the rigmarole of having to appeal against a ticket.

Mitigating circumstances include issues of health (yours or others'), bereavement and motor breakdown. See a full list of typical mitigating circumstances.

In addition, you could also appeal under the following circumstances:

  • You were fined within three minutes of paid parking expiring

    Some councils may offer an amnesty where you won't get a ticket within three minutes of the meter, pay and display, pay-by-phone or voucher parking paid-for period ending. It's mainly to cover instances where your watch and the traffic warden's don't match up.

    Check with the council if it offers this amnesty. If it does, ask for the penalty to be waived as you were simply following its published guidelines. You may be able to find the rules on the council's website.

  • The penalty was too harsh – towing or clamping only

    It's possible to argue that getting towed or clamped is excessive and the resulting cost is unfair, and ask to pay only the Penalty Charge Notice value. Councils have been known to make partial refunds on this basis.

    To help, check the PCN code to see whether the 'contravention' you committed is deemed a serious or less serious offence. While you've a better chance if it's a lower offence, even if not, there's no harm appealing as you've already paid, so you won't lose out financially.

  • You can't afford to pay

    Technically, this is no defence. But you'll sometimes find a kind-hearted council worker who will let you off. Make sure you submit all financial evidence to highlight your plight.

With mitigating circumstances, like those above, it's really a question of the luck of the draw. It's up to the council whether it accepts your appeal, and some do have a heart. If these cases reach the adjudicator, it doesn't have power to cancel the ticket but can recommend the council cancels it, yet this isn't binding.

Once you've picked your ground on which to appeal, jump to Step 3: How to appeal.

Circumstances councils say you can't appeal against

There are some situations where you can't appeal, such as if there is nowhere to park, and in general trying will simply fail.

Yet if you strongly believe in the justice of your case and have the time, there's no harm trying, providing you don't lose the opportunity to pay at the reduced rate.

Some circumstances in which you generally can't appeal: See list.

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Step 3: How to appeal

Whatever form your appeal takes, there's a golden rule:

A human being will decide your appeal, so be friendly, but firm. Get rude or angry and you've less chance of success.

The appeal rules depend on your ticket type so ensure you read the right section below. We've included info for civil ticket appeals, criminal ticket appeals and police ticket appeals.

Your appeal will largely involve writing up to three separate letters, though the general content will usually be similar in each of them. So keep a copy of the first one safe, and just alter the introduction and any other points as necessary.

Ticket appeal process

Once you've read the steps above, you'll know which of the following appeals processes to follow.

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