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Fight Unfair Private Parking Tickets

Tickets are often invalid. Don't just pay

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Megan F | Edited by Steve N

Updated May 2016

Watch out for parking cowboys If you get an unfair ticket in a private car park, don't automatically pay it. These supposed 'fines' handed out are merely invoices, often unenforceable, and it's a Wild West out there – many private parking firms are frankly cowboys.

This guide shows how to fight unfair private parking tickets at supermarkets, hospitals and elsewhere, including using the private parking appeals systems. According to the latest stats, out of almost 27,000 people who appealed via one of these systems, 35% were successful.

If your ticket isn't from a private firm, see the Council Parking Ticket Appeals guide.

Private parking need-to-knows

  1. Remember this is about fighting UNFAIR tickets

    Fight Private Parking TicketsOf course, landowners have a right to charge for and police proper parking. If you've broken those rules, and you think the ticket isn't exorbitant or disproportionate, pay up.

    If you DO think it's unfair, read on to decide whether to fight.

    What's counts as an 'unfair' ticket?

    Don't let parking 'fine' court defeat put you off reclaiming

  2. Never automatically pay a parking ticket from a private firm

    If you get an unfair private ticket, DON'T just pay it!

    Trying to reclaim cash already paid isn't easy, so it's far easier to dispute it. Beating an unfair ticket isn't an exact science. The strategy in this guide is based on the opinion of a number of legal experts – who don't always agree – plus large amounts of feedback.

    Many who take on unfair tickets win – here's the evidence

  3. Don't get caught out by illegal clamping

    Fight Private Parking Tickets

    In October 2012, clamping and towing on private land was banned in England and Wales under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (it's been banned in Scotland since 1992, but not in Northern Ireland yet).

    The few exceptions where a car park has legal authority to clamp are where local byelaws are in place, including some railway station and airport car parks. If it doesn't have the exemption, it's breaking the law. See Clamping Help for full info.

  4. Print the Glove Box Parking Guide

    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 keep it in your glove box in case the dreaded moment when a ticket's slapped on your windscreen comes – or worse, your car's clamped.

  5. Don't assume the driver's liable for the ticket

    Before October 2012, when on private land it was the driver who was liable for any parking charges from private parking firms, rather than the owner.

    But now, parking operators in England and Wales are allowed to hold the vehicle's owner liable for unpaid charges if they don't know who the driver is and the keeper refuses, or is unable, to name the driver.

    If you're ticketed while driving a hire car anywhere in the UK, you'll still be responsible for any parking fines if you've accepted liability for them under the hire agreement.

    It's worth noting that only accredited private parking operators can get the owner's details from the DVLA. This means the operators have to be an accredited member of two trade bodies – either the British Parking Association (BPA) or the newer Independent Parking Committee (IPC) in order to get keeper details from the DVLA.

    In theory, firms which aren't BPA or IPC-registered can follow you home to get your address. But in practice, as non-registered firms will find it harder to get hold of your details, they may not be able to chase you for a ticket at all.

    If you think a non-BPA or non-IPC registered firm has got hold of your details unlawfully, tell the DVLA.

    What are the rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

  6. Get as much evidence as you can

    Gather evidence if you plan to appeal

    If you're reading this after getting a ticket, you may not be able to gather all of the evidence listed below.

    But it's still useful to gather as much as you can – even if it's just the paperwork, or returning to the car park to photograph its signage – in case you decide to dispute the ticket or appeal.

    What evidence should I get?

  7. A cartoon policeman

    Check who your ticket's from

    Parking tickets can be either from official public bodies, such as local councils and the police, or from private companies. This guide's ONLY about fighting UNFAIR tickets issued on private land (eg, a supermarket car park), so first you need to look on the ticket to identify who it's from:

    How to work out who it's from

  8. Don't ever think of private parking tickets as "fines".

    They're not. These companies have no official right to fine you, though they may try to make you think they do.

    All they're doing is sending you a notice for what they deem to be a breach of contract.

    It isn't the ability of private companies to issue tickets in itself that's a problem. It's the unstructured system which puts unnecessary power in potentially unscrupulous hands.

    What's the law on this?

How to fight private parking tickets

How you can best fight your ticket depends largely on whether the parking company which issued it belongs to one of the two trade bodies, the British Parking Association (BPA) or the Independent Parking Committee (IPC). This may be shown on your ticket – you can also find lists of the BPA's members and the IPC's members online.

There's also a third route you can try which allows you to appeal your ticket on a technicality, whether or not the parking firm belongs to a trade body. We'd only encourage you to use this route if the ticket you've got is genuinely unfair.

If the firm that ticketed you belongs to a trade body, jump to our section on: Trade body member appeals

If the firm doesn't belong to a trade body, jump to our section on: Disputes with non-trade body members

To see if you can appeal on a technicality, jump to our section on: The technical route

Remember, if your ticket wasn't issued in a private car park and it's called a Penalty Charge Notice, we've full help in the Parking Ticket Appeals guide.

How to appeal – if the parking firm is part of a trade body

Try this firstThere are two trade bodies in England and Wales – the BPA, which represents about 120 parking firms, and the IPC, which covers just over 70. Each has an independent appeals process. If you've been ticketed by one of their members, you can use this route to appeal. We've suggested a straightforward, by-the-book approach below...

However, there is also a more militant approach where you simply refuse to pay, which has worked for some. It's worth reading both first, to help you decide which to follow.

Step 1: Complete the parking operator's appeals first

Before you appeal to a trade body, you need to first try appealing to the parking firm directly.

Most tickets will include details of how to appeal to the parking company on the back – this should include the address to send your complaint to.

You'll need to outline why you believe the parking ticket was unfair. It could be because there was missing or unclear signage. The following template letter will help you challenge your ticket with the private parking operator.

After you've written to the company, there are four possible outcomes at this stage:

  1. It accepts your arguments

    In which case you win. Hooray!

  2. It never replies

    In which case you win. Hooray!

  3. It rejects your argument, but says it won't take it further

    In which case you win. Hooray!

  4. It continues to demand payment

    This is generally the most likely outcome, but if you know you're in the right, you can stand your ground. Here, you need to decide whether you want the hassle and possible stress of taking it further, as the ticketers may continue to chase you.

    Weigh up the cost of dealing with it with the cost of paying the charge. It's a personal decision. If the company wants to take it all the way, its only option is to take it to court – but it may simply not follow through.

    If they DO take you to court, for an amount of this size it's normally (though no guarantees) a small claims action, which means the worst that can usually happen is you're ordered to pay the charge and costs aren't awarded.

    For small claims, don't think judges and wigs. Often, claims are filed online which means this is more about form-filling than anything else.

Once you've done this, if the company accepts your appeal it should cancel the ticket. But if your appeal's rejected, it's now time to go through the official appeals process.

Step 2: Appeal through the official trade body process

Each of the trade bodies has its own (free) appeals process. The BPA's is known as Popla (Parking On Private Land Appeals), and the IPC's is called the Independent Appeals Service (IAS). These systems work in similar ways.

Although you can appeal just by sending in the form, you're likely to boost your chances of success if you also include all the evidence you gathered earlier to support your case and a letter explaining why you're appealing (you can use the letter below).

How to appeal to Popla

If the firm which ticketed you is a member of the BPA, it should have sent you an application form as part of the Popla process when it replied to your appeal in step 1. You can't appeal to Popla without a reference code, which you should have been given by the operator when it rejected the initial appeal in step 1.

While you can appeal to Popla on any grounds, it says any mitigating circumstances would have to be extreme for it to side with the motorist, and even then it can only suggest an operator cancels the ticket; it can't order it to.

Popla allows you 28 days to appeal, from the date you received the operator's notice of rejection. In some circumstances you may be able to appeal later, but if you do you'll need to explain why on the form.

The appeals process with Popla should take about six weeks from receipt of an online appeal. You can appeal online or via post, by submitting the form and evidence to Popla, PO Box 1270, Warrington, WA4 9RL (but it warns this way will take longer than online).

How to appeal to the IAS

If the firm is an IPC member, you'll need to visit the IAS web page to lodge an appeal. You should've been sent an official reference number for your case.

It says it will only consider if the charge is lawful, not if there were any mitigating circumstances.

The IAS allows you 21 days for a free appeal, or after this you can pay a £15 non-refundable fee if your appeal to the parking company was rejected less than 12 months ago and you still want to appeal via the IAS.

With the IAS it typically takes about 40 days to resolve an appeal.

How to write your appeal

To help with submitting your appeal, either to Popla or the IAS, we've drafted a template letter for you to use below.

FREE template letter: Appeal to Popla and the IAS (problems opening it?)

My appeal's been accepted – hooray!

My appeal's been rejected – help!

Quick question

What are my chances of success?

The militant approach

Parking Charge

From this point on, we're in negotiation territory.

If you don't want to use the independent appeals service for the unfair ticket, you can take the militant approach by...

Read more

How to dispute – if your parking firm is NOT part of a trade body

Try this first If the firm which issued you a ticket isn't a member of the BPA or IPC, below is our suggested approach – but we've also included the route to take if you want to be militant. It's worth reading them both first, to help you decide which to do...

Don't pay, but explain why

Be warned – there is no official route here and the parking firm may get stroppy. If you get scared or nervous when letters demanding money or threatening court action come through the door, even though it's mainly posturing, this will be a difficult technique.

So if you are ultra-cautious and want to pay, then do so quickly as some parking firms offer discounts if you pay early.

Otherwise, though, you shouldn't pay for an unfair ticket, and you should write to the parking firm explaining why. Sadly there's no independent appeals body for firms which aren't members of a trade body. Some firms may claim to have their own appeals system, but the fact this isn't independent concerns us, so don't say you're appealing.

Here's some inspiration from the forums before you start:

Received a private ticket of £95 for being 15 minutes over the 2 hours allowed in a Wickes car park. I followed the advice on the site and initially received the 'Your appeal has been rejected' letter. I responded that I did not appeal as there was no contract with me, and have heard nothing further.

How to challenge a ticket

How to appealCheck on the ticket for the parking company's address and contact the firm concerned. If there's no address given, contact the landowner letting it know about your complaint and ask for a suitable address to make your case to the parking company.

You'll need to make your case and outline why you believe the parking ticket was unfair. It could be because there was missing or unclear signage. The following template letter may help:

If the ticket issuer has behaved really badly, always report it to the landowner or retailer who employs it as well, especially if it's a big company with a reputation to protect. It may be horrified at their antics and intervene to get the ticket cancelled. Read the £95 ticket for parking too long MSE News story as an example.

After you've written to the company, there are four possible outcomes at this stage:

  1. It accepts your arguments

    In which case you win. Hooray!

  2. It doesn't reply

    In which case you win. Hooray!

  3. It refutes your argument, but says it won't take it further

    In which case you win. Hooray!

  4. It continues to demand payment

    This is generally the most likely outcome, but if you know you're in the right, you can stand your ground. Here, you need to decide whether you want the hassle and possible stress of continuing, as the ticketers may ignore details sent in your previous letters and continue to contact you.

    Weigh up the cost of dealing with it with the cost of paying the charge. It's a personal decision. If the company wants to take it all the way, their only option is to take it to court – but they may simply not follow through.

    If they DO take you to court, for an amount of this size it's normally (though no guarantees) a small claims action, which means the worst that can usually happen is you're ordered to pay the charge and costs aren't awarded. For small claims, don't think judges and wigs. Often, claims are filed online which means this is more about form-filling than anything else.

The militant approach: don't pay and don't write

From this point on, we're in negotiation territory. If you ignored the unfair ticket when you got it, one of two things will then happen.

Read more

The technical route: check if your 'Notice to Keeper' is flawed

With private parking tickets it's the owner of the car, not the driver, who's liable. Therefore parking companies will often send a 'Notice to Keeper' to the owner of the car. This is a formal parking charge notice sent to the registered keeper of the vehicle.

You'll get this through the post for one of two reasons – either you were caught on camera (and never got a ticket on your windscreen), or there was a ticket on the windscreen and it hasn't been responded to or the owner hasn't been told.

There are specific rules around how Notices to Keepers should be sent and written. However sometimes companies get this wrong. If they have, it's often possible to appeal on a technicality.

This route comes from members of our forum who have a great deal of experience fighting unfair parking tickets, and campaigning to help others do so as well. Many say it's worked for them (though not with NCP operators or some smaller firms). Here's what to do:

  • Check if the Notice to Keeper follows the rules

    There's a long list of rules Notices to Keepers need to follow (eg, if the ticket wasn't initially given on your windscreen, it should arrive within 15 days of the alleged parking offence). Our forum has info on what these rules are or the legislation is here – check whether the firm's followed all the rules with your ticket.

  • Write to the parking firm flagging up the error

    If you've found the parking firm slipped up, it'll give you useful ammunition in your appeal. First write directly to the company (contact details should be on the ticket) and explain what they did wrong – forumites have suggested a template letter in the discussion thread.

  • Then, if you can, appeal via a trade body

    If the parking firm is a member of a trade body – either the BPA or the IPC – you can go through an independent appeals process (as explained above). When you set out your appeal, you can also flag up the mistakes made with the Notice to Keeper and ask for the charge to be dismissed.

Read more details of forumites' experiences in the Private Parking Ticket FAQs thread.

Know your rights if you're clamped or towed

It's now a criminal offence to clamp or tow vehicles without lawful authority on private land in England and Wales, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Such clamping's been illegal in Scotland since 1992, but hasn't been banned in Northern Ireland yet.

When's clamping or towing still allowed?

There are some cases where clamping or towing is still legal in England, Wales, and Scotland such as for:

  • Offences on public roads.
  • Certificated bailiffs collecting unpaid tax.
  • The police and local authorities (see Council Parking Ticket Appeals for help), and Government agencies such as DVLA where vehicles are unroadworthy or have not paid their vehicle tax.
  • Where local byelaws are in place, including some railway station car parks, airport car parks, ports and harbours and river crossings, which can still be contracted out to private companies.

As clamping or towing is still possible in these circumstances, here's a stark warning...

Don't try to remove the clamp yourself, as any damage could be considered criminal.

Been clamped or towed illegally? Call the police

If you've been clamped or towed away from anywhere in England, Wales and Scotland that isn't on the list above, the first thing to do is call the police.

Don't hand over any money. Don't get into a debate with the clampers. Don't be scared to call 101, the police non-emergency number, if you don't feel threatened – or 999 if you do. There are tough penalties for breaking the law, including a £5,000 fine.

What to do if you've been clamped or towed legally

If you were clamped or towed by a legal authority mentioned above or at all in Northern Ireland, it's likely you'll need to pay the charge first to get your vehicle released. Then if it's unfair, seek a refund.

If that's the case, when you pay, always state you're paying under protest and, if you can, write "paid under protest" on any document retained by the clamper. That means the clamping company can't suggest you accepted liability by simply paying up. The action to take depends on whether you're...

Still at the scene with the clamped car?

Already paid to have your car released?