Wheel clampers will be banned from operating on private land in a Government bid to tackle rogue operators who exploit drivers by charging "exorbitant fees".

Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone said today previous efforts to curb activities of unscrupulous clampers had failed and England and Wales would now follow Scotland, which introduced a ban nearly two decades ago (see the Private Parking Tickets guide).

Motoring organisations hailed the "momentous" move, which will be introduced in the Government's Freedom Bill in November and could be in place by early next year.

"Even though we have tried to make this work by licensing individuals, companies who are responsible for the setting of the fees and the putting of signage have not really responded.

"We keep trying to make this work but it doesn't," Featherstone says.

Ban on clamping and towing

The equalities and criminal information minister says private firms will be banned from clamping or towing vehicles but would still be able to ticket parked cars.

Landowners could also install barriers to prevent parking, she adds.

Featherstone said despite a high number of complaints about clamping firms and the poor signage sometimes used to warn drivers, there had been "very, very few" prosecutions.

"Most police forces do not spend their time prosecuting clamping companies, that's the other side of this problem," she explains.

The minister says the Government had considered setting up an independent appeals tribunal but it would have cost £2 million plus future running costs.

"It still probably wouldn't address the heart of this problem, that it's an industry that just hasn't worked."

She says some firms are operating a "sort of entrapment" and an outright ban is the right answer.

More than 2,000 existing clamping licences will be revoked under the plans for England and Wales, with towing away also outlawed, as ministers act to end the "scourge" of so-called cowboy clampers.

Only unlicensed vehicles are able to be clamped in Northern Ireland.

Jail threat

Once in force, anyone who clamps a vehicle or tows it away on private land will face big fines or even jail.

Only police or councils will be allowed to immobilise or remove a vehicle in exceptional circumstances, such as a car blocking a road.

Private land clamping is said to be worth £1 billion a year, but has generated widespread complaints that some parking enforcement companies are extorting money from unsuspecting drivers.

In one case highlighted by campaigners yesterday, a nurse was clamped while visiting a patient and told to pay £350 for her car to be released.

For every hour she delayed payment, another £50 was added to the bill.

'Misery for motorists'

The AA calls clamping a "draconian punishment" which "causes misery to motorists for often minor mistakes".

AA president Edmund King says: "An outright ban on wheel clamping on private land is a victory for justice and common sense.

"We have been campaigning for a ban against this legalised mugging for many years.

"Too many clampers have been acting like modern-day highwaymen for too long.

"Many elderly and vulnerable people have been ripped off by these callous cowboys.

"We would also like to see restrictions on the companies that issue bogus tickets on private land so that these cowboys are also driven out of town."

Further reading/Key links

Dispute parking tickets: Parking Appeals (public land), Private Parking,
Cut motoring costs: Cheap Petrol & Diesel