The Government is pressing ahead with plans to make wheel-clamping and towing-away on private land a criminal offence.

The measures, to be enforced next year, will be introduced this week in the Protection of Freedoms Bill (see the Private Parking Tickets guide).

Once in force, the law, first mooted last year, will mean only police or councils will be allowed to immobilise or remove a car in exceptional circumstances, such as when blocking a road.

Home Office figures show cowboy clampers take up to £55 million from drivers every year.

Previous efforts to curb unscrupulous clampers have failed and England and Wales are behind Scotland which introduced a ban nearly two decades ago.

Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone says: "For too long motorists have fallen victim to extortion from rogue clamping companies.

"I have been outraged by cases of drivers being frog-marched to cash points late at night or left stranded by rogues who have towed their vehicle away. Clearly this is unacceptable.

"By criminalising clamping and towing on private land this Government is committing rogue clampers to history and putting an end to intimidation and excessive charges once and for all."

There are about 500,000 clampings in England and Wales annually on private land with an average release fee of £112, with 98% of fees paid as drivers want to get their vehicles back, the Home Office says.

The British Parking Association (BPA), which represents parking firms, criticised the Government for creating "a charter for the selfish parker", giving drivers the freedom to park wherever they want.

Nurse clamped on duty

In one case highlighted by campaigners last year, 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.

And another driver, Haroon Zafaryab, 27, said he stayed in his car for 30 hours to escape £4,000 of penalty tickets from a clamping firm and prevent his car being towed away.

Zafaryab had all four wheels clamped in Wembley, north London, before he managed to agree a £100 release fee.

Warning for motorists

Motoring organisations have also warned about the rise of private operators issuing penalty tickets as they turn away from clamping.

AA president Edmund King says: "This bill is the first nail in the coffin of the cowboy clampers.

"We have always argued motorists should not park where they like but believe that, in the 21st century, there are more humane ways to regulate parking.

"Partial licensing of clampers hasn't worked as it was used as a licence to print money so a ban is the only way out of this mess.

"One word of warning is that we are seeing evidence that some of the cowboys, drinking in the last-chance saloon, are increasing their clamping activity before the ban is introduced. So watch where you park.

"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,
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