The Court of Appeal has today ruled against a motorist who challenged what he believed to be an excessive parking fine for overstaying his allotted time on private land.
Chip shop owner Barry Beavis from Billericay was challenging an £85 parking ticket given to him by private firm ParkingEye on the grounds that the fine wasn't comparative to the loss incurred by the firm.
While the case was about how much private parking firms can charge, if the ticket is unfair in the first place, you should challenge it so you don't have to pay a penny, whether it's £1 or £100. For full info on how to challenge an unfair private parking ticket, see our step-by-step Fight Unfair Private Parking guide.
While the court has ruled against Beavis, he says that "the fight isn't over" and that he will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court. "I am absolutely furious and will take this further" he said. He adds: "My message to all other motorists is that the fight still goes on."
If the decision had gone in his favour, it could potentially have opened the floodgates for others to reclaim the difference between the 'excessive' fines they paid and the true loss to the firm.
What does this mean for others?
Beavis' solicitors say the Court of Appeal's judgment does set a legally binding precedent for lower courts in England and Wales to follow. So as the judges deemed Beavis' £85 fine to be reasonable, other courts taking judgments on similar cases may use the same reasoning.
However Beavis' solicitors add that what constitutes an 'unreasonable' fine wasn't determined, so the law on excessive private parking fines isn't wholly clear.
If your case was put on hold pending the judgment on Beavis' case, it will be kept on hold while the courts await the likely appeal to the Supreme Court says Beavis' solicitors. Beavis has 42 days from the date of the judgment to file a notice of appeal.
MoneySavingExpert.com has long told people who get unfair private parking tickets not to pay them automatically. The so-called fines handed out are merely invoices, often unenforceable, and it's a Wild West out there – many private parking firms are cowboys.
'Today's case should not put off victims of unfair parking charges'
Guy Anker, MoneySavingExpert.com managing editor, says: "A parking firm may have won this case, but it should not put off victims of unfair parking charges disputing their ticket.
"We constantly hear from motorists slapped with ridiculous charges where signage wasn't clear, where they had indeed paid for parking or where the warden just made a mistake.
"This judgment may stop people from reclaiming fines where they do overstay but the amount levied is disproportionate to the 'offence'. But if the ticket is unfair in the first place, whether on private or public land, they should challenge it so they shouldn't have to pay a penny.
"About half who take their appeal to an independent arbitrator win, so there's a good chance of success."
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, adds: "It is deeply frustrating that the case has gone against Mr Beavis, but we believe the days of sky-high charges and business models that incentivise firms to issue tickets like confetti no matter how minor the misdemeanour are numbered."
'The amount payable is not extravagant or unconscionable'
In the judgment, Lord Justice Moore Bick concluded: "Viewed in purely financial terms, ParkingEye suffers no direct financial loss if an individual motorist overstays the period of free parking.
"However, it may suffer a loss indirectly, because its contract requires it to manage the car park in a way that enables it to provide free parking available for a limited period for the benefit of its tenants and their customers.
"Although the principal object of the charge was to deter overstaying, it was neither improper in its purpose nor manifestly excessive in amount, having regard to the level of charges imposed by local authorities and others for overstaying in public car parks.
"It was in his [the county court judge's] view commercially justifiable, both from the point of view of the Pension Fund [the car park is owned by British Airways Pension Fund] and ParkingEye and from the point of view of motorists at large.
"In the end I am satisfied that in this case the amount payable by the appellant is not extravagant or unconscionable and that the court should therefore not decline to enforce the contract. I would therefore dismiss the appeal."
What happened that led to today's judgment?
Here's a timeline of events that led to today's landmark test case ruling:
- In April 2013, Beavis left his car in a retail outlet car park in Chelmsford, Essex, that offered two hours of free parking.
- But he overstayed by 56 minutes and was sent a parking ticket by ParkingEye Limited, which managed the site, ordering him to pay £85, reduced to £50 if he paid within 14 days.
- The 48-year-old father of two went online and read other people's experience of parking fines via the MoneySavingExpert.com forum and decided to ignore the letters and the charge.
- He then received a letter from a debt collection agency, as well as a court summons, which he couldn't ignore.
- Representing himself, Beavis appeared at Chelmsford County Court, but as only an hour had been assigned to hear the case, the district judge sent it to be heard at Cambridge County Court.
- The judge concluded in May 2014 that the purpose of the fine was to deter motorists from breaching the parking restrictions and that therefore the charge could be enforced as it was "commercially justified".
- Beavis was ordered to pay £130 to ParkingEye but immediately appealed the decision as he said he believed it could have a damning effect on all motorists parking in private car parks where the 'fines' imposed are several times more than the genuine loss incurred by the land owner.
Case heard in the Court of Appeal
So in February this year, Beavis mounted his challenge, arguing that an £85 charge slapped down on him by ParkingEye for overstaying at one of its car parks wasn't comparative to the loss it incurred as a result.
Law firm Harcus Sinclair, acting on Beavis's behalf, told judges that the only possible losses arising from him overstaying would be very small administrative costs, such as paying the DVLA to receive his contact details – much less than the £85 parking charge.
Additionally, the retail outlet car park where Beavis left his car back in April 2013 offered two hours of free parking. So his QC Sa'ad Hossain argued that the £85 charge was far greater than the lost profit to ParkingEye, as it wouldn't have received any payment from other motorists parking within the free parking period.
ParkingEye argued that the fine was commercially justifiable as a means of deterring motorists from overstaying in a city centre car park, and that money collected funds the management of the free car park.