A motorist who mounted legal proceedings against a private parking firm after he was slapped with an £85 ticket for overstaying at one of its car parks has today lost his case at the highest court in the UK. But while the ruling makes it harder to challenge tickets on the grounds of 'excessive' cost, don't despair – it's still possible to fight unfair tickets.
It's been two-and-a-half years since Barry Beavis first received an £85 ticket from ParkingEye Ltd after he overstayed by 56 minutes at one of its 'two-hours for free' car parks in Chelmsford.
Since then, the Essex father-of-two has taken his case to the County Court and the Court of Appeal to argue the charge wasn't proportionate to the loss incurred by the firm, especially as the car park offered limited free parking.
After losing both times, the chip shop owner in July took his case to the Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK – which today decided against him, ruling the £85 charge was not "excessive" or "unfair".
However while the ruling means motorists may struggle to appeal against private parking tickets on the grounds their high cost is unfair, it's still possible to challenge unfair tickets on different grounds. For full info see our step-by-step Fight Unfair Private Parking Tickets guide, and see our Fight Unfair Council Parking Tickets guide if you've been hit with a ticket from a local council.
What does the Supreme Court ruling mean for other motorists?
The Supreme Court dismissed Beavis's appeal by a majority of six to one – and there were two key findings:
The judges ruled the £85 charge was not 'unfair'. If a motorist is fined more than the landowner could reasonably have lost as a result of an overstay, that doesn't necessarily mean the fine is unfair. This might be, for example, if a motorist was charged £100 for a spot which could have earned the landowner £10 in the same period – the judges said such fines have a "useful role to play" and they said the charge was a legitimate deterrent to ensure motorists don't overstay their allotted time.
The £85 charge was not a penalty: The justices ruled that the £85 charge was not a penalty as the amount was not 'excessive'. While they did state fines shouldn't be 'excessive', what counts as 'excessive' wasn't defined. The fact £85 was not deemed excessive though means motorists may struggle to fight tickets on the grounds the amount charged is unfair.
Both of these findings come as a blow to motorists, and mean they may find it much harder to challenge parking notices on the grounds that the charge levied is disproportionate. But remember:
If you believe you've been unfairly ticketed you CAN still fight it on other grounds – see Fight Unfair Private Parking Tickets for how.
The Supreme Court's decision is final. Beavis can't appeal to the highest court in Europe – the European Court of Human Rights – as he did not cite a breach of human rights when the case first came to the Court of Appeal.
John De Waal QC, who represented Beavis at the Supreme Court, says: "This means motorists who are defending claims by parking companies in the County Court or have appeals to POPLA [Parking On Private Land Appeals], which were stayed pending the result of this case, will not be able to raise the penalty and unfair terms points in defence of the claims.
"If the law in this area is to change it must now be by Parliament, probably by making an amendment to add a section to Schedule 4 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which would restrict charges for overstaying to a much smaller sum."
'Opens the door for parking companies to increase their penalty demands'
As the Supreme Court didn't outline what an 'excessive' charge is, the RAC Foundation, a charity which looks at issues relating to roads and motorists, says today's judgment could result in private parking firms upping the charges levied.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, says: "This ruling has given a licence for ticketers to take over from where the clampers left off.
"The judges have said that penalty charges should not be excessive but without giving any clear indication of what excessive might be. This opens the door for parking companies to increase their penalty demands and leaves the onus on motorists to fight sky-high charges on a case-by-case basis.
"The last hope for motorists is that Parliament will now do what it should have done back in 2012 when it outlawed clamping on private land and set reasonable limits for these charges.
"Parking should be a small, inconsequential part of our lives. Today's judgment means it will continue to stir up totally disproportionate anxiety and anger."
How did this case come about?
Here's a timeline of events that led to Beavis's decision to take his case to the Supreme Court:
- In April 2013 Beavis left his car in a retail outlet car park in Chelmsford, Essex, that offered two hours' free parking.
- Beavis 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.
- Beavis read other people's experience of private parking tickets on MoneySavingExpert.com's 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 only an hour had been assigned to hear the case, so the district judge sent it to be heard at Cambridge County Court.
- The judge at Cambridge County Court concluded in May 2014 that the purpose of the £85 charge was to deter motorists from breaching the parking restrictions and therefore was enforceable as it was "commercially justified".
- Beavis was ordered to pay ParkingEye £130 – made up of an £80 charge and £50 in costs, but he immediately appealed the decision, saying he believed it could have a damning effect on all motorists using private car parks where the 'fines' imposed are several times more than the loss incurred by the land owner.
- In February 2015, Beavis took the case to the Court of Appeal, where his QC at the time, Sa'ad Hossain, argued that overstaying at one of ParkingEye's car parks wasn't comparative to the loss it incurred as a result, especially as the car park offered two hours' free parking.
- ParkingEye argued the charge 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.
- The judgment was handed down to Beavis in April this year and found in favour of ParkingEye. However, he was given leave to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court and filed his papers in June.
- Beavis's case was heard at the Supreme Court on 21 and 22 July this year, where his QC John de Waal argued the charges were "extravagant and unconscionable". ParkingEye used the same counter argument as it had previously.
- On 4 November 2015, the Supreme Court ruled against Beavis. This is now the end of the road for the case.