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Fight Unfair Private Parking Tickets

Tickets are often invalid. Don't automatically pay

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Megan F | Edited by Steve N

Updated January 2018

If you get aparking cowboysn 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.

The good news is the Government's announced it'll soon bring in a new code of practice for private parking firms, though some will be able to swerve it. In the meantime, this guide talks you through the three routes to fight unfair private parking tickets at supermarkets, hospitals and elsewhere.

Let us know what you think. Please leave your feedback and suggest any changes or ask questions in the Parking Ticket Appeals discussion.

While every effort's been made to ensure this article's accuracy, it doesn't constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act on it, you acknowledge that you do so at your own risk. We can't assume responsibility and don't accept liability for any damage or loss which may arise as a result of your reliance upon it.

Private parking need-to-knows

Spot the difference: one of these tickets is official, the other isn't

Official council parking fines are called 'Penalty Charge Notices', yet private parking tickets from supermarkets, hospitals and others do better impressions of these than Alistair McGowan.

Look at the 'Parking Charge Notice' in the pic on the right to see how similar they can be. Yet that one's not a fine, it's just an invoice.

Generally if you get an official parking fine, known as a Penalty Charge Notice, Excess Charge Notice or Fixed Penalty Notice, from a council or the police, it'll say it's from them. If so, you need to see our Parking Ticket Appeals guide.

If you've got a ticket from a private company, read on...

Remember, this is about fighting UNFAIR tickets

Of course, landowners have a right to charge for and police parking, eg, if you've blocked a hospital entrance. If you've broken the rules, and you think the ticket isn't exorbitant or disproportionate, pay up.

Fight Private Parking Tickets

Yet mistakes happen, whether it's an unclear sign, technology faults, overzealous attendants or just an honest error. The aim of this guide is to prevent you being out of pocket when most reasonable people would think a ticket is unfair.

If you DO think the ticket you've got is unfair, read on to decide whether to fight.

Never automatically pay a parking ticket from a private firm

If you get a ticket from a private parking firm which you believe is unfair, DON'T just pay it!

Trying to reclaim cash already paid isn't easy, so it's far easier to dispute it before paying it. Beating an unfair ticket isn't an exact science though. 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.

Just so you know who we're talking about, here's a list of some of the big private parking firms: Britannia Parking Group, Euro Car Parks, Indigo Park Solutions, NCP and ParkingEye. (We don't have any info on whether these firms' tickets are fair or unfair – we're just listing them here so you know who some of the big firms are.)

Don't ever think of private parking tickets as 'fines'

They're not. Private parking 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 private companies issuing tickets that's the problem, but the unstructured system that puts unnecessary powers in potentially unscrupulous hands.

What's the law on this?

It's worth reporting unfair tickets to the landowner

If the parking firm which has issued your ticket has behaved particularly unfairly, it may be worth reporting it to the landowner – eg, a retailer or hospital – which employs it too.

It may be horrified at its antics and willing to intervene on your behalf to cancel the ticket – particularly if it's a big company with a reputation to protect. We've heard of motorists successfully battling this before, such as Neil Alcock, who was given a ticket for £95 for taking too long spending £400 in Homebase. Read the £95 ticket for taking too long to spend £400 MSE News story for more information.

Our forumites, who have plenty of experience fighting unfair tickets, have compiled a list of when and where this tactic has worked for them.

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

It might be the driver wot dunnit – but that doesn't mean it's the driver who'll have to pay. 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 was and the owner refuses, or is unable, to name the driver.

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

Can they get my address?

What are the rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Gather evidence if you plan to appeal

Get as much evidence as you can

If you're still at the scene, gather as much evidence as possible. If you're reading this after, it's still worth grabbing what you can, as this evidence can be the key to winning.

Your evidence should be 'contemporaneous' (ie, made at the time) if possible, to truly reflect the situation when you got your ticket, so act ASAP.

Martin found just how crucial evidence can be when he got a ticket at 6.35pm, yet managed to take a photo of a sign showing he could park after 6.30pm – see his Parking fines reclaim blog. (Although Martin's ticket was from a council, the principle of gathering evidence is the same for private tickets.)

Here's what to collect:

  • Photographs. Snap any unclear signs, bay markings or lines, and areas where you believe they should be. Also take pics of where your car was, the meter and your ticket, plus anything else that might be relevant.

  • Correspondence. Keep everything you've been sent from the company, and copies of any information you have sent off.

  • Proof of mitigating circumstances. Keep anything relevant, such as receipts from a recovery company if you were broken down.

  • Witness statements. If anyone will corroborate your story, get their details and ask them to sign a statement – eg, if it was impossible to see the signs or you were loading or unloading goods from your car and you stayed within the rules.

Know your rights if you're clamped or towed


Clamping and towing on private land is banned in England and Wales under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, and it's been banned in Scotland since 1992. But there are some cases where you can be legally clamped or towed by a private company.

In England, Wales and Scotland, firms are sometimes subcontracted by the police, local authorities or Government agencies such as the DVLA. And where local bylaws are in place (eg, at some railway station and airport car parks), they may have the right to clamp or tow you. It's also worth noting that private companies can clamp you even on private land in Northern Ireland.

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

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

What to do if your car's been clamped by a private company

What to do if your car has been towed by a private company on behalf of a council etc.

Been clamped or towed illegally? Call the police

How to fight private parking tickets

The are three very different routes to fight unfair tickets. Which of the first two you use depends on whether the company that issued the ticket is part of a trade body. The other route, fighting on a technicality, is open to anyone.

Check if the firm's a member of a trade body

Hopefully the ticket will say if the company is a member of a trade body, but if not you need to check with the British Parking Association (BPA) or the International Parking Community (IPC). Make sure you do this first, and if you find it is, jump to:

How to appeal if the parking firm IS part of a trade body.

If it ISN'T a trade body member it's a different technique

If the company has chosen not to be a member of a trade body, there's a totally different step-by-step to fight unfair tickets. If you're sure it isn't a member, jump to:

How to dispute if the parking firm IS NOT part of a trade body.

It's also worth checking if there's a mistake on your ticket

There's also another route you can try, whether or not the parking firm belongs to a trade body. To see if you can appeal on a technicality, jump to:

How to fight an unfair ticket using the technical route.

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

Assuming you followed the above and have discovered that your ticket is from a member of the British Parking Association (BPA) or Independent Parking Committee (IPC), you now have a choice of three approaches.

We don't favour all of them, but because many people use them we've outlined the pros and cons of each. We're going to run through them in order of 'most aggressive' first.

1. The militant approach – we DON'T suggest this

high risk

There are some militant private parking campaigners out there who argue you simply shouldn't pay the ticket or have any contact with the company that issued it.

To be clear, we don't suggest you take this approach, particularly because if you've been ticketed by a company which is a member of an accredited trade body, it can apply to the DVLA for your details. But we're including this approach here anyway because you may hear some advocate it.

If you're dead set on the militant approach, here's what to do if the firm continues to chase you

2. The no-nonsense approach – tell 'em you won't pay

tough but possible

With this approach you're not going to follow the parking company's appeals route. Instead, you're simply going to treat the ticket like any other invoice, and write back to tell the company politely but firmly you're not paying and why you think it's unfair.

While this is a perfectly legitimate approach to take, it's best for those who are confident and are in some ways willing to take on the system. In the extreme, you might have to be prepared to go to court, as if you refuse to accept the parking firm's complaints system, it's only recourse is to take you on legally.

In many cases it won't do that – the fact you've taken this approach may mean the case simply goes away. But there are no guarantees, so you need to be prepared.

How to take the no-nonsense approach, including free template letter

3. The appeals approach – do it 'by the book'

route most should take

A few years ago, having been fed up of us and others telling people how to fight tickets using the techniques above, finally parking firms came together to respond. There are now two trade bodies which have brought in independent appeals processes.

For most people this is the straightforward, 'by the book' approach. So if you're not sure you want to fight tooth and nail but do want to challenge an unfair ticket, this is the easiest and safest route to take, and the only one that guarantees you won't end up in court (unless you refuse to pay having been through it).

It's worth understanding though that by using this appeals process it does mean you're accepting the legitimacy of the ticket and the appeals system.

Step 1: Complete the parking operator's appeals first

Before you can 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.

FREE template statement to cut and paste: Challenge a private parking firm (Problems opening it? See template letter help)

Step 2: Appeal through the official trade body process

There are two trade bodies and each has its own appeals process:

  • Popla – for BPA members. You can appeal online or via post to Popla, PO Box 1270, Warrington, WA4 9RL.
  • The Independent Appeals Service – for IPC members. You can appeal online, but if you want to appeal by post, you must use a different set of forms.

You're likely to boost your chances of success if you also include all the evidence you gathered earlier to support your case and clearly explain why you're appealing (you can use the letter below to help). If you win, the decision is binding on the parking company and so they should stop chasing you.

FREE template statement to cut and paste: Appeal to Popla and the IAS (Problems opening it? See template letter help)

Popla decided on more than 32,621 cases between 1 September 2015 and 30 September 2016. In 34% of these, it found in favour of the motorist. There are no equivalent appeals or success figures yet for the IPC.

What are my options if my appeal's rejected?

If you lose your appeal, you need to decide whether to pay, take the company on or ignore the decision and do nothing. Both the BPA and IPC state you should pay the full parking charge within 14 days.

If you disagree with the decision, the operator would still need to go to court to enforce the ticket – and there's no guarantee this will happen.

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 the company could also reclaim the court fees (which initially can be between £25 and £410 plus more if there's a hearing) but other costs aren't awarded.

It's worth noting that the court may take your previous appeal rejection into account, so a win may be harder.

How to dispute a ticket if the parking firm's NOT part of a trade body

You've got three options to choose from if the company that ticketed you isn't a member of a trade body.

1. The militant approach – we DON'T suggest this

high risk

Some militant private parking campaigners argue you simply shouldn't pay the ticket or have any contact with the company that issued it.

If the company that's ticketed you isn't a member of a trade body it can't apply to the DVLA to get your details. In theory this could make it harder for the company to track you down, though there are no guarantees it won't. (If you think a non-BPA or non-IPC registered firm has got hold of your details unlawfully, make sure you contact the DVLA.)

To be clear, we don't suggest you take this approach, but we're including it here because you may hear some advocate it.

What if the firm keeps chasing me?

2. The no-nonsense approach – tell 'em you won't pay

route most should take

This is our suggested approach for most. Here you don't follow the route the parking company sets out; instead, you're simply going to treat the ticket like any other invoice, and write back to tell the firm politely but firmly you're not paying and why you think it's unfair.

If you're opting for this route, simply write to the company. Your letter should explain why you dispute the unfair charge, but also avoid giving them any details that could be used against you or the driver. Use the template letter below to help.

FREE template letter: Dispute a private parking ticket (Problems opening it? See template letter help)

There is a whole range of reasons you may want to dispute a parking ticket, but four of the main ones are below:

  • You didn't break any rules. If you didn't do what the ticket claims, it's been wrongly issued.

  • There was no signage, or insufficient signage. The basis for the ticket is that you agreed to what the notice stated. For example, if there was a massive conspicuous notice saying: 'Parking: £50 an hour, you'll be charged £100 if you don't pay' and you saw it and parked, it's deemed you accepted what it said. Yet if you didn't see the sign, you couldn't have accepted it, so gather evidence.

  • You weren't on private land. If you weren't on private land (say, you were on a public road or in a council car park) then refuse to pay. Take pictures of your car and of the surrounding area so it's clear you were parked outside of the landowner's jurisdiction.

  • Are there mitigating circumstances? If you accept you parked incorrectly, but there are mitigating circumstances why you shouldn't pay the charge, explain them. These may include attending to an emergency while parked, or your car breaking down. See a list of typical mitigating circumstances.

Can I argue the charge is too much?

This used to be one of the main grounds on which you could dispute a ticket, but making the argument's become much more difficult since last November's Supreme Court judgment on 'excessive' charges.

Previously, some lawyers argued that a parking charge must reflect the loss to the landowner by you parking there, so could a company really justify a penalty of up to £100?

But Supreme Court judges ruled in the Barry Beavis case that £85 was not excessive for a 56-minute overstay, and that fines have a "useful" role to play as a deterrent. They didn't however specify what would constitute an excessive charge. See the Landmark private parking court case MSE News story for more info.

Can I be taken to court?

While this is a perfectly legitimate approach to take, in the extreme you might have to be prepared to go to court, as if you refuse to pay, the company's only recourse is to take you to court.

In many cases they will not do that. Therefore simply the fact that you've chosen to do this means it will go away, but there are no guarantees and there's a possibility you will end up in court.

However, remember this company has chosen not to join a trade body which has an independent appeals process, and so has left you with fewer options.

3. The firm's own appeals route – we DON'T suggest this

high risk

There's a chance the parking company has its own appeals system, the details of which may be on the back of the ticket. Alternatively, you may wish to simply write to them and state your case.

But, and this is a big but, remember this company has chosen not to join a trade body (which have independent appeals systems) and so it begs the question of how fair it's going to be.

If you go down this route, it means you're acknowledging the validity of its ticket. So instead we'd suggest you use the no-nonsense approach above.

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

Here you can dispute a ticket if you think a company has not followed the correct rules.

With private parking tickets in England and Wales 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 registered 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 didn't get 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. Here's what to do:

Step 1. Check if the Notice to Keeper follows the rules

Here's the list of what should be included. It must:

  • Specify the vehicle, where it was parked and when.
  • Tell the keeper that the driver has a parking charge and that it has not been paid in full.
  • If a parking ticket was given at the time, the Notice to Keeper must repeat that info – if it wasn't, it should say what the driver is being charged and that the driver has been asked to pay.
  • Say how much remains unpaid.
  • Say that the firm doesn't know the details of the driver, and invite the owner to pay or tell it the driver's details.
  • Warn that if payment hasn't been made within 28 days (from the day after a correct Notice to Keeper was given) it will have the right to recover the missing amount from the owner.
  • Include details of any discount for prompt payment and processes for solving disputes
  • Say who is demanding payment and how they should be paid.
  • State the date on which the Notice to Keeper was sent or given.

(If a ticket wasn't initially given on your windscreen, the same rules apply, but the Notice to Keeper should be sent within 15 days of the alleged parking offence.)

error letter

Step 2. 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 tell it that as it did not comply with the Notice to Keeper rules set out in the Protection of Freedoms Act, you won't be paying the ticket.

Step 3. If it dismisses your appeal, go to the trade body (if you can)

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 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. However, unfortunately this only works if the firm's part of a trade body.

Step 4. What if the trade body disagrees or there isn't a trade body?

The question is how far you want to push it. It's possible that the firm will continue to chase for payments. If you know you're in the right, you can stand your ground, though here you need to decide whether you want the hassle and stress of continuing. If the company wants to take it all the way, its only option is to take it to court – but it may not follow through.

If it DOES 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 the company could also reclaim the court fees (which initially can be between £25 and £410 plus more if there's a hearing) but costs aren't awarded.

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