Fight Unfair Private Parking Tickets

Tickets are often invalid. Don't automatically pay

If you get an unfair ticket in a private car park, don't automatically pay it. These supposed 'fines' handed out are merely invoices, often unenforceable, and so we've three routes to fight unfair tickets. 

If your ticket is from a council rather than a private firm, see the Parking Ticket Appeals guide.

In this guide

Private parking need-to-knows

  1. Spot the difference: only one of these is an official ticket

    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.

    If you get an official parking fine, known as a Penalty Charge Notice, Excess Charge Notice or Fixed Penalty Notice, see our Parking Ticket Appeals guide.

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

  2. 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.

    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.

  3. 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. 

    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, NCP and ParkingEye. (We don't have any information 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.)

  4. Don't 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 the ability of private companies to issue tickets in itself that's a problem though. It's the unstructured system which puts unnecessary power in potentially unscrupulous hands.

    • When you park in a privately-owned car park, eg, a supermarket's or hospital's, you're effectively entering into an unspoken contract between you and the landowner.

      On the landowner's part, they're effectively allowing you to park on their land. On your part, by parking there you're agreeing to meet the conditions they've stated (eg, paying £1 for an hour, or staying for under two hours).

      If you pay to park and leave without issue, great – contract fulfilled. But if you park in a reserved place, overstay, don't pay or leave your car outside an allocated parking area, the landowner can argue you've broken this contract, and issue you a parking ticket.

      Under contract law in every part of the UK, private firms are allowed to do this. However, this doesn't mean they can issue tickets willy-nilly. To enforce their case, they'd ultimately need to take you to court. Even then, don't worry – it's not a criminal problem, just a contract dispute.

  5. 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 successes before, such as Londoner Neil Alcock, who back in 2009 was given a ticket for £95 for taking too long spending £400 in a branch of Homebase. 

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

  6. 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.

    • Only accredited private parking operators can get the registered owner's details from the DVLA. This means the operators have to be a member of the British Parking Association (BPA) or the Independent Parking Committee (IPC) to get the owner's details from the DVLA.

      In practice, as non-registered firms will find it harder to get hold of your details, they may not be able to chase you at all. If you think a non-registered firm has got hold of your details unlawfully, tell the DVLA.

      It's worth noting that the Government's backed a new code of practice for private parking firms (as of Nov 2018 it's waiting to enter then House of Lords), and that companies will need to be signed up to it in order to get your details from the DVLA. However as firms already need to be registered with the BPA or IPC to get your details, it remains to be seen what difference this will make in practice.

    • In Scotland there's technically no 'keeper liability' (which means the registered owner of the car is responsible if they refuse or are unable to say who the driver was at the time). But British Parking Association and Independent Parking Committee members can get owner details from the DVLA, and Transport Scotland's warned that parking firms could still try to make the owner pay via small claims courts.

      In Northern Ireland, the driver remains liable. If you get a ticket in these countries but weren't the driver, you can simply state that, as the owner, you're not liable for any costs, you aren't prepared to state who was driving and you're under no obligation to do so. It's best to do this in writing so you have a record. We've a template letter to help if needed.

  7. Gather as much evidence as possible

    If you're still at the scene, gather as much evidence as possible to truly reflect the situation when you got your ticket, so act ASAP.

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

    Martin found just how crucial evidence can be when he got a ticket at 6.35pm, yet took 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 and stayed within the rules.
  8. 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.

    • There are three steps to reclaiming your cash if you think you've been unfairly clamped.

      Step 1: Pay to get your car released – but under protest

      If your car's been clamped you usually have to pay first and appeal later, but always state you're paying under protest and write it on any document that will be retained by the clamper. This means they can't say you accepted liability by simply paying up.

      If you can't afford the charge, the main option is to negotiate with the clamper, pound or landowner. Technically, there's no leeway and your car will eventually be crushed (and it may still try to make you liable for the charges), yet a kind-hearted official may help you. If not, contact Citizens Advice urgently for help.

      When you pay, make sure you get a receipt containing:

      • The location where the alleged parking incident occurred
      • The person's name and signature
      • Their Security Industry Authority licence number (if relevant)
      • The date

      Step 2: Ask for a refund if the charge was unfair

      If you've been clamped or towed away unfairly, don't just leave it. There are a number of different arguments you can use to show it was unfair. Check if any of the following apply to you:

      • The offence didn't happen. If you didn't commit the offence as stated, the ticket's been wrongly issued – for example, if you weren't blocking an entrance as claimed.
      • The signage wasn't clear. If the parking restrictions aren't clearly signed and visible from every parking spot, there's no contract between you and the car park owner. Signs need to be visible from all over the car park to be sufficient – ensure you have photos to use as evidence if needed.
      • There are mitigating circumstances. If you accept you parked in the wrong place but there are genuine mitigating circumstances to explain why, challenge the ticket. See a list of typical mitigating circumstances.
      • Clamping or towing is too harsh a punishment. If you feel that clamping or towing is too harsh a punishment but you're willing to pay a reduced fee, you can always try to bargain with the landowner, not the clamper, claiming you made an honest mistake. This won't be straightforward, but there's no harm in giving it a try.
      • The release fee isn't reasonable. The release fee here only has to be 'reasonable', yet this is ill-defined and there's no set legal limit, though judgements in previous cases suggest around £150 is the maximum.

      If one or more of the grounds above apply, you'll need to write explaining it to the address on either the release forms or the ticket itself. If a firm has its own formal 'appeals' process, stick to the time restrictions and get your letter to the landowner in good time. Here's a template to help:

      FREE template letter: Demand a refund (Problems opening it? See template letter help)

      Ensure you enclose all necessary evidence with any letters, emails or faxes.

      Step 3. The final step is to take it to court

      If the company turns you down, your only recourse is to go to court. Don't think of judges and wigs, for most people it's simply about filling in a claim form online which goes through the small claims system. You can't be asked to pay the other side's legal costs, provided the judge doesn't decide you behaved unreasonably, and that is exceptionally rare.

      At this point though, rethink the justice of your case and decide whether you're committed to going to court. It's a venture that'll take work and research. You'll also have to pay a fee depending on how much you're claiming, though this may be refunded in some circumstances, eg, if you're on benefits or have low income.

      For ease, use the Money Claim website in England and Wales (there's also the Courts and Tribunals Service for Northern Ireland and Scotland) which can be used for starting most county court money claims. Fill in the form and pay the fee. You can also submit a claim to your local county court.

      You'll need to submit a statement, called a 'particulars of claim', which basically means a letter setting out the grounds for your seeking a refund. Here's a template to help:

      FREE template letterSubmit a 'particulars of claim' letter (Problems opening it? See template letter help)

      What happens next?

      What happens next depends on the parking company's reaction. It typically takes five days (sometimes longer) for the claim to be 'served' – ie, for the claim form to be sent to the parking firm – and all deadline dates start from that point:
       

      • The parking company/landowner settles in full. For ease, the company may settle in full, possibly as a 'goodwill gesture'.

      • The parking company/landowner does nothing. If the company simply doesn't acknowledge the claim, you automatically win by default 14 days after the claim is served. At that point, you must request 'judgment by default'. This can be done online, and you should do it ASAP after the 14 days end.

      • The claim's acknowledged but there's no defence. If the claim's acknowledged but no defence is entered, this means you win, though this time after 28 days. At that point, immediately request a 'judgment by default'. This can be done online. (If the company makes a prompt application and shows it has a defence with a realistic chance of success though, the default judgment can be set aside.)

      • It says it will defend the claim. This is the point where people get scared. But even if the parking company does this, you'll now simply be sent a straightforward 'court allocation questionnaire', which you must fill in and return.

      • The next stage should be a small claim, and there will be a further fee to pay of £25 to £410 depending on the amount of your claim (though for parking tickets it's usually at the lower end). At this point you'll be allocated a hearing date. Again, it's worth remembering if you win, the fees are likely to be refunded.

      • When you go to court, it's possible the parking company won't show up and you'll win by default. Even so, prepare your arguments and ensure you have evidence prepared. If you have to attend the hearing, you'll need to explain your case.

      If you win and it doesn't pay, send in the bailiffs

      Sadly, even if you win in court or by default, it doesn't mean it'll pay up automatically. If the company doesn't pay, you've a right to send bailiffs in to claim the money. Again, it's easy to do via the Money Claim site.

    • If you've been clamped or towed by a private company acting on behalf of a public sector body, such as a council, police force or the DVLA, you need to head to over to our Parking Ticket Appeals guide as there are a different set of rules to challenge a tow.

    • If you've been clamped or towed away from anywhere in England, Wales and Scotland that isn't mentioned above, the first thing to do is call the police.

      Don't hand over any money. Don't get into a debate with the clampers. Don't be scared to call 101, the non-emergency police number, if you don't feel threatened – or 999 if you do. There are tough penalties for breaking the law, including a £5,000 fine.

How to fight private parking tickets

There 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 with the technical route.

While these are the three routes to fighting unfair private parking tickets at the moment, it's worth noting there are some major changes in the works.

The Government is setting up a new code of practice for parking firms, which would establish a single set of rules for those signed up to trade bodies. Under the plans, firms which aren't members of trade bodies and don't sign up to the code of practice would still be able to issue tickets but would be banned from accessing DVLA data on vehicle owners.

The changes are currently going through Parliament, and if passed would likely come into effect at some point in 2019 - see the New code of practice for parking firms MSE News story for more details. 

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 International Parking Community (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

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 the parking company continues to write to you and chase you despite you ignoring it, you have to weigh up whether to continue with the militant approach. If you're worried about doing this but still want to fight the ticket, swap to one of the two routes below.

    If you decide to continue to be militant, you need to make the parking firm realise you're going to be hard work. A parking company has NO POWER to force you to pay an invoice unless it chooses to take you to court, which is a hassle, and then it needs to win the case, which is by no means certain.

    However – remember this is still a possibility. We've heard reports that private parking firms are starting to go down this route more often.

    To put your mind at rest, as there's no credit involved, it can't hit your credit rating either (unless in the extreme circumstance you refuse to pay a court order).

    If it decides to 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 reclaim the court fees (initially between £25 and £410 plus more if there's a hearing) but other costs aren't awarded.

    Rather than judges and wigs, often claims are filed online which means most of the process is done by paperwork. It's more about form-filling than anything else – see the Small Claims Court guide for more.

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

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.

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

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

    What reasons can I give to dispute a ticket?

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

    • You didn't break any rules. If you didn't do what the ticket claims, then it's been wrongly issued, eg, if you DID pay correctly.

    • 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.

    • Only having a sign at a car park's entrance isn't suitable as it's arguable that when turning or manoeuvring, you need to be concentrating on your driving to stay safe, not reading parking signs. Signs need to be visible from all over the car park to be sufficient. If the signage isn't appropriate, refuse to pay on this basis. But make sure you have photos of the signs to use as evidence if relevant.

    • You weren't on private land. Staggeringly, this can happen. 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 the landowner's jurisdiction.

    • Are there mitigating circumstances? If you accept you parked incorrectly, but there are mitigating circumstances explaining why you shouldn't pay the charge, detail them. For example, these could 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 that argument's become much more difficult since the Supreme Court's 2015 judgment on 'excessive' charges.

    In the past, 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.

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

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.

  • If a company's continuing to write to you, you can carry on with the militant approach, or swap to the approach below.

    If you decide to continue to be militant, you need to make the firm realise you're going to be hard work.A parking company has NO POWER to force you to pay an invoice unless it chooses to take you to court, which is a hassle, and then it needs to win the case, which is by no means certain.

    However – remember this is still a possibility. We've heard reports that private parking firms are starting to go down this route more often.

    To put your mind at rest, as there's no credit involved, it can't hit your credit rating either (unless in the extreme circumstance you refuse to pay a court order).

    If it decides to 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.

    As we've said, for small claims, don't think of the pomp of crown court, so no judges and wigs. Often, claims are filed online which means most of the process is done by paperwork. It's more about form-filling than anything else. Yet if you do end up in court, you need to be confident and aware of the arguments beforehand. For more on how the court system works, see the Small Claims Court guide.

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

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' ( a formal parking charge notice) to the registered owner of the car. 

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. 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.)

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 the independent appeals process 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. 

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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