Motorists are being urged to think twice about paying up if they get a parking ticket or fine from a private company.
Leading consumer website MoneySavingExpert.com has launched a campaign and is urging people to find out their rights, before paying a hefty charge.
Hundreds of people have fallen foul of unexpected charges in Leeds.
And with a scramble for cheap parking places, particularly in city centre Leeds, the law can be confusing.
Private car parking firms often operate in supermarkets, retail parks, hospitals and housing estates and private land in city and town centres.
Some firms claim legitimacy and their tickets even mimic the Penalty Charge Notice titles of official council tickets.
But these tickets are not official fines, they are just invoices, and may not be enforceable.
MoneySavingExpert.com is warning people not to get caught out.
Headed by Martin Lewis, the website says that these companies have no official right to fine you – they’re invoices, not fines.
If you get a fair ticket because you wrongly used a parking space, then pay up. But as is common in the Wild West that is parking law, if the ticket’s unfair, such as when the signs are hidden, then don’t pay.
Over the last 14 months, a group of nine private car parking firms - CP Plus Limited, Debt Recovery Plus Limited, Eurocarparks, Excel Parking Services Limited, Parking Control, ParkingEye Limited, PCN Parking Services, Ranger Services Limited UK and Roxburghe – have threatened MoneySavingExpert.com with legal action unless it changed the content of its guide to challenging unfair private parking tickets.
But the consumer expert is continuing to campaign and inform all drivers of their consumer rights, so people aren’t left out of pocket because they paid an unfair ticket.
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “Threats to shut us up from telling people their legitimate rights are counterproductive. If they’re so worried that we’re helping people, we must be onto something here. So if their aim was to bully us into shutting us up – hoping we’d be scared off by suited lawyers – boy, they’ve made a big mistake.
“I, for one, will be shouting from the rooftops – if it’s an unfair ticket, write back explaining why you won’t pay.
“Many people get unfair tickets because they failed to see the signs as it was hidden by overgrown trees, in a very tiny font, the ground markings were unclear or they were blue badge holders that overstayed their allocated time by a few minutes. Most reasonable people would think the ticket was unfair.”
He said that the public need to know their rights: “We won’t be shut up. Supermarkets and retail chains that use these firms with appalling records also need to take responsibility and stop hiring them.
“Anyone slapped with an unfair ticket should take a stand. They have no right to fine you – it’s just an invoice, and like any invoice which you believe you don’t owe, just politely write back and inform them why and that you won’t be paying. “
Other tips include immediately gathering evidence if you believe it’s unfair. If you’ve a camera phone, take pics of unclear signs/markings (or their absence) and/or the area around your car. If there are witnesses, ask for a statement or their contact details to support you.
Write to the company, explaining why and that you won’t pay. They may huff and puff, but they can’t ‘hit your credit record’ or ‘send bailiffs round’, they can only enforce it by taking the time and expense of court action.
Check to see if the private parking firm is a member of the British Parking Association. If the private parking firm continues to insist you pay out, use the official appeals process.
In 2013, 1,537 tickets were appealed against via Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA). Over half (52%) were allowed.
But anyone who has illegally parked or blocked the car park’s exit, would be advised to pay the fine.