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A new Law from 1st October 2012 changes liability for parking on private land from the driver of the vehicle to the vehicle’s registered keeper, unless the keeper clearly identifies who was driving the car at the time.

From figures compiled by the British Parking Association, over the last year, 1,800,000 Private Parking Charge tickets were issued. Of these, 31% went unpaid, leaving 1,242,000 paid.

Typically, these ‘breaches of parking contract’ include: dropping a disabled person off at the door of a shop, bringing a vehicle close to the door of a shop to load a heavy item, falling asleep in a car at a motorway service area where parking is restricted to 2 hours, returning to the same 2 hours free car park later the same day, displaying a misprinted parking ticket, parking ticket blowing off the car’s dashboard, car one wheel over a bay marking white line, failure to buy a ticket (when the machine is broken), parking outside the parking bay, parking in a disabled bay without displaying the blue card the right way up, leaving the car park to go to the bank to get money to shop in the shops served by the car park, breaching any of the conditions of the car park that may be many and varied and listed on a small notice board you failed to see,…it’s a long list.

Next year, members of the British Parking Association plan to issue 500,000 more Private Parking Charge tickets, bringing the total to 2,300,000. But, because keepers can be legally pursued for these charges, it is likely that the number of tickets paid will increase dramatically.

At an average of £50 a ticket, that will increase revenues for BPA members by around £25,000,000, and, correspondingly, leave the British Motoring public poorer by an extra £25,000,000. How was this allowed to happen?

Partly because consumer journalists in general slept through it and did not alert the public to this attack on their pockets and partly because MPs were either too stupid to realise the implications, or had vested interests in this new law being passed, or were misled.

As part of the due diligence before the law was passes, an Impact Assessment was carried out, in particular on the burden on the county court system in trying cases where keepers and drivers were pursued for private parking charges they had not paid.

The figures submitted by the BPA were that between 2% and 5% of tickets issued resulted in court action. This equates to between 36,000 and 90,000 of the 1,800,000 tickets issued.

But a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice shows that, in fact, members of the BPA registered only 845 small claims court actions, of which only 49 cases actually went to a contested hearing in the small claims court.

So the change in the law making vehicle keepers directly liable for private parking charges will result in the burden on the courts being reduced by a maximum of only 49 cases, not between 36,000 and 90,000 cases. There will no longer be any ‘get out’. Vehicle keepers sent private parking charge notices will be legally liable either to identify the driver responsible or to make the payment.

However, they (or the identified driver) will be allowed to appeal. Firstly to the parking company itself that issued the parking charge. Then secondly to an Independent Appeals Service administered by London Councils (who already operate the adjudication service for decriminalised street parking offences). Taking an appeal to this second stage removes any discount for early payment of the penalty. If keepers or identified drivers are not satisfied with the decision of the IAS, they can still contest the matter in the County Court.

Making a person (the keeper) liable for a civil breach of contract by another person (the driver) is fundamentally flawed as it is contrary to long established legal principles under contract law. So a case will need to be taken to Appeal and then on to the Supreme Court for a ruling. Hopefully an organisation claiming to represent the interests of motorists will finance this.

Meanwhile, vehicle owners and drivers of all ages and classes will be compelled to dig deeper to the tune of up to £115,000,000 a year for such minor transgressions as dropping a disabled person off at the door of a shop or parking with one wheel over the line marking a parking bay.

One vehicle owner or driver in every 15 will be pursued for between £45 and £130. Two comments from Nev Metson who knows more about this issue than anyone else:

I'd like to make two observations if I may.

1) The Achilles heel in this legislation for the private parking company is that once the registered keeper has named the driver then the registered keeper can no longer be held liable, irrespective of whether or not the private parking company gets its money or not from the driver. This is really important because I anticipate that some 'rogue' operators might try to simply pressure the registered keeper. If this happens I'm sure that Patrick Troy and the BPA boys will come down on them like a ton of bricks so please continue to complain to the BPA every time this happens.

2) We are still awaiting a formal public statement of response from Patrick Troy and/or the BPA about the huge disparity in the figures that were included in the Impact Assessment. 49 contested court cases simply cannot be 'spun' into meaning 'between 36,000 and 90,000 cases'. In the interests of openness and transparency I look forward to the frank and honest explanation from the BPA (as befits a Government sponsored ATA) as to exactly what went wrong. Clearly such a statement must include, as an absolute prerequisite. The disclosure of the data upon which the figures were based so that we can see for ourselves that the BPA are operating with 'clean hands'