Before you make a decision to ignore or refuse to pay a parking fine, it is best to understand your legal position.
In this article, we explain the law on parking tickets and how past court cases have clarified the rights of motorists and the organisation that issued the fine.
What kind of parking fine did you receive?
If you received the parking ticket from a local council or the police, then you should not ignore the ticket, or seek to challenge it in court unless you have taken independent legal advice.
However, if you received your ticket from a parking private operator, you may have more options. The private company would usually have a contractual claim against you. In legal terms, they offered you the chance to park, and you took it, but (according to their argument) you failed to adhere to those terms and conditions and must pay the fine as a penalty. The company would need to enforce their rights by taking you to the small claims court to make you pay the ticket.
Challenging a private parking ticket
If you wish to take your case with a private parking company to court, you will need to be clear on your grounds for challenge.
Can the parking company prove that it has a contract with you?
In order for the company to be able to make a successful claim against you it must be able to prove that there was a contract, i.e. it offered the service of parking to you, and you accepted that offer by parking in the space. In order to show this, the company must, amongst other things, have adequate, legible, well-lit signage stating the name of the company and the details of the parking arrangement.
A case in 2008, Excel Parking Services Limited v Hetherington-Jakeman, covered this. Ms Hetherington-Jakeman overstayed in a car park and received charges in the post from the company, Excel Parking. However, Excel lost the case because the court found that was no information on the signs to tell a motorist that a charge or fine would be payable if a specified time was exceeded.
More recently, in 2017, Nicholas Bowen QC challenged Parkingeye over inadequate signage at night in a motorway service station car park. Mr Bowen won the case by default as Parkingeye did not in the event manage to arrange to defend itself in court.
Does the parking company know the identity of the river of the vehicle?
The parking company will have obtained details of the registered keeper of the vehicle from the DVLA, but if the registered keeper does not disclose the identity of the driver then the parking company is entitled to make a claim against the registered keeper.
If you decide to fight your case on the basis of an unidentified driver, then you should be ready for your evidence to be examined and your character as a reliable witness questioned.
In Combined Parking Solutions (CPS) v Stephen Thomas (2008), Mr Thomas was the registered keeper of the car, but refused to name the driver. The judge found that on the balance of probabilities, Mr Thomas had been driving the car, as, amongst other things, he had admitted parking there before. Mr Thomas’s evidence was not seen as credible and this case was seen as showing that private parking fines are enforceable, and will be enforced, by the courts.
Does the contract impose an unenforceable penalty?
Traditionally, in law, a penalty clause in a contract will not be enforced by the courts. A penalty clause is a clause which seeks to punish a party if they breach the terms of the contract. If the punishment, or ‘penalty’, is ‘unconscionable’ or ‘extravagant’, or, in more modern language, disproportionate or extreme, then the court will not enforce it. Instead, if the contract is breached then the claimant should only be entitled to a sum of money that will put them back in the same position as if a breach had not occurred.
This was at the heart of the infamous case of Parkingeye Limited v Barry Beavis, which reached the UK Supreme Court in 2015. In 2013 Mr Beavis parked in a car park managed by Parkingeye. Signs in the car park stated that parking was free for two hours, but then an £85 charge would be issued. Mr Beavis overstayed by almost an hour and Parking eye issued the charge. Mr Beavis objected, arguing that the charge was unenforceable as it was a penalty charge.
Mr Beavis lost his case. The Court found that the £85 charge was not a penalty charge. Rather, Parkingeye and the owners of the car park had a legitimate interest in charging motorists who overstayed, and this legitimate interest “extended beyond the recovery of any loss”. The interest of the landowner was in managing the car park efficiently and deterring long-term parking and overstayers. The interest of Parkingeye was in income from the charge to enable them to operate the car park and make a profit. The Court further held that the sum of £85 was not ‘extravagant’ or ‘unconscionable’ when compared with similar charges in the rest of the UK.
Is the contract fair?
This point was also examined in the Beavis case.
Consumers in the UK are to a certain extent protected by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. The Regulations cover contractual terms that have been drafted in advance and the consumer has not had a chance to influence the terms. Regulation 5 states that a term in a contract shall be regarded as unfair if, contrary to the requirements of good faith, it “causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer.”
The Regulations state that if a term of a consumer contract is unfair then it cannot be enforced. An example of a potentially unfair provision would be one where the consumer has to pay a disproportionately high sum in compensation.
However, the Supreme Court in Beavis found that Regulation 5 was not engaged because there was the requirement of good faith was not breached. This was because Mr Beavis, and motorists generally, were under no pressure to accept Parkingeye’s terms. In addition, many motorists did accept the terms and use the car park. The Court considered that a hypothetical ‘reasonable’ motorist would agree to objectively reasonable terms, and that the opportunity to park for free, and pay £85 for overstaying, were objectively reasonable terms.
Small claims court
If you choose not to pay the fine, you should be willing to go through the claims process, for example, appearing in court.
The phrase ‘ small claims court’ actually refers to the small claims track of the county court and it deals with claims for sums of money of less than £10,000. If you want to make a claim in the small claims court you have to pay a fee when you register your claim. The amount you pay depends on the amount you are claiming, but for a parking ticket of £100, a parking company making a claim against you would have to pay a fee of £25 if filing the claim online and £35 if filing the claim on paper.
If the claim proceeds to a hearing, the company would have to pay a hearing fee of another £25. It is possible that you would be liable to pay these fees to the company, along with the fine, if you lost the case. However, legal costs cannot be awarded in the small claims court, so the parking company would not be able to claim money from you for the cost of hiring its lawyer.
The parking company is also allowed to claim interest of 8% on the debt it is claiming from you.
You will be the ‘defendant’ in any case against you. You will be notified of the claim against you and the deadline for responding. You should not ignore this communication from the court (or indeed any correspondence from the court) as you risk having a default judgment made against you, i.e. automatically losing the case.
You can agree to pay at this stage, or you can state that you disagree with the claim. If you disagree then you will both be given the opportunity to use the small claims mediation service. If that fails, then there will be a hearing. This would usually take place in person, but because of coronavirus, cases are currently also being conducted by telephone or video.
At the hearing you can represent yourself or instruct a solicitor or barrister to represent you. A decision about your case will be made on the day of the hearing and you will receive a copy of the decision in the post. If you, or the parking company, wishes to appeal against the decision then there is 21 days to do so, from the date of the decision.
If you win the case then there will be nothing for you to pay.
If you lose your case and still refuse to pay, then the parking company can apply to the court to enforce its debt against you. This may include asking the court to instruct bailiffs to collect the debt, or seeking an order to take the money from your earnings, or to take the money directly from your account.
Frequently asked questions
What happens if you don’t pay private parking ticket?
If you don’t pay your private parking ticket then the private parking operator that issued your ticket may seek to enforce it in the small claims court. If it is successful and wins its case against you in court then you must pay the fine, and may be liable for a small amount of its costs. If you still do not pay, then the parking operator could appoint debt collectors to recover the debt from you. However, this involves expenditure of both time and money on the part of the parking company and it is also possible that it would not pursue the claim as far as the court for these reasons.
Is it a legal requirement to pay a private parking fine?
This depends on the type of parking operator that issued the fine. Depending on the status of the parking operator, there are various legal arguments that you can make in order to object to the fine, or appeal against it. If you lose your appeals and still refuse to pay then the company may make a claim against you in the small claims court. If the court decides in the company’s favour then it is a legal requirement for you to pay the fine.
Can I be taken to court for a parking charge notice?
Yes, you can be taken to court over a parking charge notice. The parking operator would have to write to you giving you opportunities to pay, but if you continued to refuse to do so then it could make a claim in the small claims court. If it was successful then you would have to pay the fine. If you still refused then the parking operator could appoint a debt collection agency to enforce the debt.
How do I dispute a private parking ticket?
You can dispute a private parking ticket, but how you do so depends on the status of the parking company that issued the ticket. If the company is part of either the British Parking Association or the International Parking Community then there are dedicated appeals processes that you must follow. Where the company is not a member of either of those trade bodies, you can dispute its ability to issue the ticket in the first place and should not lodge an ‘appeal’ as this could be seen as acknowledging the validity of the ticket. Such a company is in any case less likely to go all the way to the court to enforce its ‘debt’.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.