An investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches into the private car parking industry reveals:
- Since 2007 the number of parking tickets issued by private companies has grown fivefold to more than 2.5 million a year
- Hospital Trusts ignoring hospital parking guidance issued by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
- Two out of three motorists just pay the parking charge notes without challenging it
- A whistleblower claims UKPC – a leading private parking company – pressurised wardens into using dubious tactics to boost the ticket tally.
- Case study: pensioner’s issued with parking charge notice in excess of £1 per second
Changes to the law
Thanks to new camera technology and a change in the law, parking companies no longer have to put a ticket on the windscreen. They can now get the owner’s address from the licence plate and post the ticket later. So hundreds of companies have sprung up and business is booming.
Five years ago just half a million tickets were sent through the post to motorists for parking on private land.
Last year there were two and a half million. That’s more than £100m being demanded from motorists.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras came into their own because of the change in the law in 2012. Now private parking companies can post a ticket to a vehicle owner as soon as the camera has spotted that it has overstayed.
Parking expert Alex Shipp says: “Before then you couldn’t really take anybody to court without proving who the driver was, which is almost impossible. Now, you can take them to court if they’re the registered keeper and that has fuelled a massive increase in court hearings, legal claims and debt recovery letters. Parking companies have simply become more aggressive.”
Hospital Trusts ignoring hospital parking guidance
The biggest outrage provoked over parking charges has arisen in hospitals.
Many health trusts now use private companies to run their car parking operations.
The problems come when the trust allows the company to keep some or even all the money raised from the Parking Charge notices it issues.
Last August, the Government moved to defuse public anger over hospital parking when Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt issued new guidance to health trusts.
From now on, parking charge notices should only be imposed in hospitals if it is “reasonable”. But because Mr Hunt only issued “guidance” it did not change the law.
Channel 4 Dispatches sent out Freedom of Information inquiries to all 156 health trusts in England and Wales to find out what kind of contracts they had signed. Nearly all of them replied and the answers were not encouraging:
One third of trusts – 55 – are still giving all or some of the money from parking tickets to their contractors
Four trusts have ignored the guidance by negotiating new contracts after the guidelines were introduced.
The Department of Health told Dispatches it was “disappointed to hear that some Trusts are not following the…hospital parking guidelines… patients have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges… Contractors should receive income to cover the normal costs of providing parking services”, but charges “must be applied reasonably”.
It’s not just the way that parking companies pursue motorists through the courts that concerns campaigners. It’s the dubious tactics some of their employees use when they slap tickets on the windscreen.
The British Car Parking Association is the body that acts for most parking enforcement companies. It has a code of practice which insists that its members treat drivers in a “professional, reasonable and diligent way”.
However, Channel 4 Dispatches has discovered that some practices leave a lot to be desired.
The Citizens Advise Bureau say the number of people coming to their website on this issue has trebled last year compared to the year before with people losing a hundred and twenty five pounds on average and as much as three hundred pounds in some cases.
Until a year ago, Tony Taylor worked as a team leader for one of Britain’s biggest parking companies UKPC. He claims UKPC pressurised wardens into using those tactics to boost the ticket tally.
The company say he resigned after complaints that he used underhand tactics in issuing tickets.
Tony Taylor explained some of the tactics used by some parking wardens. He says: “Ghost ticketing is a way where you issue a ticket to a vehicle, you place the ticket on the windscreen, you take the photographic evidence then you remove the ticket from the windscreen, this then stops the driver getting the reduced rate. because he is totally unaware he’s received a ticket on the windscreen.”
Ghost ticketing was not the only sales term that Tony Taylor says he learned during his two years with UKPC.
Tony Taylor says: “I used to get text messages and one text message would have gone to all the wardens phones and it says hi guys, Christmas is coming you’re car parks should be very busy now, give them sites a good banging” [issue as many tickets as you can].
“I would get an email or a phone call to give the wardens a motivation call…Motivation call basically means call the warden and put pressure on him, if you don’t get that amount of tickets out you’re down the road you’ve lost your job.
Tony Taylor also showed me a company email revealing that the more tickets you issue, the more money you’re paid. He claims that in some cases the bonus could be worth more than a warden’s wage.
UKPC Right To Reply
In reply, UKPC told Dispatches that they have a “rigorous training programme” for wardens “to ensure that they act in a professional manner at all times”
“There is, of course, nothing wrong, in encouraging wardens to work hard to issue tickets to drivers who have parked in breach of the terms and conditions.”
They described Tony Taylor as “disgruntled former employee".
The company said they “do not instruct or encourage their wardens to undertake any sort of underhand tactics”.
Case Study: Pensioner’s issued with parking charge notice in excess of £1 per second
80-year-old Ron Lucas was a victim of a parking charge notice.
A few months ago he visited his local post office with his wife Cynthia for ten minutes. Or ten minutes and 88 seconds, to be precise.
Ron Lucas says:
“All we were doing was posting a parcel. We came out, got in the car and drove home.
About three weeks later we got a parking charge notice in the post saying that we’d gone eighty eight seconds over an allotted ten minutes. We were asked to pay one hundred pounds. If I paid within fourteen days, it was sixty pounds.
I thought it was totally disproportionate, because let’s face it, a hundred pounds for eighty eight seconds is in excess of a pound per second. So when I received that parking charge notice I was absolutely furious.”
When Ron complained, the parking company told him that there had been “severe problems with unauthorised parking, resulting in vehicles…occupying valuable space”.
Ron Lucas says:
“I could appeal but if I appealed and lost then the charge would go back to a hundred pounds. they threatened me with bailiffs as well. I’m eighty years old, and I felt I didn’t want all the aggravation and the confrontation, and so with great reluctance I paid it.”
Secrets of the Parking Wardens: Channel 4 Dispatches, Monday 16th February 2015 at 8pm.
Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/46416/
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