Readers’ emails: VCS fined me for 2 minute phone call!

On [date], I had a job interview with a company on the [commercial park]. Afterwards, I pulled into a side road that led onto a patch of disused land in the commercial park in order to answer my phone.

I noticed a van that went past me a couple of times while I was on the phone, but thought nothing of it. A few days later, I got a parking charge notice from a company called Vehicle Control Services in Sheffield. This was my reply:

“You issued a parking ticket on [date] but I believe it was unfairly issued. I will not be paying your demand for payment for the following reasons:
The alleged contravention did not occur

The vehicle was not parked on the land in question: the driver had merely pulled over for safety reasons to answer a mobile phone call. Call records can be supplied to back this up. The car was occupied and your operatives could have engaged with the driver to offer a warning, rather than taking photographs from a distance. To not do so and remotely issue a fine instead is rather predatory behaviour.

Also the side road in question is faces onto waste ground on a sparsely populated commercial estate. The area is hardly busy and the driver was in nobody’s way. A fine for this action is unreasonable and opportunistic, to say the least.

If you choose to pursue this matter, please be aware that I will not enter into any correspondence and this will be the only communication you will receive from me.”

I received another letter telling me that the rules also included ‘no stopping’ and they were satisfied that the charge stood.

I understand that this is an invoice and I have no intention of paying it until a County Court orders me to. Am I right to let it get that far or should I lodge an appeal first? I know you don’t offer legal advice but I wouldn’t mind an opinion.

Hi Jeff,

There’s a few points to consider here.

Breach of contract or contractual term

Firstly, you need to establish whether this ticket has been issued for ‘breach of contract’ or ‘contractual term’.

The former is where the rules prohibit certain actions (e.g. ‘no stopping’, or ‘maximum stay 2 hours’). If you don’t follow the rules, then you are in breach of contract. As such, the land owner may be able to sue you for the loss you have caused them. In this case (and the vast majority of parking cases) that loss is more or less zero – you stopped for 2 minutes! If it was for breach of contract the genuine pre-estimate of loss argument can be used.

The latter case is where the contracts allow you to do certain actions, but you will be charged an extortionate amount. E.g. you can park for more than 2 hours, but you will pay £100 for the privilege. Clearly this is quite perverse since they are actually trying to discourage you, but it helps them get around the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts laws where they cannot penalise you, which it would be in the breach of contract case.

Vehicle Control Services (VCS) used to issue tickets for breach of contract when they were a British Parking Association (BPA) member, but have recently joined the Independent Parking Committee (IPC). IPC member companies issue tickets based on the contract term model, but VCS need to change their signage (i.e. the contract with the motorist) to reflect this. It is therefore important to understand what the signs said at the time. If this is not possible, you could write to them and demand they confirm on what basis they have issued the ticket before you decide what your next action is.

Non-ANPR ticket

You mention in your email that the VCS employee was driving around in a van. Now that opens up a few good angles for fighting the charge. Firstly, under the breach of contract model, legally the ‘innocent party’ (the land owner) has a legal duty to mitigate their losses. As such, you would have a strong argument that they should have stopped and told you to move, rather than letting you stay and causing them loss.

Secondly, both the BPA and IPC codes of practice require the parking operator to allow a grace period:

17.1 Drivers should be allowed a sufficient amount of time in order to park and read any signs in order that they may make an informed decision as to whether or not to remain on the site before any enforcement action is taken by you or your agents.

If you stopped only for 2 minutes, or even 5 or 10, then it is arguable that you were still within the grace period.

Finally, it is my understanding that where ANPR is not used – i.e. parking event is identified in person – then the parking company is obliged to issue a ticket (Notice to Driver) at the time of the event. They are not allowed to issue the ticket by post. This is according to the KADOE contract that the parking companies sign up to with the DVLA in order to get electronic access to keeper data. If they have breached that, then you should report them to the DVLA, who may take action against them (e.g. if they consider serious enough, they may block access).

Next steps

Above I’ve noted quite a number of strong arguments for your case which you could include in an appeal to both the parking company and the independent appeals service (IAS). The IPCs IAS has been heavily criticised for lack of transparency and so there is not a great deal of trust from the general public – for example by not sharing the parking company’s evidence with the motorist, or explaining the reasoning for decision. However, even if you lost your appeal, then VCS would need to take you to court to force you to pay.

Alternatively you could refuse to enter into any further communications with them and ignore them. Again, VCS’s only option would be to take you to court. The concern here is that you should make sure you build an audit trail of ‘reasonableness’ on your part in case it ever did go to court so that any costs against you are mitigated.

Hope this helps, and best of luck.