Parking Eye is the UK’s biggest private parking company, with a turnover of £25 million per year from parking charges (privately issued “fines”). ParkingEye primarily use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to monitor car parks, issuing tickets for overstays. Parking Eye’s success has been based upon signing contracts with large retail chains, such as Aldi, The Range, and Morrisons. Parking Eye’s ticketing operation works as follows:
- On entry and exit, car registrations are photographed by Parking Eye’s cameras
- If the difference of the photograph times is greater than the maximum stay then a ticket is issued
- Parking Eye then lookup the registered keeper’s identity from the DVLA’s database
- Within 14 days Parking Eye send a letter (known as a Notice to Keeper) to the keeper of the vehicle
- The Notice to Keeper requests payment (typically £100), or the name of the driver at the time (since the driver is responsible for parking) so that they can instead be pursued for payment
- If tickets are not paid, then Parking Eye (or a collection company) send a series of debt collection letters to keepers and motorists chasing payment
In 2011/12 accounting period ParkingEye ticketed over 600,000 cars using this method, with a large proportion being paid. Until late 2012, Parking Eye didn’t follow through with the threat of court action, and this resulted in increasing numbers of tickets being ignored. As a consequence Parking Eye needed to change the perception of their tickets, and started to make county court claims. Since 2012 Parking Eye have issued as many as 1,000 per week. Faced with real court claims (and thoughts of County Court Judgements on their credit record), a good proportion of people pay up, whilst others have fought their case in court with mixed success.
Parking Eye’s operations, and recent litigious behaviour, has resulted in a lot of ill feeling from motorists and consumer organisations. Typically this has been because:
- The size of charge is disproportionate to the breach (e.g. is it fair to ‘fine’ someone £100 for overstaying by 20 minutes in a free car park?)
- Genuine customers are being ticketed, for example by having a coffee in the supermarket cafe after their shop. Surely it wasn’t these people the land owner was intending to deter?
- The rules are not adjusted for older and disabled motorists who understandably take longer to use facilities. In fact, the Equalities Act requires reasonable adjustments to be made
- The allowable time is too short (some car parks have limits of only 30 minutes)
- They haven’t cancelled tickets for people claiming genuine mitigating circumstances (e.g. illness, breakdowns)
- The ‘double dip’ phenomena where people genuinely make multiple visits to a car park in a day, but the ticket has been issued based upon the first entry and last exit. NB. This is not to say this is systematic behaviour, but it has been known to occur (see this tip on how to deal with)
This ill feeling has resulted in a backlash against both ParkingEye and its clients. For example, the supermarket chain Somerfield cancelled their contract with Parking Eye, and Aldi has been inundated with complaints about parking tickets (see Aldi on Facebook).
What should you do if you’ve received a Parking Eye ticket?
Firstly, you should read our guide to private parking tickets in order to understand the background and the law. There are a number of ways to deal with private parking tickets – we discuss that in this article here. Briefly, you should consider both asking the land owner / occupier to cancel, and appeal in parallel. Parking Eye are members of the British Parking Association (BPA), the largest parking industry association in the UK. As part of their Code of Practice ParkingEye are required to offer an independent appeal, should an initial appeal to Parking Eye fail (as they often do because of the obvious conflict of interest). At independent appeal, there are known winning arguments which can be used to get the ticket cancelled – check our winning arguments guide here.
I’ve heard the genuine pre-estimate of loss argument can get a ticket cancelled straight away?
For a long time the BPA’s independent appeal service, POPLA, routinely upheld appeals against ParkingEye tickets when the genuine pre-estimate of loss argument was made. Historical case law meant that a ticket for breach of parking conditions meant that they could only recover the loss caused by that incident (e.g. did staying 10 mins over really cause £100 loss to Parking Eye?). ParkingEye could never demonstrate this loss (because there wasn’t any), and so POPLA had to uphold such appeals. This method was very popular between 2012 and 2014 since cancellations were almost routine.
Unfortunately, the genuine pre-estimate of loss argument no longer works for ParkingEye tickets since the ParkingEye Vs Beavis case. Here, ParkingEye tried to enforce a ticket in the county court and HHJ Moloney, a senior county court judge, stated that whilst the charge did not represent any loss, it was commercially justifiable, and so could be enforced. Since the judge was senior, this was persuasive to lower courts and POPLA. The judgement was appealed by Mr Beavis to the Court of Appeal and subsequently to the Supreme Court. They found commercial justification didn’t apply, but the amount demanded was not extravagant or unconscionable, and so was enforceable despite not reflecting any loss. In light of this, the ‘GPEOL’ argument is not a ‘slam dunk’ win at appeal anymore.
However, despite what many think, the Beavis ruling does not mean parking companies can charge what they want; the judgement was more nuanced than that. In contract-based private parking, each case is different; the contract is different, as are the circumstances, and nature of the alleged breach. Rulings such as Beavis may be quoted to support the claim, but the claimant must explain how it relates to the case in question. Conversely the appelant may be able to explain why it does not apply. We discuss that in this piece.
What will happen if I ignore the ticket?
Ignoring private parking tickets was the popular advice until late 2012. Before then, threatening letters would be sent for months after the ticket, but in the end, they would just stop when the parking company realised the recipient would not ‘bite’. Few parking companies attempted to enforce tickets in court due to the fact that this area of law was ‘grey’ and that the costs would outweigh the income from the ticket anyway.
However, in late 2012 Parking Eye started a campaign to change that perception (and in turn their income) by issuing court claims. Their theory was that faced with a claim, many motorists would simply fold and pay up. Further, by going to court with a solicitor to argue against a member of the public with no legal background, the odds would be stacked in their favour. There were also those that ignored the court papers, meaning that a county court judgement was issued by default. This campaign was very successful for ParkingEye; the perception of their tickets has been changed meaning that ignoring isn’t the simple answer it used to be.
In the first 9 months of 2015 ParkingEye issued 24,540 small claims. Of these, 724 went to a hearing. This suggests both that ParkingEye are not afraid to issue claims, but also that a large number of cases are settled ahead of a hearing.
Parking Eye’s website says their tickets are enforceable
Parking Eye tickets are based on contract law, and tickets are issued for a breach of the contract. A contract is said to be formed by parking in the car park they through signage that communicate the terms and conditions. For example a sign may state the maximum stay to be 2 hours, and a breach of that will result in a charge of £100. By staying 2 hours and 15 minutes, Parking Eye will claim you have breached that contract, and therefore owe them a £100 charge.
Unfortunately (for Parking Eye) it is not as simple as that. As we note above, since it is based on contract law, each case is determined on its own particular circumstances. In order to enforce the ticket, ParkingEye must demonstrate that the claim is lawful. There are many reasons why a particular ticket may not be lawful, although the Beavis ruling does mean the level of charge is now a much harder point to argue than it used to be.
It is recommended that when faced with a ParkingEye charge, motorists should do research to find out about tickets issued in similar circumstances and find out how people are fighting them. Our POPLA guide gives some ideas, as does our fighting Beavis piece. The internet forums are also a great source of the latest material.
Parking Eye claim they win most court cases?
Parking Eye have won many cases in the county court. They have achieved this by sending trained solicitors to argue the case against untrained and, often naive, members of the public. Irrespective of the facts of a given case, this clearly swings things firmly into Parking Eye’s favour. What’s more, is that Parking Eye can’t reclaim the cost of the solicitor – legal costs aren’t usually allowed in the small claims court; that’s the whole idea of small claims. As such, where a solicitor is used, ParkingEye make a financial loss on such cases, even when they win.
Where motorists have won in court they have properly prepared for it. Often this is done by motorists on their own having researched the area of law and similar cases (e.g. using the parking forums). In some cases, motorists have used lay representatives.
If ParkingEye make a claim against you that goes to hearing, make sure you question their representative’s right of audience. Often they do not since they are represented by a 3rd party legal advocacy firm (such as LPC Law), meaning the case could get struck out before even arguing the case itself! Read more here.
What should you do if you receive a ParkingEye court claim?
If you have receive genuine, stamped, county court claim forms from ParkingEye, then you need to take action. If you ignore the claim, then ParkingEye will record a default win against you, and may then try to recover the money, and it could impair your credit record.
Fighting a court claim is not as scary as it sounds. It is typically dealt with by sitting around the table with a judge and a representative of Parking Eye (usually a solicitor they’ve hired for the day). Further, fighting a ticket does not necessarily mean it will make it go to a hearing, ParkingEye may drop the claim (e.g. if they can see from your defence they will not win), or it could be settled out of court (ParkingEye are known to have settled for as little as £15).
Parking Cowboys does not have specific guidance for dealing with court claims, since these are very much dependent on the facts of the case. However, there are a few good places to get help:
- The online forums – Despite what Parking Eye or the BPA’s website may tell you, online forums are a great place to get help. There are lots of people dealing with similar claims, so you can read up and learn off of each other. The forums are frequented by helpful users that can provide bespoke guidance. If you do use a forum remember to redact any information that might identify you (e.g. your name, address, reference numbers etc), and gather a few opinions from trusted members of the forum. There’s links on this page to get started.
- Parking Prankster guides – Friend of the site, Parking Prankster, has written two guides specifically about fighting Parking Eye court claims. One is free, and the other there is a small charge for. The charges are used to help the Prankster pay for court transcripts to further help the cause – so think of it as an investment! The guides can be found on his site –> Parking-Prankster.com
Best of luck!
How can I contact ParkingEye?
These are ParkingEye’s telephone numbers:
- Customer services – 0870 280 7058
- Pay by phone – 0330 555 4444
- Complaints – 0177 245 0970
- International – +44 177 245 0970