Typically parking companies will employ staff to monitor car parks, either in person or using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). When they deem a contractual term to have been broken (e.g. stayed too long, or didn’t park in a bay) they will issue a Parking Charge Notice (also known as a Notice to Driver), either by sticking it to the windscreen, or alternatively by sending it in the post. To send it by post, they will apply to the DVLA for the registered keeper’s details. They will then send a Notice to Keeper either requesting payment or the details of who was driving at the time (i.e. the alleged debtor).
Parking companies usually offer a method of appealing the parking ticket. The first stage of appeal is offered by the parking company themselves. If they choose not to uphold the appeal and they are a member of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA) operator scheme (either British Parking Association (BPA) or Independent Parking Committee (IPC)) then a further appeal may be made to their respective Independent Appeals Service (known as Parking on Private Land Appeals or POPLA for BPA members). The Independent Appeals Service is only available for tickets issued in England and Wales; not Scotland or Northern Ireland.
With the introduction of the Protection of Freedoms Act in 2012, the concept of ‘keeper liability’ was introduced. This means that if the parking company meets a specified set of requirements, then the keeper of the vehicle can be held liable the parking charge the driver would have been liable for. This was intended to close the loophole of drivers responding to private parking tickets with the ‘prove I was the driver’ defence. The keeper liability law puts some quite strict requirements on the parking company (e.g. deadlines for issuing tickets, information that must be provided) which often they don’t meet. If they don’t meet those requirements then the keeper cannot be pursued, leaving liability with the driver, who the parking company might not be able to identify… For more detail, see our article on keeper liability requirements.
If the ticket is ignored or remains unpaid, the parking company will usually start to write to the keeper to chase payment. By this point around two-thirds of people will have paid up, fearing legal action if they did not. For those that choose not to pay, the parking company will then issue further letters offering last chances, and threatening legal action. Initially the letters come from the parking company, but then later ones may be sent by ‘debt collection agencies‘ or solicitors. It should be noted that these letters are usually pre-written templates (see examples of these here). Faced with these letters, the receiver could feel intimidated into paying and therefore the parking company will have further improved their success rate, leaving the remainder unpaid (see our article on the myth of debt collection companies).
If a parking company wishes to take further action to get the money they claim they are owed, they would have to apply to a County Court or Money Claim Online (the online version of a County Court). Typically these sort of claims would be allocated to the ‘small claims track’ due to the small amounts in dispute. A claim will cost them appriximately £30 to register. If they have met the keeper liability requirements, then proceedings can be issued against the keeper, irrespective of whether they were driving the car at the time or not.
Since 2012 there has been an upsurge in companies attempting to enforce tickets in the courts, with companies such as ParkingEye issuing hundreds of county court claims per week. Whilst taking a case all the way to court will likely cost more than they could recover, the threat of court action intimidates enough into paying up. For further information on legal action, please see this page.
In the next section, we further discuss the appeals procedure.
Important – if you receive stamped court papers, do not ignore them. Stamped court papers means parking company has issued a formal claim against you. In this case all is not lost – you can fight back and the internet forums are a great place for bespoke advice. Ignoring, however, could mean that a county court judgement is registered against you.