There is a common misconception that private parking companies have no legal recourse to pursue drivers for parking fines incurred while using their premises, but the truth is a little more complicated.
In the past, Scottish law has been unclear on the matter, but it is important that motorists are aware that not only are there very definite rulings in favour of the parking companies, but they also have access to DVLA records to track down infringers and begin proceedings against them.
Tickets issued by private companies in private car parks are not fines, they are classed as parking charge notices. This is different from penalty charge notices, issued by council traffic wardens and the police, which are regulated fines, backed by legislation.
When you park in a private car park the terms and conditions of the car park must be clearly displayed along with a warning of the charge payable for failing to display a ticket/permit or overstaying. If this information is clearly displayed and you park in that car park, you are agreeing to those terms and conditions.
You are entering into a contract with the car park operator. If you fail to adhere to the terms and conditions you may be issued with a parking charge notice.
Failure to pay will result in the car park operator pursuing you for the sum contained in the charge notice. The car park operator will allow you an opportunity to pay and may permit you to enter into a payment arrangement. If you ignore or refuse to pay the parking charge notice the landowner or car park operator can take legal action against you.
In order for the parking company to succeed at court they must establish, on the balance of probabilities, who was responsible for parking the vehicle. This differs from the approach in England where legislation exists holding the registered keeper as accountable for payment of parking charge notices irrespective of whether they were the driver of the vehicle.
Failing to pay these tickets once issued can be seen in the eyes of the law as a breach of contract and the car park operators can then take the offending motorist to court to recover their losses. A recent example of this would be the Dundee woman who was ordered to pay a staggering £24,000 in fines racked up over a period of months that saw her ignore more than 200 separate tickets.
The other issue with private parking tickets is how they attain drivers’ information to issue the fines in the first place, but once again, the law is firmly on their side.
Far from being a breach of data protection regulation, gaining the information necessary from the DVLA is a simple process that anyone, not just parking companies, can take advantage of for the sum of £2.50.
The DVLA will only give out this information if the requestor has reasonable causes. There are multiple examples of these listed on the DVLA website including finding out who was responsible for an accident, tracing the registered keeper of an abandoned vehicle and tracing people responsible for driving off without paying for goods and services. Crucially, giving out parking tickets is also on this list.
This means it could be difficult to bring a claim that a breach of the data protection legislation has been made when a parking company uses the DVLA to track down a motorist who they wish to issue a fine towards.
The only other condition which a private parking company needs to satisfy to get the information is that it must be a member of either the British Parking Association or the International Parking Community. These organisations are essentially not-for-profit trade bodies.
What should you do if you are issued with a parking charge notice?
If you have been issued with a parking charge notice and were the person responsible for parking the vehicle, you should pay the fine.
If you have been issued with a notice but you were not driving the vehicle at the time, you should explain this to the landowner or car park operator. They may ask you to prove this and state who was responsible for parking the vehicle.
If you have been issued with a parking charge notice and you followed the terms and conditions of the car park you should explain this to the landowner or car park operator. Mistakes can happen and if you have been issued with a parking charge notice when you clearly have a ticket displayed, keep your parking ticket and send a photocopy of it to the landowner or car park operator.
If you are unsure of your options or court proceedings have been raised against you, seek legal advice at an early stage.