City writes off £3m of parking cheat fines

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CAR parking cheats and foreign tourists have escaped paying nearly £3 million in fines in the Capital after thousands of unpaid penalty tickets were written off.

The city council has cancelled more than 35,000 fines since it took over responsibility for parking offences eight years ago.

A relatively small hard core of drivers are using a variety of tricks to dodge fines.

The most common include not registering as the car owner, constantly changing their address and providing false details. Some tourists exacerbate the problem by simply ignoring fines when they return home.

The council has given up trying to find the fine dodgers, on the advice of sheriff officers, after it became more expensive to trace them than the 90 value of the

fines. The extent of the problem is revealed today by figures released to the Evening News under the Freedom of Information Act.

It comes after it emerged that 12 persistent fine dodgers owe the city council 66,000 for tickets they have simply ignored.

Drivers were today warned to be alert to thieves stealing their number plates - a favourite trick of fine dodgers who use the stolen plates to "clone" cars - and report any theft to police.

There were also calls for more action to tackle the fine dodgers in Edinburgh and more co-operation across Europe to catch drivers who ignore tickets issued in foreign countries.

The council has been writing off around 500,000 a year in recent years. The figure for last year is substantially lower but is expected to rise as many ongoing efforts to trace drivers fail.

Councillor Andrew Burns, the city's transport leader, said: "We are in a no-win situation.

"If the council does collect income from parking tickets, we are criticised by people who think we shouldn't. Yet if the money doesn't come in we are also lambasted. It is imperative that we treat those who park outwith the regulations equally and that means all valid tickets which are not paid are never completely written off.

"What we are about is keeping the city on the move and ensuring our limited parking spaces don't get clogged up."

Cllr Burns said the council was in a similar position to the London authorities chasing foreign drivers for 88,000 unpaid congestion charges.

He added: "Many of the fines we haven't been able to collect are from foreign vehicles that have returned home. If there was a strong agreement between countries in the European Union on the recovery of parking fines, perhaps the figure owed to the council would be lower."

Parking tickets in Edinburgh are 60, but are reduced to 30 if paid within a fortnight. If unpaid within two months, the owner of the car loses the right to appeal and the charge rises to 90. If this isn't paid, sheriff officers are called in to recover the debt.

Drivers get away with ignoring the rules as parking offences ceased being a criminal matter when police traffic wardens were replaced with attendants hired by the council. And local councils have limited powers to force the drivers to pay up.

Councillor Allan Jackson, the Tory's transport spokesman, said: "Many of these fines belong to people from abroad, and it's difficult to track them. Until there is a European-wide agreement on parking fines, Edinburgh's hands will be tied. But there are things we can do locally, and it's imperative there's a good excuse before fines are written off."

Neil Greig, policy chief with the AA, said: "We would like a European-wide system whereby fines and disqualifications apply to each country. That's still a few years away.

"A lot of people also avoid parking fines deliberately, and that underlines what we have been saying about the cloning of cars. It is important that anyone who has their number plates stolen reports it to the police."