QC Mark Lindsay, who was commissioned by Citizens Advice Scotland to give his opinion on private parking charges, said that unclear signage – as well as fines which are not based on a “genuine pre-estimate of loss” – could be grounds for issuing a legal challenge to a ticket.
In the CAS “It’s not fine” report, Mr Lindsay argues that motorists parked in car parks where signs detailing the contract cannot be easily read could have grounds for challenging the fine.
A report last year by CAS found that many Scots are being charged huge amounts of money for very short over-stays. It also found that private car parks often do not have clear signage setting out their fees and that many firms are using “aggressive and misleading” tactics when pursuing debts.
Mr Lindsay said that the high fees charged by some car parks may not legally be considered acceptable. There is a maximum charge of £100 recommended by the British Parking Association and the Independent Parking Committee.
“In order to demonstrate that the parking charges are a genuine pre-estimate of loss, the parking company will require to show that its likely actual losses sustained as a consequence of the motorist overstaying are broadly comparable with the parking charge,” he said.
He added that unclear signage could also be grounds for challenge. “The notices require to be so prominent and clear that no reasonable person could claim to have been unaware of the terms and conditions incorporated into the contract by the notice,” he said.
CAS, which last year launched a major campaign to urge people to fight unfair charges, said that the number of people coming into a Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau with a private parking issue has increased by 45 per cent in the last year. In March this year, 25,000 people contacted CAS for advice about parking charges, relating to fees of up to £200.
The CAS report found that one driver in the East of Scotland received a parking ticket after parking for two hours at a retail park, where the signage said “3 hours free parking” in large writing but in small writing at the bottom, added: “On match days 1½ hours max”.
The driver says he did not know if it was a match day or not.
A motorist in the West of Scotland parked in a car park which was advertised as “Free parking”. When she came back to her car she found a ticket on the windscreen demanding a £100 payment, as although the car park is free, it is on condition that the driver takes a ticket from the machine.
She is now being threatened with bailiffs, which do not operate in the Scottish legal system.
Susan McPhee, head of policy at CAS, said: “We have seen a huge increase in people seeking advice after being charged unfairly by private car parks. It is one of the most common consumer issues that we see.”
She added: “Now for the first time ever in Scotland, we have that legal opinion. And it states clearly that people can challenge private parking fees on two grounds: the size of the charge and whether the charges were adequately displayed.”