Parking charge confusion
Visitors have always flocked to the market town of Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, but with its busy traffic and narrow roads on-street parking is almost impossible. Fortunately there's no shortage of car parks in the town centre. Most of them are operated by the local council, but one which isn't has been causing quite a stir!
The Cibi Walk car park is run by a private company called Parking Eye. The charges seem reasonable; just 80p for a two hour stay, but if you're not careful you could end up paying much more than that.
Back in September, Angela Mullens from Crickhowell visited the car park. "I was going shopping in town and my son went get the ticket for me", she explained. "I thought everything was fine, I didn't think any more of it."
However, the parking company was keeping a close eye on Angela's visit through their security cameras, which record the number plates of cars using the site. A whole week after she'd visited the car park, Angela received a letter from Parking Eye which said she'd broken the rules of the car park by not having a valid ticket. Having already paid eighty pence, she now faced a demand for £80, or 50 if she paid straight away. By this time she'd thrown away her original ticket.
So why was Angela being chased for payment? Her son had typed in the last three letters of the number plate, put money in the machine and Angela had displayed the ticket in the car. The problem is, Parking Eye's signs say the full registration number must be entered. And there is a good reason why many people in Abergavenny are getting confused. In the eight council-run car parks in Abergavenny motorists only have to enter the last three letters of the vehicle registration. If you do this in Parking Eye's car park, you may think you have a valid ticket, but you'd be wrong!
Andrea King is another driver who was left confused after her visit to Cibi Walk car park. She explained, "I paid my 80 pence for the two hours and went off shopping". Like Angela, she'd entered the last three digits of her registration. "I assumed it was the same for that car park as all the other car parks in Abergavenny. Eleven days later the penalty notice came through the letterbox. I was really, really upset. Luckily I'd kept my ticket."
Andrea has now written to appeal against the demand. In the meantime, one of her work colleagues was having his own ticket trouble with Parking Eye. Lecturer Tim Jarvis received two demands for payment after he and a colleague left their minibuses in the car park during a fundraising trip. He paid the right amount and the machine printed two tickets.
"It accepted three digits, so as far as we were aware that was what it wanted," he said. "Unfortunately by the time we had the parking notice and we'd found the ticket, the date was up on the first minibus. The college paid the first minibus so that came out of my budget, disadvantaging the students. By then we'd had a second fine for the second vehicle. This time we're contesting it, letters have been sent and we'll wait to hear what the company says."
So some drivers aren't happy with Parking Eye's rather inflexible system. But has the company actually done anything wrong?
We asked solicitor Wayne Beynon from Capital Law for his expert view. "It is a situation I have sympathy with", he told X-Ray. "Where you have a person entering a car park and enter part of a registration number, they believe they've paid a good value for their space but strictly speaking they haven't complied with terms and conditions as stipulated by the car park owner."
Angela Mullens no longer has her original ticket and has appealed to Parking Eye, but the charge has now risen to £110. If she refuses to pay she could face court action and potentially even a visit from the bailiffs. "I think it is scary, I think a lot of people have paid and they will pay because they think it's the only thing to do. I'm not going to pay out of principle because I did buy a ticket, if it comes to court I will go to court."
If that were to happen, solicitor Wayne Beynon had the following advice. "Where the motorist has lost their parking ticket, it is for the parking company to demonstrate to the court that the motorist parked in the space and failed to pay for their car park ticket. I don't think it would be unreasonable for the motorist to ask the company to present evidence from their ticket machine that they haven't paid for their ticket."
And there may be some good news on the horizon for the people of Abergavenny. Nigel Beavan, the manager of Cibi Walk shopping centre which owns the car park told us that he agrees that the current system is not working as efficiently as it needs to. He told us, "What we're looking to do is to try to resolve that by bringing back a human element to the process. So I've got a meeting with Parking Eye to see if we can actually do that. We'll look to use someone on site to act as a parking attendant to come and look in the cars, very much like local authority do at the moment."
After we filmed, Parking Eye, the company which runs the car park on behalf of the shopping centre, told X-Ray that they're going to cancel the parking charge notices for the three people we featured. The company also said that their signs, at the entrance and right through the car park, and the instructions on the Pay and Display machine itself all say clearly that you have to put in your full registration details when you buy a ticket. They add that very few motorists fail to follow the straightforward instructions and if anyone gets a parking charge notice because they didn't put in their full details, then they should appeal and the company will investigate. If it can be proved that you actually bought a ticket, Parking Eye will waive the penalty charge.