How are parking tickets overturned?

Parking ticket

Most people who get a parking ticket seethe with anger, pay up and get on with life. But thousands of motorists now become amateur sleuths, chronicling confusing "signs and lines" in a battle against the authorities, writes Neil Bennett.

Some people might bracket parking tickets with death and taxes as one of life's inevitabilities.

But what if you parked on double yellows long worn away or missed a sign covered with ivy, or failed to spot the notice 100 yards away suspending your usual parking spot?

Thousands of motorists every year challenge councils over tickets and when those appeals are refused they can end up at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, the independent body which covers 250 local councils in England and Wales. It is based in Manchester but arranges personal hearings around the country.

The not-free car park

The logistics officer from Hatfield in Hertfordshire left his car to go on holiday in what had been a free car park for years.

When he came back he found new notices up indicating that this was now a paying car park.

And, naturally, there was a parking ticket on his windscreen.

Welwyn Hatfield Council wouldn't listen to his argument that the signs had gone up after he had parked.

The tribunal did. Ticket cancelled.

A startling 60% of appeals are successful, with many uncontested by councils. But a day spent at the tribunal suggests that it is worthwhile to get out a digital camera and gather evidence the next time you get an unfair ticket.

The Chief Adjudicator for England and Wales, Caroline Sheppard, is a jolly, no-nonsense barrister, who designed the appeal system more than 10 years ago. She seems to understand the daily frustrations of life in the controlled parking zone, and dealing with unbending officials at the town hall.

"The government and local authorities perceive parking as a form of anti-social behaviour," she says. "Councils should be more considerate in the way they deal with people and not adopt a zero-tolerance approach. You do look at some appeals and ask how could the council have rejected that."

So what of the tribunal's approach?

Fiona Allen, 50, head of human resources for a consultancy group, got a parking ticket in a council car park in Milton Keynes. She had paid but the council said she was in the "red zone" and had only paid the rate for the "purple zone". Mrs Allen says that it was impossible to distinguish between the two and produced the photographs to prove it.

"I completely agree," Chief Adjudicator Sheppard told her. "I will instruct Milton Keynes council to cancel the ticket."

Yellow lines Many drivers feel wrongfully ticketed but do nothing

Mrs Allen felt vindicated. "I feel really strongly about this. The ticket was inherently unfair - just a money earner for Milton Keynes. They rely on you giving in and just paying."

It's natural that a solicitor would do their evidential homework. Lawyer Keith Whitehorn, 54, tried to pay for two hours parking outside the county court in Watford. The ticket machine wouldn't accept his coins.

Although he reported the fault immediately and left a message on the council's voicemail offering to pay by other means, a ticket was waiting for him.

The council insisted that when their engineer checked, the machine was working. Mr Whitehorn's research uncovered the council's log which showed that this is the outcome in 25% of cases where the public report faults.

"Councils appear to dismiss every submission," says Mr Whitehorn, "on the slavish principle that unless their engineer finds a fault, then we must be at fault." Appeal allowed.

Ali Shah's case shows the lengths that some motorists will go to to challenge a council. The 38-year-old security manager had travelled with his wife and two-year-old daughter from Ilford in Essex to Northampton to start looking for a new house.

Spotting a flaw

Tiko Rawlinson-Winder, a 36-year-old lawyer, caught Reading council out on a technicality.

His car was filmed in the bus lane in Wokingham Road, Reading.

But when the evidence arrived in the post, the camera was listed as being located in London Road.

So, Mr Rawlinson-Winder asked, where was the proof that the contravention was actually committed where the council said it was?

Adjudicator Sheppard thanked him for "an extremely learned dissertation on the subject of CCTV evidence" and allowed his appeal.

While they went into McDonald's, having paid to park, they got a ticket because they were in a loading bay. The council noted that there was a sign indicating this but admitted that the lines on the road weren't clear.

"They have been wholly unreasonable," the adjudicator tells him. "They should not have troubled you any further. I shall instruct them to cancel the ticket and explain to me why they shouldn't pay for your expenses."

These amounted to a £7.40 travel card and £10 for every letter he had written to the council.

"It does make me really angry," Mr Shah says outside the hearing. "This is the third time I have appealed successfully against parking tickets but I have had to come in here on a day off."

And that is the nub of the issue. Many of the people who appeal against parking tickets are making a principled stand. Even if they win, the cancelling of the ticket will not compensate them for the time and energy they've lost.

The tribunal

  • 4,035,555 parking tickets issued in England and Wales
  • 0.31% rate of appeal
  • 34% of appeals not contested by council
  • 29% allowed by adjudicator
  • 35% refused
  • 14% of complaints over pay and display tickets
  • Another 14% over signs and lines
  • Appeals to tribunal allowed by post and phone

But councils are resistant to the notion that they put up Byzantine walls of bureaucracy to stop motorists getting their tickets cancelled.

They point that out of the four million parking tickets issued in Wales in 2008-2009, only 12,500 people complained to the tribunal.

"In more than 99% of cases there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that parking fines have been issued incorrectly," says Councillor Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association's Economy and Transport Board.

"The fact that only a tiny minority of fines were appealed against last year proves that, on the whole, parking officers are getting it right. We know parking restrictions are never going to be popular but these restrictions are in place to keep people safe."

But for the ordinary people who have to take a day off to become experts on parking regulations, there's a suspicion that councils could often resolve things earlier.

"We think that not enough local authorities are taking these local challenges seriously," says Jo Abbott, from the RAC Foundation.

"In the back office, these challenges should be dealt with by experienced people who have the discretion to use their common sense."

Additional reporting by Jon Kelly.


More on This Story

In today's Magazine


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    I successfully won my appeal via the Tribunal, but it took 9 months of letters two and from Brighton & Hove council.

    Despite my submission on grounds of reasonability (Won't bore you with details), the Tribunal actually found in my favour on an unrelated technicality, specifically the unclear marking of distinction between residents & ticket machine parking areas. It's always worth contesting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I have had a ticket cancelled by Peterborough City Council when I had pointed out that their staff had parked on the same double-yellow lines to issue tickets. I have also been taken to court and had a ticket cancelled when it was pointed out that there was no sign telling me I couldn't park there. There is now a sign there but it took a long time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    My partner received several tickets after Hackney Council painted a permit bay around his car then refused his appeal as he hadn't retained rail tickets to prove he was away. As he received a fine on the first day of enforcement and every time a warden passed until his return he was clearly not lying. He paid when they started to increase the cost but I would have continued appealing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Only a minority of fines are appealed against because of the councils policy of doubling fines if you don't pay in a short time period and the time it takes to get a reply when you do.

    My claim that signage was missing was rectified by the council putting new signs up within 2 days of my complaint and then dismissing me out of hand. I hadn't taken photos and didn't know about the tribunal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I got a ticket for parking my motorcycle on the pavement. Bang to rights you would think. But the ticket said it was issued "for offence code XYZ, see reverse of ticket for list of offence codes"
    "My" offence code was not listed on the reverse so I suggested to the council the ticket was incorrect. They agreed.
    Examine every ticket for the smallest error.


Comments 5 of 8



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.