Writing a letter

Challenging a car parking fine

How to challenge a parking fine from a private parking company

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

BBC Watchdog's Professor Margaret Griffiths take you through the steps you can take if you feel you have been unfairly issued with a car parking fine.


Professor Margaret Griffiths: These scary looking notices are not fines. They are merely invoices for a breach of contract. They may look a bit like those issued by public authorities. But, they are very different, because there is nothing in criminal law to support a charge or fine for parking on private land.

So let me explain how they work.

Now, when you first enter a car park you're really entering a contract and agreeing to any terms that the car park owner may have laid out, about for example, how long you can stay or any pay and display requirements. Now their requirements must be clearly displayed on a notice when you come into the car park and possibly at other points around the car park including any car park charges that are payable and any other charges to which you may be liable if you breach the conditions of the contract. And, remember, the notices must be clearly visible, so they mustn't be behind a tree, where you can't see them, or for example be so dirty so that you can't read what they say.

So, if all of that's in place and you've breached the terms, then you can expect to be charged. But, what matters is that the charge can't be disproportionate to the loss that the company has actually suffered plus some admin charges. Bottom line the charges should not be astronomically high.

So, what if you get one of these notices when you know you weren't in the wrong. Because for example either the meter wasn't working or the signs weren't clear. Well then you could have a very strong case for an appeal. So, here's what to do. Contact the company at the earliest opportunity, to tell them that you're contesting the charge. Ask them to provide proof of their case against you. It's up to them to prove that you breached the contract. Not up to you to prove that you didn't. You can support your case with photographic evidence. So, if the meter wasn't working or the signs aren't clear, take a photo. Then wait. To comply with the British parking association's code of practice a parking company must acknowledge your letter within 14 days and give you a decision within 35 days.

If you can't reach agreement with the parking company, then you can always take it to Parking on Private Land Appeals or P.O.P.L.A. an independent appeals process launched recently. But, remember if your appeal isn't successful the company would still have to prove their case in court before they can take any money from you. And in practice they are most unlikely to do that. But, it's always worth getting some advice anyway from either the citizen's advice bureau or a solicitor. 

Quick tips for tutors

A short video showing the steps involved in challenging a car parking fine. The presenter outlines the key differences between parking offences on local authority land compared with private land. May be used in class to stimulate discussion around the featured story. Alternatively could be used to give a purpose and context to writing a letter.