An MP is finally attempting to tackle a problem that millions of drivers had hoped to see the government solve: rein in the worst excesses of the private parking firms.
The aptly-named Sir Greg Knight is riding to the rescue with a private members’ Bill that aims to set an independent and binding code of practice that companies must follow – something we have repeatedly recommended, including in our 2015 report by John de Waal QC: Private Parking, Public Concern.
Currently, the industry self-regulates, with rules laid out by the two officially-accredited trade associations. Parking companies must be a member of one of these associations to access vehicle-keeper records from the DVLA. The DVLA records allow the companies to pursue vehicle owners for alleged transgressions in private car parks and charge them penalties of up to £100.
The scale of this business is breath-taking. Early indications reveal that, in this financial year, some seven million sets of data will be provided to parking companies, up from 4.7 million in 2016/17, 3.7 million the year before, and a mere 1.2 million back in 2010/11.
The rise is easily explicable. Since the 2012 ban on wheel clamping, there has been a huge rise in ticketing, with a change in the rules allowing parking firms to go after the vehicle owner for infringements rather than having to prove who the driver was.
Arguably, for some, this has become a licence to print money. A number of firms now pay landowners for the privilege of managing parking on their property; their business models depending on raising money through levying penalties on motorists for transgressions such as overstaying.
The RAC Foundation has never asked for a parking free-for-all, but wants a fair system that balances the requirements of landowners with those of drivers, which is why Sir Greg’s Bill is so welcome.
The good news is that ministers also appear to recognise the importance of Sir Greg’s Bill and are set to support the proposed legislation at second reading next year. There should also be cross-party backing. Most MPs will have received letters detailing constituents’ miserable experiences at the hands of unscrupulous parking operators – experiences like that of the man who called the RAC Foundation office last week, exasperated at having received a demand for £100 for stopping for a few seconds in a layby on a trading estate to check directions to one of the estate’s tenant businesses. Apparently, all stopping was prohibited, something that was – so the parking company told him – was detailed on roadside signs. No matter that any driver would have to stop to read the signs in the first place!