Press Release: Private Car Clamping
I issued the following press release on 10 August 2006:
MP CALLS FOR EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT ACTION TO OUTLAW PRIVATE CAR CLAMPING.
Lynne Jones, MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, has described the licensing scheme designed to regulate the activities of car clamping firms operating on private land as "hopelessly inadequate". The MP has recently dealt with several cases of constituents being intimidated by car clampers operating questionable practices which, she says, amount effectively to extortion. The most recent case involved Mrs Maggie Cotton, a 69 year old pensioner whose car was clamped by an organisation, whose operative held an SIA Vehicle Immobiliser Licence, called "Nationwide Parking Control". Despite Mrs Cotton offering to pay a £95 fee to have her car de-clamped, the Company’s operatives removed her car after she had parked for just 20 minutes on waste ground near Digbeth coach station in Birmingham and charged her an amazing £310, which they insisted was paid in cash, to let her have her car back. This breached guidelines for Vehicle Immobilisation Operators produced by the British Parking Association in January 2006. Nationwide Parking Control operates from a "mailbox" accommodation address on Colmore Row, and is only contactable by mobile phone. Mrs Cotton has described her experience as "very intimidating".
The Security Industry Association (SIA) was set up in 2001 as part of the provisions of the Private Security Industries Act, which applies only in England and Wales. It requires individuals working for companies operating car-clamping on private land to be licensed by the SIA in order to operate legally. There are circumstances in which these licences can be revoked, but Lynne Jones has discovered that in the 5 years since the SIA was set up, only one vehicle immobilisation licence has been revoked, and only one has been suspended.
The extortionate charges levied by some private wheel clampers in England and Wales are in stark contrast to the situation in Scotland, where as a result of the case of Black vs Carmichael, SSCR709, 1992, the practice of wheel clamping on private land was banned as constituting extortion and theft. The Lord Hope, in passing judgement, remarked "But the means which have been selected to deter the activity fell plainly within the proper limits of the crime of extortion, since the whole purpose of the wheel clamping was to obtain money as a condition of the release of the vehicle." It is still the case that wheel clamping continues to be illegal in Scotland on all but Public Highways, and even in such circumstances can only be carried out by the Police or someone with statutory authority.
Lynne Jones said "Operatives working for companies operating car clamping schemes on private land in England are now required to be licensed, but Mrs Cotton’s case demonstrates that licensed operators are getting away with charging extortionate release and removal fees as well as intimidatory behaviour towards often very vulnerable people. The British Parking Association’s Code of Conduct for clampers is welcome but effectively useless because it is entirely voluntary, has no legal significance and does not constitute any part of the SIA’s licensing conditions. Although the SIA can remove licences from clamping operators, the range of reasons for which it may do so is narrow and does not include the type of behaviour by clamping operators experienced by Mrs Cotton. As a result, the SIA licensing regime is proving to be hopelessly inadequate in controlling the activities of private car clampers. It is a mystery to me why a practice rightly outlawed as extortion north of the border should continue effectively to be condoned in England and Wales. I have pressed the Home Office on this point, but there are apparently no plans to regularise the situation in England and Wales in line with that in Scotland. "
The MP has also helped a number of people – constituents and, through information on her website, several grateful non-constituents – to obtain refunds of penalty charges from private parking enforcement companies who are not involved in clamping vehicles, but who issue penalty charge notices to motorists parking on private land. Because they are not clamping vehicles, these companies’ activities are not covered by the Security Industries Act of 2001, but they are able to obtain motorists’ names and addresses from the DVLA database. Lynne Jones has also expressed her concern to government that no compulsory or enforceable code of conduct exists for these operators, and that as a result, companies are focusing on the issuing of making profits from the issue of penalty charge notices rather than offering effective parking control on private land.
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Notes to Editors:
The British Parking Association is the professional body representing the interests of the parking and traffic management sectors in the UK.
The Security Industries Authority is the statutory agency set up by the Security Industries Act, 2001, which among other areas has responsibility for issuing licences to individuals operating vehicle immobilisation schemes on private land.