Lynne Jones MP Lynne Jones MP working hard for Birmingham Selly Oak

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Enforcement of Parking Restrictions on Private Land

Update: May 2009

Following the completion of the Security Industry Authority (SIA)’s study into the regulation of vehicle immobilisation companies in England & Wales, the Government has announced a full public consultation on new proposals (http://press.homeoffice.gov.uk/press-releases/consultation-wheel-clamping) .  The proposals include a compulsory licensing scheme to tackle the abuses of those companies clamping on private land that have been documented on this website and elsewhere, and include

  • signage, including size and visibility
  • maximum penalties charged and payment methods
  • a minimum time between immobilisation and removal
  • providing evidence that a parking infringement has taken place
  • security and location of pound where vehicles are impounded
  • complaints and appeals policy.

The direct link to a downloadable PDF version of the full consultation document is here: http://tinyurl.com/qv8g2d 

The consultation will end on July 23, and comments and contributions from members of the public are being sought, and details of how to make your contribution can be found here: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-vehicle-immobilisation/

I will, of course be responding to the consultation and will post this on my website.

Though the proposals will clearly be an improvement, they stop short of the outlawing of the use of vehicle immobilisation by private parking enforcement companies, as in Scotland, and my own preferred solution.   It is also disappointing that it has taken so long to produce the consultation and that even more time must now elapse before we can see any of the changes implemented.

If you do not have your own internet access or find it difficult to gain access through public libraries or internet cafes, you can call my constituency office on 0121 486 2808 (on weekdays before 1pm) and my staff will be happy to send you a printed copy of the response questionnaire by post.


Update: February 2009

As indicated in earlier updates, the Security Industry Authority (SIA)’s study into the regulation of vehicle immobilisation companies in England & Wales should have been completed by the end of December 2008, and was to include a definite timetable of actions that the Home Office would move to implement in the shortest possible time.

As there has been no sign of the completed study, I contacted the Home Office again.   In a letter to me dated 18 February, the Minister responsible, Vernon Coaker MP, told me that he expects the study to be completed “by early 2009”, and undertook to notify me as soon as there was more news on the project.  Depending on any changes the report recommends, there is likely to be a period of full public consultation. 

In view of the ongoing reports of people who have fallen victim to the money-making behaviour of clamping companies, I am disappointed that the study has not been published in line with the anticipated timetable and that implementing any recommendations could be further delayed.  I will of course publicise the report on my website as soon as I am notified of its publication.

Update: July 2008

Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards Department has successfully prosecuted one of the most notorious operators of car-clamping in the Midlands, landing the owner of Nationwide Parking Control and National Parking Control with fines totalling 4,000 and costs to be paid of 860. This was reported in Birmingham’s local evening paper, the Evening Mail: click here.

Nationwide Parking Control is one of the companies that feature most often in the experiences of my constituents and those non-constituents who have contacted me, having had their vehicles clamped and had large sums of money demanded of them by the operators of companies such as these.  No doubt 4860 is a small price for Nationwide Parking Control to pay, given the amounts of money that the company takes by preying on unsuspecting motorists, but  the initiatives taken by Birmingham are very welcome and are greatly to be commended.

The Government’s proposals for reforming the legislation (for details click here) on the regulation of clamping activity on private land in England and Wales are due to be published at the conclusion of their consultation in December, and I hope will eventually result in a much more robust regulation regime that will end the abuses that companies like Nationwide Parking Control have been able to get away with, but until then I would strongly recommend that anyone experiencing similar problems with car clampers should contact their local Trading Standards Department.

Update: June 2008

Wheel Clamping

Since my press release almost two years ago highlighting a typical case (click here for more information), and calling for changes in the law, I have heard from many other people up and down the Country who have fallen victim to the often predatory and unscrupulous tactics of many companies operating vehicle immobilisation schemes.   These include:

  • Inadequate signage

  • The high level of release fees charged

  • Intimidating behaviour

  • Sharp practice (the luring or entrapment of motorists)

The Government is now moving to address the concerns I and other MPs have raised with them.  Sadly, it is not proposed to outlaw clamping as in Scotland, my favoured approach, because apparently the law there on extortion is different.   Instead there will first be a cross departmental study (involving the Home Office, the Department for Transport and the DVLA) aimed at scoping and profiling precisely the vehicle immobilisation sector in England & Wales and identifying the types of complaints raised by members of the public and the potential loopholes and difficulties in dealing with them.

Thus far, the Government’s favoured approach is a compulsory registration scheme for companies who operate within the private security industry, with clamping companies being addressed as a priority.  The existing legislation requires the licensing of individuals who perform designated activities, including clamping operatives who charge a release fee, but not of the companies that employ them.

The study is expected to be completed by the end of December of this year, to be followed by a definite timetable of actions to be implemented in the shortest possible timescale.  I will be keeping a close eye on developments to try and ensure that the eventual proposals will be effective in putting a stop to the legalised extortion practised by many wheel-clampers.

Previous postings:

November 2007

Since the last website update on this topic (see May 2006 below) , I am pleased to be able to report that there have been some important changes to the regulations concerning companies that operate parking enforcement schemes on private land. The changes are aimed at

        Protecting vehicle keepers from the misuse of their information;

        Ensuring that those people who have good case for doing so can obtain the data they require;

        Balancing the right to privacy of individuals whose data is held on the vehicle register with the rights of others, such as parking companies, to obtain proper redress;

        Producing a scheme that is right in principle, and works in practice.

There are 14 new measures in total.  One of the most important, in my view, is that companies seeking access to the DVLA’s vehicle register now have to be current members of an accredited trade association, with a clear and enforced code of conduct (see item (5) below.  This replaces the DVLA’s old voluntary code of practice. One of the companies implicated in many of the instances of misconduct that people reported to me, Central Ticketing, has confirmed to me that it has now become a member of the British Parking Association, a respected trade body that first published its own code of conduct for Private Parking Enforcement on private land in 2005, though until now it has had no significance in law.  The BPA is also shortly to become the first and only trade association accredited by the DVLA. The BPA code can be found by following this URL :  http://www.britishparking.co.uk/index.php?path=1,240 

This is a very welcome development and will prevent companies that continue to operate in the unscrupulous manner that I have highlighted on this website from getting automatic access to the DVLA register.

The fourteen new measures are summarised below:

1. There is now new detailed guidance on what is likely to constitute a “reasonable cause” for a company or individual to access information from the vehicle register.

The DVLA website http://www.dvla.gov.uk/foi/relinfo.aspx has the guidance.

2. Clear guidance is now included on the detailed application forms that must be completed by any person seeking vehicle keeper data from the DVLA database.  The guidance advises clearly that any person misusing the data may have future requests refused.  The behaviour of applicants for approved conditional access is now taken into account when an application from them is considered, and where behaviour has not been of a suitably high standard, access is not granted.

3. The new application form requires enquirers to provide evidence that they are the landowner, or that the landowner has granted them permission to act on their behalf – a statement from the landowner is required.

4. The new application form includes a requirement to provide evidence that adequate penalty schemes/signage etc, are clearly displayed.

5.  Those bodies and companies seeking approved conditional access to the vehicle register are required to be current members of an accredited trade association.  Part of the process of determining accreditation of these organisations includes ensuring that there is a clear and enforced code of conduct (for example relating to conduct, parking charge signage, charge levels, appeals procedure, approval of ticket wording, and appropriate pursuit of penalties – e.g, approach by letter only, with county court action necessary to permit a house call).

6.  Any organisation that does not comply with the terms of the accredited trade association will be expelled, and without valid membership of another accredited trade association, will lose approved conditional access to the DVLA vehicle register. This forms part of the process and conditions of accreditation.  Loss of accreditation by a previously accredited Trade Association will result in that Association’s members losing their access to the register.

7. All of those seeking approved conditional access will be required to serve a probationary period of six months or, if longer, the period of time it takes to lodge 20 requests to the vehicle register, during which time all requests must be made on a case by case basis.

8.  It is now required that all organisations that receive data from the register, as evidence of their “reasonable behaviour” , and as a condition of access to the register, must include in any correspondence with a vehicle keeper a leaflet or statement advising them of :

  • The “reasonable cause” that formed the basis of the request;
  • The complaints procedure by which a data subject can notify both the DVLA and the Information Commissioner if they believe that their data have been used inappropriately;
  • The appeals procedure (of the regulatory body) if they feel that, for example, a parking charge notice has been issued incorrectly;

- and that this information should be placed on the DVLA website.

9. The DVLA must maintain on its website (http://www.dvla.gov.uk) a list of organisations and companies who have requested data, and the reasons for their requests.   

10.  A reference to location on the DVLA website of guidance and advice and all other data related to the release of vehicle keeper data is to be included on all DVLA documentation sent to the vehicle keeper, including the annual VED reminder.

11. There is now a rolling 3 year programme of audit checks, including targeted checks on those companies and organisations where concerns have been raised.

12.  An audit will be triggered by complaints of substance representing a disproportionate level of granted access requests, or any complaint of a serious nature.

If, following implementation of the audit recommendations, a disproportionate level of complaints of substance are received, an organisation with approved conditional access will be required to submit requests on a case by case basis.  If it is already subject to request on a case by case basis, it will be subject to additional scrutiny of each request it makes.  If a disproportionate level of further complaints of substance is received and a company is found consistently to be using data inappropriately, or a serious complaint of abuse of the system by the applicant is substantiated, then there is a real possibility that the applicant would not be deemed to have reasonable cause for future requests for data release, which would consequently be declined.   

13. A clear procedure is in place by which data subjects can notify DVLA if they feel that their data has been used inappropriately.  The DVLA now draws the attention of vehicle keepers to this procedure by including information in paperwork sent to them and on the DVLA website. This includes information on how they can notify the Information Commissioner of the mis-use of their data.

14. Complaints received about a company will form part of a the evaluation of whether its application to access data from the vehicle register validly includes a “reasonable cause”

 

May 2006

Since the article below first appeared on my web pages in June 2005, I have had literally dozens of responses from people in many parts of England who have experienced unfair treatment by companies operating Private Parking Enforcement schemes. I regret that I am not able to respond individually to the large numbers of people who are contacting me by email. I would still like to hear about what has happened to you, but regrettably – unless you are a constituent of  mine living in the Birmingham Selly Oak Parliamentary Constituency – I cannot respond personally to help deal with individual cases.   Instead, if you have experienced problems with Central Ticketing or a similar operator, please ask your own Member of Parliament to take up the issue on your behalf.   Find out who is your MP by typing your postcode into this website:   http://www.locata.co.uk/commons/ .

To assist your MP, I am making available as a proforma on this website the letter I sent to Central Ticketing on behalf of my own constituent last summer, which successfully obtained a refund of the fine which Central ticketing had incorrectly levied on him. I hope that you will find it useful.

You may also be interested in my press release on this issue, posted in August 2006. Click here to read it.

Mr. Jason Lee,
Managing Director,
Central Ticketing Limited
Radclyffe House,
66-68 Hagley Road,
Birmingham
B16 8PF

13th July 2005

Dear Mr Lee,

I refer to my earlier letter to you of June 6th, 2005 on behalf of my constituent Mr. XXXX, to which I have as yet had no reply, and in which I asked you whether in your view your company had handled Mr. XXXX’s case fairly and properly.  You will recall that Mr. XXXX had stopped his car for approximately three minutes at The Ashley Pub Permit Holders’ car park, Rowley Regis, at 09.50 on 8 March 2005. Mr XXXX had made the stop on his way to Rowley Regis Crematorium in order to check his road atlas as he was running late for the funeral service he was due to conduct there.  He did not park his car, no-one alighted from the car, and his engine was kept running for the duration of the stop. 

Mr XXXX received no notification whatsoever that he had infringed parking regulations in force at the Ashley Pub controlled by your Company.  The first he knew of these regulations was when he received a letter from Central Ticketing dated 22nd April demanding payment of an initial penalty charge of 50, escalated according to that letter to 85.  Mr XXXX responded to this letter, querying the charge, and requesting a copy of the original parking charge that your company is obliged to issue since you have signed up to the DVLA’s Voluntary Code of Practice for Private Car Parking Enforcement.  Though sent by recorded delivery, Mr. XXXX received no reply to this letter, but instead received a demand for a sum now escalated to 135, from a firm of debt recovery agents called Phillips.  Under such duress Mr. XXXX paid the amount of 135 on 26 May 2005.

I have now investigated the regulations pertaining to the enforcement of parking restrictions on private land, and find your practice in this instance to be in direct breach of the DVLA’s Voluntary Code of Practice, to which I understand your firm is obliged to sign up to receive registration information.  Specifically, point 3.2 of the code states:

“Notices giving full details of the parking contravention and the proposed course of action to be taken by the enforcer should be placed in a prominent position on the ‘offending’ vehicle without causing it damage.  Vehicle keepers should be made aware that their name and address will be requested from the DVLA”.

It is clear to me that Mr XXXX was provided with no such notice, even when having requested it on receiving your initial demand, and that he was not made aware that his name and address would be being requested by you from the DVLA, as clearly you had already done so in order to write your first letter contacting Mr. XXXX on April 22nd. As such, Central Ticketing is in breach of the Code of Practice on two counts. I would also recommend that you review the visibility of your signage on-site, as required by point 3.1 of the voluntary code, as Mr. XXXX has no recollection of any such prominent warning signs.

In my letter of 6th June, I questioned whether you thought that the treatment Mr XXXX received from Central Ticketing was appropriate. I hope you will now agree that not only was it inappropriate, but in breach of the Voluntary Code of Practice. I am sure that your Company would have due regard for its reputation for operating both ethically and within regulation. As such I would suggest to you that a full refund to Mr.XXXX of the 135 he has had to pay, coupled with an apology, would be appropriate in this case.

Your failure to respond appropriately to this letter within the next 12 working days will result in my reporting your Company to DVLA for your failure to comply with the Code of Practice.

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Yours sincerely,

LYNNE JONES MP

January 2006

Since I was first notified of this issue and posted the information here on my website (see below) I have been contacted by people from up and down the country – from Cornwall to Manchester – who have experienced similar problems with private parking enforcement companies operating in breach of the code of conduct.  A man who contacted me from Stockport was able to obtain a full refund of a fine incorrectly levied by Central Ticketing after following my advice.  After raising the issue with the DVLA, I have also contacted the Minister for Transport, Dr. Stephen Ladyman, and a review into the regulations governing the release of DVLA driver information to private parking enforcement companies is now being undertaken. I have expressed my concerns to the minister at the way these companies routinely breach the provisions of the voluntary code of practice in order to maximize their income through the issuing of penalty charge notices and the levying of fines, and have suggested that the code of conduct needs to be enforceable and compulsory, not voluntary, and allow for the possibility of sanction against companies who operate in breach of its provisions. Hopefully, the review will result in the necessary tightening up of the regulations.   

August 2005

I have recently dealt with a case which has highlighted a problem that may affect many others.  I helped a constituent from King’s Norton to get his money back after he had been wrongly charged 135 by a firm operating parking enforcement schemes on private land.

Central Ticketing is a Birmingham-based company that issues tickets to motorists who park in breach of parking regulations in force on private land, and collect penalty charges from them after tracing the motorists’ names and addresses via their vehicle registration plate at the DVLA in Swansea.  They are employed by landlords and others who need to make sure that their sometimes limited parking facilities are properly used.  Because they are not car clampers, firms like Central Ticketing are not covered by recent legislation designed to regulate the activities of those firms that immobilise vehicles with clamps, but instead have to sign up to a voluntary code of practice regulated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority in order to operate. They must agree to follow this code of conduct in order to be able to obtain a driver’s details from the registration number of his or her vehicle and collect the penalty charges which are the basis of their income.

An extract from the DVLA voluntary code (http://www.dvla.gov.uk/vehicles/codeprac.htm) follows:

“Notices giving full details of the parking contravention and the proposed course of action to be taken by the enforcer should be placed in a prominent position on the ‘offending’ vehicle without causing it damage.   Vehicle keepers should be made aware that their name and address will be requested from the DVLA”.

In the case I recently dealt with, no ticket was issued to the motorist, who had made only the briefest possible of stops to check his road map on the way to a funeral for which he was running late – he didn’t even switch off his engine or get out of the car, but he received a demand shortly afterwards for payment of a penalty charge he, until then, had had no inkling he had ever incurred.  He wasn’t even issued with the ticket when he asked the company for it in a letter sent by recorded delivery, but was asked to pay a penalty charge of 50, shortly afterwards escalated to 80, and finally 135.  Central Ticketing also did not tell him that they would be requesting his details from the DVLA, as required by the code.

As the company had clearly operated in breach of the voluntary code, I was able successfully to get them to refund the motorist’s 135 (which he had paid in fear of having the bailiffs sent round).

I am very concerned that companies may be operating with such apparent disregard for the DVLA’s code of practice simply in order to maximise their income, and I have reported Central Ticketing to the DVLA.  I will also be pressing for the regulations around companies operating private parking enforcement schemes to be tightened up.

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