The management of parking on private land is back in the spotlight and making headlines, as recent government statistics show that private parking firms issued 1.95 million tickets to drivers on sites such as shopping centres, leisure facilities and motorway service areas.
The RAC Foundation revealed that 159 companies obtained records from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to chase car owners for alleged infringements in private car parks between April and June of 2021-22. The RAC Foundation also found the number of parking firms has grown by two-thirds in the past five years.
This data was published after the House of Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee came together on 17 November 2021 together to discuss the ‘Parking Code of Practice enforcement framework’, before the RAC Foundation research was issued.
The MPs questioned representatives from the parking and debt recovery sectors as well as motoring organisations about the implementation of a government-sanctioned code of practice, a single appeals service, and a system of charges and penalties that would be more in line with those levied by councils are all still awaiting ministerial sign-off.
The Daily Mail has run stories calling parking operators ‘cowboy parking firms’. The newspaper states that the ‘1.95 million tickets’ is up 64% from 97 during the same period in 2016; and if the rate continues for the rest of the financial year, the total will come close to the record high of 8.4 million set in 2019/2020.
However, sensationalising and categorising all operators as ‘cowboys’ is untrue. There is a strong contingent of ethical actors supporting the vital transport network. Admittedly, there is no denying that the numbers of Parking Charge Notices (PCN) have gone up. But that could be down to any number of factors. One major factor is the increased use of technology which removes the necessity to ‘affix’ a charge notice to the vehicle and, instead, requires access to the DVLA data in order to serve notice through the post. This process utilises the statutory framework enabling liability to be passed to the keeper rather than waiting for the driver to challenge or pay the PCN.
Equally, we do agree, there needs to be a change, and transparent and clear language use around parking – more education is required with motorists and landowners to assist with changing perception across the sector, especially around how parking infringements are enforced. Ultimately, if anyone is found breaching conditions of parking, they need to be made aware. This is where PCNs come into effect, they educate people about – and deter – irresponsible behaviour in a manner that is self-financing. Importantly, they need to be fairly aligned with the degree of offence.
The level of the parking charge must be high enough to deter negative behaviour and not encourage individuals to run the risk for their convenience.
Often overlooked is the fact that the private parking industry offers competition, which in turn can reduce the cost of parking for the motorist. There is no monopoly or state price fixing either, largely due to the number of parking operators out there. Whilst the industry and government has not agreed any standards just yet – there are suggestions, and we welcome any measures intended to raise industry standards and provide clarity for motorists and operators alike as this can only improve the perception of an industry whose primary purpose is to foster access to centres of employment, services and amenities.
Finally, for landowners with parking to regulate or monetise, there are a number of ethical parking management firms out there to work with who operate robust, legal processes that are within the law. They are accredited with the International Parking Community (IPC) or British Parking Association (BPA) and bound by their codes of practice.
We encourage landowners to seek them out and work with them to solve car parking abuse on their land. Parking management is not some dirty secret or the lawless Wild West. Effective, lawful management of parking is a service sector that is crucial to the UK’s social and economic recovery, providing all motorists with access to high streets, hospitals and homes.
Dyl Kurpil is managing director of District Enforcement
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