The private parking industry hits back…

In last week’s money tips email, we launched the brand new guide Fight Parking Fines. Many tickets are unenforceable… It’s been hugely popular with site users, but unsurprisingly, not with the British Parking Association, which represents private parking companies.

It sent me a letter with some objections, both its and my reply are below….

Letter from the BPA

Dear Martin,

I have been looking at your website from a professional perspective and also because some of our members have expressed a concern about the articles on private parking enforcement.

As the industry association we recognise many of the concerns that the AA and motorists have. That’s why we set up our Approved Operators Scheme to separate the good from the bad and the ugly…

Let me first say the BPA is not simply a ‘Trade Body’ but we do of course count most of the respectable parking industry in our membership; we also have over 350 public sector members including the Department for Transport and some NHS Trusts for example. We truly represent the whole parking sector. More information about us is available on our website- see link below.

As you know we have a Code of Practice for management of parking on private land but this is about to be replaced; this brand new Code is being published in October 2009, and is the result of two years work to improve and set new standards; we’ve had this out to public consultation for 6 weeks earlier in the year.

Your site refers to us proposing to abolish recommended maximum charges; this is far from the case. Moreover we would like to SET Maximum charges but are advised that we are prevented from doing so by the Competition Acts. We are in discussions with OFT about this because we believe we are acting the public interest. Our new Code does include recommended maximum charges and these are set at the same levels as the 2006 and 2007 Codes.

Another point I would like to make and would be pleased if you could set this out on your site is that let’s not forget that landowners have a right to manage their land and motorists do not have the right to park where they like when they like and for free. The vast majority of reasonable motorists recognise this and abide by the rules; those that don’t sometimes experience enforcement action and we must strive to ensure that that enforcement is fair, reasonable and proportionate.

I want also to raise the more general issue of the need for landowners to protect or charge for use of their land. Your website as it stands takes the position that when you get a ticket you should always try and get out of it whereas it should acknowledge that most people who get tickets have actually parked unlawfully at the expense of others who have paid and complied with car park terms and conditions. Other parking appeal websites and people that use them are beginning to realise that the silent majority actually respect rules and regulations in car parks and on the street and don’t like “people getting away with it”.

The BPA is keen to ensure that fair and effective parking enforcement is undertaken by all placing the customer at the heart of our decision-making. The BPA has and is working with the industry and other consumer and motoring groups to ensure the best possible outcome for the consumer is achieved.

We are lobbying Government for better regulations; we are working with DVLA to ensure that where personal data is requested it is done so lawfully and in a way which can be verified and when data is released that it is used and processed lawfully too. We are working with the SIA to improve licensing and support the concept of company licensing. We are working towards the delivery of an independent arbitration service.

Turning to the recent media exposure by the AA (ML – see the ‘Ban the wheel clampers‘ news article – ML), on the one hand the AA says that “the BPA will not act as arbiter” and yet it also says BPA – cannot be truly independent and provide proper protection for the general public. They can’t have it both ways! We would like to see a TRULY independent arbitration service, which is why we do not act as arbiter.

If it would be helpful, I would like to meet, perhaps in London, or you’re welcome to visit us at Haywards Heath, to explain what the BPA is, what we stand for and how we might work with you towards what I’m sure is a common goal, fairness and transparency for everyone.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards

Kelvin Reynolds,

Director of Technical Services”

My response to the letter

Dear Kelvin,

Thank you for your concern about the private parking guide, my team and I have read it and reviewed our guide accordingly, and appreciate you taking the time to write.

MoneySavingExpert.com is a purely pro-consumer site, so I must start by saying that the concerns of your members and the impact on them is something we don’t take into account – in much the same way as the impact on the banks in bank charges, or loan insurers in PPI reclaiming is mostly irrelevant.

Yet there are valid concerns about fairness and propriety and landowners’ rights in legitimately operating parking regulations.

We take our journalism and responsibilities very seriously – sadly though, we rarely hear similar about the private parking enforcement across the UK – in fact some of the behaviour of the sector you represent is truly reprehensible.

I was surprised your correspondence failed to address these issues, surely in writing to raise your concerns, it would’ve been worth addressing some of the systemic problems.

You didn’t mention:

  • The surreptitious disguise of many tickets to try and resemble official council tickets.
  • The unjustifiable threat of debt collectors, including court action or bailiffs coming to take goods.
  • The talk of hitting credit files and the ridiculous attempts to pretend that these tickets are fines.
  • The action of clamping or towing, effectively kidnapping a vehicle, often when it’s entirely unnecessary.

I was also surprised you didn’t challenge the main premise of the guide, that some of these tickets are legally unenforceable.

Getting on for 100,000 people read the guide on the day it first appeared in our weekly email, evidence that these issues are ones many are concerned about. I would be fascinated to hear your members’ views on these issues.

However let me move on to responding to some of the specific points you addressed…

“Let me first say the BPA is not simply a ‘Trade Body’ but we do of course count most of the respectable parking industry in our membership; we also have over 350 public sector members including the Department for Transport and some NHS Trusts for example. We truly represent the whole parking sector. More information about us is available on our website- see link below.”

Forgive me I’m confused by the point here, your website states “the BPA represents, promotes and influences the best interests of the parking and traffic management sectors throughout the UK and Europe”. Your job is representing the interests of client members, not to help consumers; surely that makes you ‘simply’ a trade body?

“Your site refers to us proposing to abolish recommended maximum charges; this is far from the case. “

Thank you we have reviewed this and taken it out of the guide.

“Moreover we would like to SET Maximum charges but are advised that we are prevented from doing so by the Competition Acts. We are in discussions with OFT about this because we believe we are acting the public interest. Our new Code does include recommended maximum charges and these are set at the same levels as the 2006 and 2007 Codes.”

This is far more than about maximum charges, though on past record the level that the industry would choose to set them is far too high and the confidence we have in self-regulation and self imposed maximums is extremely limited.

The entire current system is an unworkable, unfair mish-mash. Allowing and justifying private parking companies to dictate ticket costs, and when they should clamp or tow away is not a system I support.

“I want also to raise the more general issue of the need for landowners to protect or charge for use of their land. Your website as it stands takes the position that when you get a ticket you should always try and get out of it whereas it should acknowledge that most people who get tickets have actually parked unlawfully at the expense of others who have paid and complied with car park terms and conditions.”

I think you may’ve misread the article? Even in the introduction it states “This step-by-step guide to fighting unfair private company parking tickets isn’t about circumventing legitimate rules, but to help when they’ve been applied unfairly or inappropriately.”

It then goes on to state in huge letters, the largest textual graphic in the entire guide, “If you get an unfair ticket, Don’t pay it.” The premise of the guide is about how to fight unfair tickets, however that’s something we believe our users are perfectly capable of self defining.

“If it would be helpful, I would like to meet, perhaps in London, or you’re welcome to visit us at Haywards Heath, to explain what the BPA is, what we stand for and how we might work with you towards what I’m sure is a common goal, fairness and transparency for everyone.”

As for your offer of me coming to meet the BPA, thank you for that, though if I may suggest what I think is a more constructive system. The prime job isn’t about persuading me but the possibly millions who potentially feel hard done by private parking tickets.

So I’d like to extend an offer that you come and represent the BPA on the MoneySavingExpert forums (by far the biggest of their type in the UK) answer peoples’ questions, listen to some of the nightmares people have and we’d more than welcome it.

I will also publish your notes and my response in my blog, so people have the opportunity to read the views of your organisation.

Kind regards,

Martin Lewis.
MoneySavingExpert.com

Your views…

Well that’s the BPA and my views… I’d be interested to hear yours via the link below

Comment and discuss

Martin's Twitter Feed

@MartinSLewis

Archives