Since 2012, the private parking industry has boomed. Back in 2012, ‘only’ 1.6 million private parking tickets were issued per year. By the 2018-19 financial year this had increased to 6.8 million private parking tickets per year in 7 years – a 400% (FOUR HUNDRED PERCENT) increase.
This boom in the industry was caused by a number of factors:
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012
Back in 2012 the Protection of Freedoms Act was passed by the coalition government. PoFA was passed to ban wheel clamping by private parking companies who used this tactic to unfairly extort money from motorists. The compromise made with the industry was to introduce keeper liability – this is where in the absense of the driver being named, the keeper of the vehicle could be held liable for any parking charges incurred. The DVLA enable the industry by offering access to their database of keepers for a small charge. As of 2018-19 this business is worth £17m a year to the DVLA.
When people think about parking tickets they often think of parking wardens sticking tickets on windscreens. In reality, the number of parking attendants patrolling car parks hasn’t really changed. Instead, ANPR technology is what has driven the boom. ANPR allows the entry and exit times of cars to be captured. Where cars are detemined to have stayed longer than the arbitrary maximum stay, the keepers details issues are requested from the DVLA database, and a ticket issued via the post. This approach is devastatingly effective for parking companies – it allows them to automatically issue thousands of tickets per day at a very low operating cost. The keeper often won’t know anything about it until a letter is received in the post.
Accredited Trade Associations
For a private parking company to access to DVLA database, membership of an accredited trade associationm (ATA) is required. Membership of an ATA means that the parking company must follow that ATAs code of practice to ‘prove’ that it met a set of standards.
Prior to PoFA there was only one private parking trade association, the British Parking Association (BPA). With the obvious boom in the industry, another ATA was formed – The International Parking Community, originally the Independent Parking Committee. Focussing only on private parking, the IPC could offer more competitive membership rates and attracted many members away from the BPA.
Each of the ATAs has their own, and critically different, codes of pratice. The codes of pratice effectively determine the potential profitability of a parking company; a less rigorous code of practice means that a parking company can be more profitable. This is almost always to the detriment of the motorist. The competition has caused what many industry observers consider to be a race to the bottom.
These three factors: the Protection of Freedoms Act, ANPR, and the intra-ATA competition have arguably caused the industry to boom in terms of tickets issued. However, motorists and consumer associations did not sit quietly and accept this, and lobbied the government to take action.
Private Members Bill
Off the back of the furore surrounding the private parking industry, East Yorkshire MP Sir Greg Knight put forward a Private Member’s Bill, the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill. The intent was to create a statutory code of practice for the industry which would help protect motorists from aggresive and sharp practices. As Sir Greg says:
The clear majority of car park providers are honest and fair but unscrupulous rogues are undermining the whole sector with bad practice. Some dodgy operators are engaging in practices such as deliberately unclear signage, fining people whist they are getting change to pay for parking and tickets being issued despite parking payment machines being out of order. Currently there is no legally binding code to prevent this. My Bill does nothing to diminish the rights of landowners to earn a fair income from their land, including seeking redress when motorists don’t play by the rules. But the scales need to be rebalanced so the system is fair for all involved. My Bill, will help stamp out rogues in the industry.
The bill received cross-party support, including the backing of the Government. Through 2018 the bill went through the various legislative phases in parliament. On 15th April 2019 the Act received Royal Assent from the Queen to become law.
As of May 2019 the legislation is awaiting for the single Code of Practice and single appeals service to be set up. Once they are, it should hopefully be the catalyst for reform in the private parking industry.
Hansard and video of debate