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RAC Says Millions of Pounds' Worth of Parking Fines Are Illegal

The RAC Foundation has said that motorists may have been charged millions of pounds in parking penalties that have been applied illegally.

The Foundation's study found that penalties that have been charged for overstaying time in private car parks in England and Wales could in certain cases be unenforceable if tested in court. It said that the levels of penalties being charged were far in excess of the compensation the landowner could reasonably expect for any loss incurred. But the findings have been contested by the Independent Parking Committee, which argued that such penalties are the only means of protection against loss that landowners have. The RAC Foundation also said that the government should take steps to make sure that such additional parking charges were both enforceable and reasonable, and it said that it is keen to see its interpretation of the law tested in court. 
The RAC Foundation report was written by a barrister, John de Waal QC, who also argued that some parking companies were imposing charges that were completely disproportionate to any level of loss incurred by landowners as a result of a parking infringement. As recently as 2012, the Protection of Freedoms Act banned towing, clamping or blocking-in of any vehicle or immobilising it in any way without proper lawful authority. This law applies to cars parked on private land and was brought in to put a stop to the menace of rogue clamping companies. The RAC Foundation, however, found that parking firms were now turning to extortionate overstay charges as a new way to extract huge sums of money from unwary drivers. It added that this new system of ticketing was hardly regulated at all. 
Some drivers who overstay their ticketed time by only a short period are finding themselves slapped with tickets for an additional £100 and sometimes much more. The RAC used the case of a High Wycombe woman to make its point. In 2014 this woman was charged £100 for overstaying her ticket time in a car park that cost just 20p per hour. The RAC's report also questioned the legality of the practice of 'early-payment discounts', which are standard practice on many council parking tickets. They argued that these constituted a 'price escalation clause', which would be illegal under European law. The report also said that charges could and should be challenged whenever the parking signs were not prominently displayed or where their contents were unclear. 
Professor Stephen Glaister, the Director of the RAC Foundation, said that parking overcharging in the form of private parking tickets could have passed the £100 million mark in 2013, and he argued that millions of drivers could be entitled to a refund. He said that the RAC would like to see a test case so that a legal precedent could be set that would prevent such charges from being handed out in future. He also pointed to a case that is due to be heard in the Court of Appeal in late February, where a motorist had been charged £85 as a parking penalty. He said that if this motorist wins his case, then a precedent in law might be set that could see other motorists using this judgement to get their own fines repaid. 
Another woman from Uxbridge told the RAC Foundation of her case. She simply drove on to a vacant piece of land in order to turn around as she was lost, but her car was stopped by a parking operative and a £100 ticket was slapped on her car. She argued with the man but paid him 'under duress' because she was frightened and threatened with bailiffs. The woman said that if such parking charges were found to be against the law, then she would immediately take her case to court to seek a refund of her fine. She added that such companies were bullying people into paying and were preying on the elderly and vulnerable.

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