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Confusion on the part of motorists is common when it comes to parking charge notices. Private parking tickets (or Parking Charge Notices) differ from council-issued Penalty Charge Notices, and they aren’t technically backed up by law. Whilst local authorities enforce public parking tickets, which usually come with fines called Penalty Charge Notices, private parking firms don’t have this power.

The difference is where you park – public parking tickets are issued for breaching parking rules on public land (for example: roads or public car parks), whilst private parking tickets are issued for breaching parking rules on private land (for example: supermarket car parks). Whilst fines for the former are legally enforceable by the authorities, fines for the latter are not. This is because private companies don’t have the same legal power, and the fines they issue are technically invoices for an alleged breach of contract. They cannot send bailiffs, and have no right to clamp your vehicle. Instead, they rely on confusion on the part of motorists (particularly the similar wording of Parking Charge Notices and Penalty Charge Notices) to enforce their fines.

However, new legislation has been passed to tackle rogue private parking firms. The new law was backed by the RAC, and brings in better regulation of private car parks with a new code of conduct. It also makes it easier for drivers to challenge fines through an independent appeals service.

Further, the new law makes it harder for firms to request access to the DVLA database. In 2018/19 alone, private parking companies are expected to issue a record 6.5 million fines, and in the first half of the financial year 3.2 million driver details were issued. Thus, the new law will have a big impact on limiting this access, to prevent private companies from taking advantage of motorists.

Nicholas Lyes, the head of roads policy at the RAC, said that “for too long, some unscrupulous private parking operators have made drivers' lives a misery with some questionable practices”, and “the code will create more consistent standards across the board, which should eliminate dubious practices and create a single, independent appeals process.”

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As such companies rely on confusion on the part of drivers to force drivers to pay their fines, it is important that motorists are aware of the facts. If you are issued a parking fine, find out if the firm is public or private, and if it is private check that it is on the list of either the British Parking Association or the Independent Parking Committee approved operators. If not, the firm doesn’t belong to a trade body and is unable to enforce the fine – so you do not have to pay. Next, if you think the charge has been wrongly issued or is too high, don’t pay the company straight away. Instead, appeal to the parking firm, and if they reject it, appeal to the independent appeals service. As it is not a fine, but rather a breach of contract, to be legally binding such a contract requires a clear offer, acceptance, and consideration. If the contract terms and notices are not transparent – so signs that are clear, easy-to-understand, and allowing informed choices – then the contract may be void. This means that the motorist is not required to pay the fine

Overall, the new legislation will provide motorists with more rights, and place checks and balances on private parking firms who try to take advantage of drivers. However, it is still important that you are aware of how parking fines work, and know your rights if you are issued one.