The number of parking tickets issued to drivers on private land surged by more than a million last year, new figures reveal.
RAC Foundation analysis of DVLA data found 6.81 million vehicle keeper records were released to car parking management firms in the last financial year.
That's up from 5.65 million the year before and an astonishing 25 times the number issued in 2007.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, described the number of tickets issued as "staggeringly high".
"Businesses who employ private companies to manage their car parks should be taking a close look at how they are operating, the implications for the drivers who will often be their own customers and, ultimately, what that means for their own reputation," he added.
Parking companies obtain records from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to chase car owners for alleged infringements in private car parks such as at shopping centres, leisure facilities and motorway service areas.
Each resultant penalty charge can cost drivers up to £100, which means parking firms could be raking in more than half a billion pounds from drivers each year.
New laws aimed at putting rogue car park operators out of business came into force in March.
Greg Knight MP's Parking (Code of Practice) Bill is designed to stop firms accessing the DVLA's database – thereby limiting their ability to issue tickets – unless they comply with a new code of conduct.
Drivers will also be able to more easily challenge unfair tickets through a new independent appeals service.
In the past 13 years, more than 33 million vehicle keeper records have been obtained by parking firms from the DVLA. More than half of these were in the past three years.
"We have never advocated a parking free-for-all, but for a system that is clear, transparent and fair for drivers and landowners alike," Gooding said.
The DVLA charges private firms £2.50 for each record search.
The agency says its charges are set to recover the cost of providing the information and it does not make any money from the process.
RAC's tips to avoid a parking fine
- When you park your vehicle, always look for signage of terms and conditions.
- Make sure your vehicle is parked within the bays.
- Do not park in disabled bays unless you have a blue badge.
- Take note of the time you are allowed to park, when you parked, and whether you are required to pay to use the car park.
- Private parking companies are known to issue fines even if you are just a few minutes late. Operators who are BPA members must by law give you a 10 minute grace period, if you were refused it, appeal it.
I've been handed a ticket – can I appeal it?
If you feel you have been unfairly charged, do not pay a penny. Paying immediately is an admission of guilt and you cannot then subsequently appeal.
All private parking firms need to be members of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA) and abide by the ATA’s code of practice.
There are currently two ATAs: the British Parking Association and the International Parking Community.
Both ATAs have established independent appeals services that drivers can use if their own appeal fails.
Check the British Parking Association (BPA) or International Parking Community (IPC) websites to see the parking company is registered.
You can also call the BPA on 01444 447 300 to check if a company is a member.
Don’t pay a parking ticket from a company that’s not an ATA member. They can’t take you to court because they can’t get your details from the DVLA. They can only chase you for a parking ticket if you give them your address, so don’t contact them.
If you get a ticket in the post from a non-ATA member, report them to Action Fraud because the company could have got your details illegally.
If you think the Parking Charge Notice you've received is unfair or it's above £100, you can contact the company or the landowner explaining your reasons and why you're disputing it.
Try to gather as much evidence as possible and include it with your letter (such as photographs of the bay, unclear street signs, repair notes if relevant and the ticket itself) – make sure you send this by recorded post or ask the Post Office for proof of postage (this is a free service).
This is known as an informal appeal – if you're unhappy with the final outcome, you can escalate it externally.
If you feel the charge is too high, ask for a breakdown of how the losses are calculated. If the maths don't add up, contest it.
If you're unsure of how to put it in writing, you can use this Citizens Advice template letter .
For a hospital parking ticket, you should send evidence to the parking company if your appointment was running late.
Ask the hospital receptionist to confirm in writing that were delays and send this on to the firm.
If your appeal is rejected
If you've challenged your unfair ticket, and have been outright rejected, you have to take it to an independent appeals system.
This can only be done after you've exhausted all of the company's internal appeals process. It's a free to use service.
This only applies to firms in the British Parking Association (BPA) Approved Operator Scheme or the Independent Parking Committee (IPC) Independent Appeals Service. If your firm is not registered, it may be breaking the law (see above).
You have 28 days after stage 2 to make an appeal to the Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA) and 21 days to take it to the Independent Appeals Service .
If the independent adjudicator agrees with you, the charge will be cancelled.
If POPLA rules in favour of the operator, you may then take your appeal to the Ombudsman Services .
If you fail to pay, the company will have the right to take you to a small claims court.
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