Warning over cowboy clampers

Car being towed

Drivers are being caught out by an “epidemic” of cowboy clampers, a report from the AA has warned.

A new report from the motoring group warns that many companies offer DIY packs that allow anyone to set themselves up and start earning money as a parking enforcer. They can then clamp or issue parking tickets to vehicles in private car parks, as the companies that employ them use DVLA records to send out parking tickets, with both parties taking a share of the resulting fine.

The practice is perfectly legal because there are no regulations for parking control in private car parks. The basic rules include the licensing of clampers and a trade association's codes of conduct.

But the AA has branded the behaviour of these cowboy clampers as “shocking and unacceptable”.

In a new report highlighting the rise of these money-making schemes, the motoring group says: “While the AA accepts that some enforcement is justified, the scale of private enforcement and level of punishment meted out by an army of private enforcers is frightening and often borders on criminality.”

In one case, an elderly pensioner and her sick husband were wrongly 'double charged' £370 while parked. As the clamper breached its trade association's code, however, the couple did manage to recover their cash. But many others are not so lucky.

There are also concerns that these DIY clampers are boosting their profits by encouraging people to break the rules.

Cowboy clamper tactics
Parking decoy cars to 'encourage' people to park
Hiding signs by parking the clamp van in front of them
Making up extra charges such as 'tow truck called' fee
Clamping drivers still in the vehicle, even if they're checking a map or making a phone call
Deliberately targeting 'vulnerable' motorists
Source: AA

More than one in 10 drivers say they have been issued a private parking ticket over the last year, and tens of thousands of people have had their car clamped or removed from private car parks. One lady driver was charged £300 and had her car clamped while she sat in it with the engine running, the AA claims.

Paul Watters, head of public affairs at the AA, says: "Private parking enforcement is big business generating millions of pounds and no one notices and acts when the rules are broken.”

The Home Office is proposing that wheel-clampers should be licensed, and forced to register with an approved trade association and, therefore, bound by a code of practice. However, the AA says this will just encourage the problem – and calls for wheel clamping to be made illegal, as it is in Scotland.