How I got my parking fine cancelled

12 October 2015
I’ve had a bit of a bad run with parking fines lately and unfortunately not with the ‘nice’ transparent council ones. The ones I’ve been slapped with are the irritating ones issued for so-called offences on private land – which means the likes of hospitals, supermarkets and retail estates. The first was for overstaying at my local Morrisons. I can’t argue that I didn’t breach the terms stated by ParkingEye, the company that runs the car park; however, the fine – which from memory was close to £100 – seemed disproportionate especially as I’d spent more than that in Morrisons for my weekly shop as well as entertaining my three-year old in their café, with a magazine, again purchased in-store. My blood was literally boiling when I received the fine in the post. Telling people my woes, several other victims told me to simply ignore it. The charges aren’t legal, I was told. They can’t make you pay them, they said. They’re just being opportunistic. But ignoring the fine went against my (not terribly rebellious) nature so I turned to the master of all wisdom: Google. That however, left me even more confused. While a great body of opinion urged me to ignore it, there were tales of caution warning me that if I did repeatedly fail to pay the charge I’d be taken to court. There was advice telling me how to appeal and how to word my letter – but it all seemed fiendishly complicated and there was no guarantee of success. So rather than appealing to Parking Eye, I turned to social media and sent the supermarket itself a tweet. Very quickly I got a response back asking for a few details, and then the following day they sent me a direct message to tell me the fine had been cancelled. Phew! But I was caught out again a few weeks ago in a gym car park. I was taking my son to a birthday party and, following the instructions of the host, entered my car registration number into a touch screen in reception, to register my car for free parking. All I can presume is that I entered the number plate incorrectly, because shortly afterwards I received another letter in the post, with another fine. Again I was up in arms and decided there and then to appeal, but there was no information on the letter explaining my rights. The gym gave me an email address with which to appeal but I heard nothing for almost two weeks before eventually receiving a letter saying my appeal was being considered, then a couple of days later a more formal letter explaining that my appeal had been rejected. It told me thankfully that I had a further two weeks to pay the fine at the lower rate but, outrageously, that I would lose that right if I decided to appeal again this time through POPLA, the independent appeals service for parking charges on private land. With that in mind I returned to Twitter and sought out the gym in question. Very quickly they told me they would investigate on my behalf. A few days later I got the news that they had managed to get the charge waived. While the law surrounding these charges seems to be decidedly unclear, I’d never urge anyone just to ignore a parking charge – even if motorists across the UK are doing so with no repercussions – but I would say don’t just pay up without thinking. These companies may use bullyboy tactics (the letter that failed to tell me about my right to appeal or provide any instruction on how to do so, did tell me that the charge could be passed on to a debt recovery agency if I didn’t pay up) but that doesn’t mean you can’t fight them. My experiences tell me that the official appeals process seems to take limited note of mitigating circumstances (unlike fines issued by councils), and these companies make their money by issuing parking tickets they want you to pay. Nonetheless they do operate under the instruction of the company that employs them – be that Morrisons, a gym, a retail estate – which will not want to lose valuable customers. These firms want customers to use their facilities without fear of punitive charges. So if you get caught out, complain to them first whether that’s speaking to them in person or over the phone, writing a letter or like me, taking advantage of the immediacy of social media.