Consumer Champion – Private parking tickets – your rights

Invoices not fines

You know those signs you see in the car parks of supermarkets and retail parks stating that, if you park for longer than a set period of time, you get a parking ticket?

Many people think that, if they fall foul of these regulations, the tickets they are issued are the same as those issued by councils for parking offences – and fear that if they don’t pay up, they’ll get a visit from the bailiffs. But this is not the case. These tickets are not fines – they’re invoices.
Let me tell you a story about a woman – let’s call her ‘Lady X’ – and the letter she received through the post after visiting a major national supermarket – let’s call it Tescbury’s.

Now, this particular Tescbury’s where Lady X shopped has a parking policy that prohibits drivers return to the car park within two hours once they’ve left. So Lady X did her shopping, packed it into her car and drove away. She then got to the first roundabout outside the supermarket, realised she’d forgotten to buy dog food and returned to the supermarket to get it.

Two weeks later a £70 ‘fine’ drops through her letterbox, making that particular can of Winalot the most expensive dog food ever.

But should she pay up? She has broken the stated ‘rules’ of the car park, but there are two questions she needs to ask – was the penalty imposed ‘reasonable and fair’? And: did the supermarket actually lose out because of her behaviour (ie can the supermarket or private parking contractor actually prove a ‘consequential loss’)?

The answers here are almost certainly ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively; Lady X has in fact acted exactly as Tescbury’s would want her to do – she has parked specifically to spend money in their store. But how could she challenge the ‘fine’ (translation: invoice)?

For starters she could use to make her case. Read on and find out how…

What is a Parking Fine Notice?

A PFN sounds similar to the tickets issued by councils, which are known as Penalty Charge Notifications (PCNs). However, a PFN and a PCN are not the same. But while the PCN is a fine that can be enforced debt recovery if unpaid, The PFN is actually an invoice. Although the way the PFN is often presented does not give that impression!

If you do not pay the ticket, it cannot affect your credit record and the issuers cannot send bailiffs to recover the money. If they want to force you to pay, they will need to take you to court, which is costly and time-consuming.

What they are sending you is an invoice for a breach of contract. When you drive onto private land or a car park, you enter into an
unwritten contract. The issue is therefore a contractual, civil matter and not a criminal one.

Where could you receive a Parking Fine Notice?

If you have parked on private land, for example a road, car park, shopping centre, retail park or supermarket car park, then you could receive a Parking Fine Notice.

If you have paid

If you want to appeal your ticket but have already paid, then unfortunately it is too late. If you want to dispute the ticket, never use terms such as appeal, as you are creating legitimacy for the ticket. Instead, state that you would like to “dispute the ticket”.

Can you be clamped?

In 2012, clamping on private land in England and Wales was banned under the Protection of Freedom Act. In Scotland, the practice was banned in 1992. However, in Northern Ireland the right to clamp still exists.

Who is liable for the ticket?
In England and Wales, the owner is liable for the costs rather than driver of the car. Hired cars are the exception, as in the hire agreement you agree to be liable for ticket costs. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the driver is liable for the cost of the ticket.

Asked to pay at the time?

Do not pay if you are asked to pay at the time of the event. All legitimate firms will accept communications by post or email and will not expect you to pay on the spot.

What can you be charged?
The BPA recommends that any ticket should be less than £100. If you were taken to court, the firm will need to prove the costs are fair and reasonable under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. It is reasonable to ask about street parking ticket charges.

Want to contest the Parking Fine Notice?
If you are going to dispute, then you should collate as much evidence as possible to support your case. Take photos of where you received the ticket.

Grounds for dispute

Look out for: • Signs: are the signs unclear or not visible where you parked? See if you can demonstrate the signs were not reasonably visible and therefore you were unaware of the terms. • Ground markings: are any parking bays unclear, confusing or is there no ground marking at all so that you could not determine where to park? • Meter: take a picture of the ticket and the meter, along with all writing on the meter. Were the parking times or the amount you had to pay unclear? • Witnesses: if possible, get witness statements to support your case

Car was stolen/sold
If your car was stolen at the time of the incident then you should submit your Police Incident Reference with your dispute. If sold, provide proof of the sale. In both cases, if you can prove it, you are not be liable for the ticket.

What next

If the company rejects your dispute, then you can escalate to the firm’s trade member association. You must have an official reference number from the company and their reasons for rejecting your dispute. They will refer you to POPLA, the Independent Tribunal for Parking Fines. Around 40% of appeals are upheld in the favour of the public.


If you wish to dispute the ticket, then you have 28 days in which to dispute after the firm that issued the ticket has rejected your appeal.

If you do not pay, then their next step is to recover the money. To do this they must take legal action against you. Most fines will go to the Small Claims Court. However, the firm may threaten/use the County Court. If handled through the Smalls Claims Court, you will be required to pay the fine but not the company’s costs. Only around 2-5% of cases go to court per year.

If you just want to fight the ticket

Then simply respond that you are refusing to pay and remember not to say you are appealing the ticket, as this legitimises the ticket. Also write “Without Prejudice” on the letter – then no information in the letter can be used against you.