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Blog: Parking fines or highway robbery?

Blue car parking signParking enforcement in the UK is flawed, says motor lawyer Jeanette Miller.

If we were to hold a survey asking the nation's motorists for stories of their parking gripes I have no doubt we would be inundated with infuriating tales of injustice.

However, what really gets my goat about parking is the unfairness of the current system in place to dispute and appeal parking decisions.

There's also the complete lack of regulation of local authorities which are entrusted to enforce the laws in place.

BBC Panorama's parking exposé

Some local authorities see a problem with signage or motorists' understanding of the parking or traffic controls in place as an opportunity to cash in.

This is apparent when watching the BBC1 Panorama programme on parking and traffic fines, which aired on Wednesday, 12 June, and is still available on BBC iPlayer.

When there is a spike in the number of penalty charge notices issued in a particular "hot spot" this should be a flag for the local authority to investigate why this is happening.

However, instead of trying to resolve these spikes, some local authorities see this as an opportunity to line the coffers.

Parking a billion pound industry

It seems that parking enforcement in the UK has sadly become a billion pound industry, according to research by Confused.com.

It is ludicrous to assume that this huge amount of revenue is generated because the nation's motorists drive and park with the intention of acting illegally or unlawfully, or that such behaviour is on the increase.

Despite solid case law such as Camden v Cran making it clear that parking enforcement as a revenue-raising activity is not permissible, I believe it is commonplace.

Local authorities have been able to generate serious revenue from motorists' misdemeanours without the fear of consequence from any truly independent body.

Parking industry 'crying out for regulation'

There is a raft of parking case law that makes it clear that revenue raising cannot be the motivation for parking enforcement.

However, this does not seem to have made any impact on some local authorities whose target based cultures blatantly conflict with the judgments issued in the High Court.

Some might say we live in an age where health and safety and regulation is over-zealous.

Yet, when it comes to parking enforcement, in my view, this is an industry crying out for regulation.

Appeals process a mess

A further issue that makes the current regime so unfair is the way in which a motorist can appeal against a penalty charge notice (PCN).

The system is lacking uniformity so that one parking adjudicator's decision on a Monday can be contradicted by another parking adjudicator's decision on a Tuesday.

Their decisions are not binding on one another either, which can make the motorist's appeal somewhat of a "pot luck."

To many, the time and effort of disputing a penalty charge notice when balanced against the amount in dispute simply makes the process of appeal too time consuming.

It can also be costly if you involve a solicitor, and if you place a value on the time involved.

Also, if a decision made at an appeal establishes a problem with, for example, signage which renders the penalty charge notice invalid, there is no system in place to stop the local authority from continuing to issue equally invalid PCN's once that decision has been made.

Islington Council parking case

It is only when campaigners tend to get involved that councils do something to refund mass numbers of tickets, such as in a recent case involving Islington Council in north London.

The council had created what has been called a "pinch point" with the aim of catching lorries and other traffic entering a restricted road lane.

But the council failed to obtain mandatory planning permission for the alteration to the road layout.

This means that everyone who was issued with a ticket can now apply for a refund of the fines they paid.

My concern is that the council's error was discovered by chance when a motorist appealed their penalty charge notice.

The mistake was only fully highlighted once campaigners became involved in pushing for an investigation.

Why are local authorities allowed to flout the law?

Personally, I don't know of any other industry allowed to flout the law with so little consequence.

Perhaps the government is too concerned with how it will generate the millions that would need to be raised to replace the parking revenue.

Is that what makes parking enforcement an issue that government seemingly doesn't to want to address?

When a fine costs less than paying to park

It has been reported that some shoppers in Cambridge are finding it cheaper to park illegally in the city centre and pay a fine than to use an official car park.

The cost of parking in the city's Grand Arcade shopping centre on Saturdays, for more than five hours, costs £26 between 9am and 5pm.

However, parking fines are £50 but can be reduced by half if paid within 14 days, resulting in a £1 saving for shoppers comapred to the five hours parking charge.

This is another example of a local authority's actions causing the exact opposite of what they are supposed to achieve.

Rather than improving and ensuring the free flow of traffic, the charging structure in place makes it more cost effective to park in contravention of restrictions in place.

What do you think?

What do you think of parking enforcement? Have you successfully appealed a local authority parking fine?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on our message board below.

Jeanette Miller is a senior partner at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences.

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Jeanette Miller

Jeanette Miller

Motor lawyer Jeanette Miller is the managing director of Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising solely in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences.

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