Tayside motorists who ignore fines from private parking firms, believing them to be unenforceable, do not have the law on their side.
That’s the view of Aileen Scott, Associate Solicitor at Miller Hendry, who warned local drivers to be on their guard when parking on private land.
Her advice comes in the wake of two landmark cases which saw judges both north and south of the border rule that private parking fines are legally enforceable.
Carly Mackie received Britain’s biggest parking penalty of £24,500 earlier this year. The 28-year-old wrongly believed she was entitled to park her Mini in front of her family’s garage near their Dundee home, and that the tickets were unenforceable.
But private firm Vehicle Control Services took Ms Mackie to court when for ignoring more than 200 penalties. The firm said she had not challenged a single fine and was not entitled to leave her car there without a permit. In a written judgment Sheriff George Way said Ms Mackie had “entirely misdirected herself on both the law and the contractual chain in this case” and ordered her to pay up.
Meanwhile, 47-year-old Barry Beavis also lost his 2015 Supreme Court battle over parking charges. The chip shop owner from Billericay claimed an £85 charge for over-staying the free parking period at the town’s Riverside Retail Park by nearly an hour in April 2013 was “unfair and disproportionate”. But the Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Beavis’s claim against management company ParkingEye who said its charges were “fair” and “legally enforceable”.
In Scotland parking on public land is managed by the local authority, and where it is not, the police are responsible instead. On this land parking tickets can be issued by either the local authority, a parking attendant, by a police officer, or a traffic warden.
On private land, parking is often managed by private parking companies who issue their own parking tickets. The rules about issuing these tickets are different to the rules about issuing tickets by local authorities or the police.
Miller Hendry’s Aileen Scott explained: “It has been widely considered that private parking schemes on private land are unenforceable in Scotland. Mainly because the terms on the signs in these car parks can be unclear raising doubts that a valid contact could be entered into and the enforcement letters then referring to the court system in England and Wales. However, the rulings in two important recent cases now define the law in Scotland.
“If you park on private land, such as a supermarket car park or a privately owned multi-storey car park, you are entering into a contract with the landowner. If there are clear signs displayed in the car park setting out rules for using the car park then these are the terms of the contract. By parking on this land you are entering into a contact with the landowner under these terms. If these terms are broken the car park owner can take steps to enforce them. There is often a private operator managing the car park for the owner, as in the Vehicle Control Services case.
“It is worth bearing in mind that NHS boards are responsible for the management of NHS parking facilities and they may have a private operator managing the car parking facilities at their hospitals on their behalf. Again signs at these car parks set out the terms and conditions of your usage of the car park and these terms and conditions are enforceable.
“Landowners and parking operators do not need licences to issue parking tickets. It is an unregulated business although many car park operators are members of an accredited trade association such as the British Parking Association or the Independent Parking Committee. Under their codes of practice a charge should not exceed £100 unless it can be justified, so you may still be able to challenge a charge of more than £100 if the parking operator is a member of a professional trade association.
Ms Scott said both cases demonstrated that parking fines issued by private firms are legally enforceable.”
She added: “My advice – read the signs, regardless of whether you think it is a private or a public car park you are in. Note the time you entered the car park and note the time you should return. If you cannot comply with the terms of usage of the car park – if you think you are going to be late in returning – either move your car or be prepared to pay the fine. The car park operator, whoever they may be, is likely to have the law on their side.”