By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey
Q: I parked my car at a well known shop and I walked to a different complex to do the rest of my Christmas shopping, when I got back I had a parking ticket on my car. What are my rights?
A: Private land includes places like shop car parks, hospital car parks, other privately owned car parks and private roads. It doesn’t include public roads or public land, such as car parks run by TransportNI.
If you get a parking ticket on private land, it’s a notice that the owner of the car park or the private car park operator intends to take you to a civil court and will offer to let you pay the fine to settle the case out of court. This is a civil matter, not a criminal one.
Your options are that you can either pay it, challenge it or ignore it. What you choose to do will depend upon whether you think the charge is justified, who issued the ticket, how you feel about challenging or ignoring it and what may happen if you do.
Pay, challenge or ignore?
If you get a parking ticket on private land what you can do will depend upon whether or not the parking company is a member of the British Parking Association (BPA).
If you decide to pay your parking ticket, BPA members must give you a discount for paying early. Other parking companies may or may not.
Challenging or ignoring an unfair parking ticket
If you park on private land and get a parking ticket, you might think this isn’t fair because you didn’t break the rules or the rules weren’t clear. Tickets can also be unfair if the amount you are asked to pay is too much or you had good reason for staying over the time you had paid for. You should contact the parking operator, giving your reasons, and asking them to withdraw the ticket. You could also approach the private company with an interest in the car park, for example the supermarket whose car park you have parked in, and ask them to withdraw the ticket.
Writing to a BPA parking company
If you get a ticket from a parking company that is a member of the British Parking Association (BPA), you are asked to write to that parking company with your reasons if you think the parking ticket is unfair.
If you ignore the ticket, a BPA parking company can get details of the registered keeper of the car from the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA). However, a BPA company has no legal right to pursue the registered keeper for payment unless they can prove the registered keeper was driving the car when the ticket was issued.
Writing to a non-BPA parking company
If you get a ticket from a parking company that isn’t a BPA member, you can write to that parking company with your reasons if you think the parking ticket is unfair. As these companies are not BPA members, they can ignore your letter.
You may choose not to write in the first place and ignore the ticket. If you don’t write, the parking company won’t have your contact details and can’t take you to court. Non-BPA parking companies aren’t allowed to get details of the registered keeper of the car from the DVA.
If you challenge a ticket and the challenge succeeds, your ticket will be cancelled. If the parking operator rejects your challenge, they may have an internal appeals process that you can follow. In Northern Ireland there is no right of appeal to an independent tribunal.
If your challenge fails or if you ignore a ticket, it is possible that the parking operator will take enforcement action in order to recover the charge, although in practice it is unlikely they will carry through a threat of this kind as the amount of money involved is usually quite small. If a parking operator does want to proceed to recover the parking charge, they will have to take you to the small claims court. If the operator does take court action, you may be able to defend the case against you on the grounds that you didn’t park in breach of the rules, the fine is unreasonably high or you were not the driver of the car.
Until you receive notice that the company is taking you to court, you can ignore demands for payment. If they keep contacting you, you can ask them to stop harassing you. If the company behaves badly, you can also report this to the landowner or to the British Parking Association, if the company is a member.
Contact the British Parking Association to find out if a parking company is a member at www.britishparkingassociation.co.uk
• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1:00 - 1:30pm), email advice is available at firstname.lastname@example.org