From the business desk: Time to clamp down on private parking firms

IMAGINE spending £100 on a weekly food shop, only to receive an equally high fine through your letterbox days later – all for outstaying your welcome in a private car park by a minute or two.

Sadly, this absurd situation is greeting an increasing numbers of consumers, who are falling foul of private parking firms operating car parks in places like supermarkets and fast food restaurants.

At the Herald and Gazette, we have heard countless stories of fines upwards of £90, often sent to people who have strayed minutes over an advertised time limit in a free car park.

Perhaps they have stopped too long for a leisurely cup of coffee in a supermarket café, or been caught up at the tills. Either way, they are soon faced with the same outcome – an astronomical fine and a threat of debt collectors if swift payment is not received.

Parking restrictions may be introduced for many reasons, including dissuading non-customers from using the facilities, to controlling use of limited spaces.

But I find it difficult to understand how such firms can justify fines of nearly £100 – or more if quick payment is not made – for what are usually free car parks. It is not proportional.

If a car park is £1 per hour and the user overstays by a further hour, I do not think they should pay any more than the additional fee. One car is taking up one space, limiting the possible ‘damage’ caused by the overstay.

Anything else, I believe, is excessive.

Additionally, what message do these fines send to the customer?

If I were a supermarket customer, for example, spending more time and, likely, more money, on my shop, only to have stayed longer than the car park time limit and fined as a result, I would be unlikely to feel my future custom was welcome.

I could appeal, showing proof of purchase as excuse for my long stay, but by that time, the damage has been done.

It is my view that tougher regulation must be introduced to significantly reduce the powers of the private parking firms.

This should include a complete abolition or capping of fines to more reasonable levels. A legal challenge is being mounted against such fines and it will be fascinating to follow its progress. Visit www.challengethefine.com for more.

The Citizens’ Advice Bureau can advise further about rights to appeal.

Oli Poole

Business reporter