Rarely audited, rarely inspected – no wonder private car parks are a rip-off
[8 April 2013] The woeful level of inspection of signage at car parks has been laid bare by an admission from the British Parking Association that its annual audit of 163 private parking members includes a mandatory minimum of only ONE car park being inspected per member.
So of the roughly 17,000 private car parks in the UK, all festooned with signs and markings, it’s quite possible that only about 200 are ever seen by the BPA’s supposedly independent external scrutineers, who have admitted to Plain Language Commission in the past that they have little or no specialist knowledge of readability or legibility.
The BPA told us last week: ‘We do not and cannot keep close tabs on every private car park managed by a BPA member but we currently carry out as many audits as we possibly can within a self-regulatory framework. We audit every Approved Operator[‘]s entire business model every year in addition to inspecting a minimum of one car park, managed by each operator annually. The car park is chosen at random so that the operator cannot know in advance which one we will be inspecting.’
The BPA’s lack of ‘close tabs’ was confirmed by its staff member Peter Beasley who told one concerned motorist: ‘We are not in a position to visit the thousand of ... member car parks and check all the signage.’ Funny that, because the BPA delights in telling aggrieved drivers all about its stringent inspection regime, and its battle cry is ‘raising standards’. Naturally the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the government agency in business partnership with the BPA, swallows whole the BPA’s 'high standards’ rhetoric.
It’s emerged from a Freedom of Information enquiry that the DVLA, which releases details of two million drivers a year to BPA members so that they can be chased for payment of penalties, visits these members to audit them not once every six months, not once every year, not once every two years, but once every three years.
So this whole enormous so-called ‘industry’ – which produces little but anguish and misery across the country as it chases drivers for £160million in penalties every year on the basis of very dodgy signage – is not only unregulated but virtually uninspected by the organizations that make money out of it.
Consumer campaigner and ex-Fraud Squad detective Nev Metson says he has yet to come across a single private parking ticket that complies with the Protection of Freedoms Act, which came into force on 1 October 2012. Unless the tickets – often demanding £100 – comply, the companies cannot enforce them in the courts and the DVLA has no legal basis for releasing registered-keeper data to them. (Yes, the Government is probably breaking the Data Protection Act again.) It looks increasingly as if the entire private parking industry is based on a massive bluff.
Why do Trading Standards departments sit back and do nothing as consumers continue to be fleeced by companies equipped with little more than surveillance cameras, a nice line in aggressive letter-writing, and enough brass neck to start a foundry?