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Small signs of success in parking campaign


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[16 Sept 2012] From 1 October 2012, a new code of practice will govern the activities of private parking companies that belong to the British Parking Association (BPA). For the first time, the code will require members to put a large sign at car-park entrances stating the main type of parking available, eg ‘pay and display’, in lettering 60mm (2.4in) high. This is a success for our campaign to get private car-park signs improved, but there remain doubts about whether it will lead to generally beneficial change for motorists because the rest of the code remains highly ambiguous and weighted strongly in favour of the companies, which chase drivers for more than £160million a year in phoney (ie, non-official) fines. (See our other recent new stories, and our Articles page under ‘Parking’.)

 

Both the BPA and the government’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) avoided consulting Plain Language Commission on the draft of the new code, despite (or because of) our frequent contacts with them about mislewading signage.

 

Martin Cutts of Plain Language Commission wrote to BPA president Anjna Patel giving our reaction to the new code.

 

‘I... am pleased it has adopted some of the points I and others have raised with your officials over the past two years. On signage, for example, the new draft will require a clear sign at the entrance saying, eg, ‘pay and display’ in lettering 60mm high. The new draft also references the DfT signs manual, which my article ‘Phoney fines and dodgy signs take drivers for a ride’ suggested should be the model for private parking signs. The BPA had previously insisted that signs were perfectly clear when the words ‘pay and display’ were only 13mm high, eg about five times smaller than you now require, and had resolutely supported member companies that had imposed thousands of PCNs [parking charge notices] on motorists who had omitted to pay and display because of such signs.

 

‘Of course it remains disappointing that while the BPA wants sign wordings to be clear, it sets no standards whatever for clarity. This means that its current bankrupt inspection regime will continue to find ungrammatical and nonsensical signs absolutely clear, to the detriment of motorists.

 

‘I’m pleased the expected contravention charge has been cut to a maximum of £100, tacitly accepting that charges of up to £150, fully approved by the BPA for more than five years, have been immoral and unjust. I’m also pleased that the BPA has made clear that the charges levied by many private members have been unlawful as they have been penalty charges: this is the only possible interpretation of draft code para 19.5, which says the charge must now reflect the “genuine pre-estimate of loss that [the landowner] suffer”. This crucial phrase was absent from the previous code.’

 

We’ve now written to the DVLA, the government agency (in partnership with the BPA) that provides its government-accredited trade association status, to ask for its interpretation of the word ‘loss’:

 

‘Please provide us with the DVLA’s/BPA’s agreed and accepted interpretation of the phrase ‘genuine pre estimate of “loss”. What legal precedents have the DVLA/BPA relied on in support of their interpretation of the phrase “genuine pre estimate of loss”? What elements [of parking company expenses] have the DVLA/BPA agreed will be interpreted as “loss”? Please provide examples of what the DVLA/BPA will consider acceptable and unacceptable as “loss”.’

 

The draft code requires charges not to be ‘punitive or unreasonable’ but does not say how this phrase is to be interpreted. We have asked the DVLA for clarification.

 

The BPA has produced a code that allows it wriggle-room for interpretations that will favour its members, to the detriment of motorists. While we await the DVLA’s answers to our questions with interest, all the indications are that this duplicitous agency will continue to collude in the BPA’s efforts to take as much money from drivers as possible.

 

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 allows private parking companies to chase registered keepers, not just drivers, for their unpaid phoney fines. It also requires a supposedly independent appeals service to be introduced. We have asked the Department for Transport to explain how the service will be independent when it will not operate to ombudsman rules, is under contract to the BPA, and is paid for by the BPA's private members. We have pointed out that it will be forever looking over its shoulder at its paymasters, the BPA.

 

The BPA has said it will get its new, ambiguous code accredited for plain language by the Plain English Campaign Ltd. Now there’s a marriage made in hell if ever there was one: a trade body that pretends to be the motorist’s friend while enabling its members to extract increasing amounts from drivers, teamed up with an firm that gives prizes to its own customers in a supposedly public competition without revealing its commercial tie-ups with them (click here for ‘The Plain English Awards Scandal’).

 

 

http://clearest.co.uk/news/2012/9/16/small_signs_of_success_in_parking_campaign?page=1

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If the BPA had had the courage to employ the PLC to assist it then they might just have been able to argue that they had an intent to be honest and open in their dealings. I am not suggesting that they are dishonest or secretive in their dealings but their actions hardly engender trust or a sense of balance.

 

As for the suggestion that the BPA was the motorist's friend we would do well to keep in mind that its chief executive - Patrick Troy - was the head of traffic enforcement at Transport for London prior to his appointment at the BPA and before that he was the head of enforcement at the LB Sutton. I think that might represent something of a pattern.

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Just a quick query on this, does this only apply to members of the BPA? I ask as we have a parking company in my home town (Whitehaven Harbour Commission) and they are not listed on the list of BPA members. If the code of practice only includes BPA members then what if we get an 'invoice' from said parking company?

 

Members taken from here: http://www.britishparking.co.uk/AOS-Members

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In response to Michael Brown's excellent letter.

The subject of pre-estimated loss in my opinion is intriguing to say the least. For example, if the recipient of a Parking Charge Notice pays the fee within the initial period of time allowed by the PPC then a "Discount" is supposedly offered. However if the individual decides to appeal to this new independent appeal body it will be the higher figure that will be charged should the appeal fail. So lets look at the average charging rates at present.

 

A PCN is issued for the sum of £90.00 and reduced to £45.00 if paid within lets say 7 days for the sake of this debate. However, if the charge is appealed there is a finacial cost to the PPC of £27.00+Vat = £32.40, the VAT is then recoverable by the company taking us back to the figure of £27.00. Therfore if we add the lower figure plus the cost of appeal the total equates to £72.00.

 

Therfore if the upper figure of £90.00 is charged how can this be seen as an estimate of loss or how can it be claimed that the appeals procedure is funded by the industry.

 

Am I missing something here?

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I'm still at a loss to this. How could £90 be a true reflection of loss of earnings for say a £1.50 pay and display ticket? Even £45 "discounted" can't be a true reflection in my eyes.

 

Is it not a case of you pay for what you have used (ie over stayed an hour so you pay the hour price of say £1.50)? If you don't pay it straight away you then have the admin costs and possibly the DVLA Registered Keepers trace cost (a couple of quid I think) so the amount you owe in total is possibly £10-£15 (dependant on the breakdown the PPC provide). You then appeal it and it costs the PPC £30 odd which cannot be passed on to the driver/RK. You pay the £10-£15 but the PPC has paid the £30 so in total they are out of pocket?

 

Thats how I see it but it can't be like that or the PPC's would never chase up unpaid tickets as they would lose money. But yet a ticket with a large proportion of money on (say they do want £45-£90) surely would again be classed as a penalty?

 

I'm confused :|

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As i understand it they can not pass the cost of the appeal on to the driver/ RK.

That's my understanding too, that appealing to the so called 'independent appeals service' (POPLA) is cost free to motorists in the same way that PATAS costs councils for every appeal but is free to appellants.

 

The main difference is that POPLA decisions are not binding on the motorist and that to enforce payment if a motorist still refused to pay, PPC's would have to issue a county court claim. At that point they may decide to add the POPLA appeal cost to the claim

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That's my understanding too, that appealing to the so called 'independent appeals service' (POPLA) is cost free to motorists in the same way that PATAS costs councils for every appeal but is free to appellants.

 

The main difference is that POPLA decisions are not binding on the motorist and that to enforce payment if a motorist still refused to pay, PPC's would have to issue a county court claim. At that point they may decide to add the POPLA appeal cost to the claim

 

I would be surprised if they did add that cost as it is already stipulated this is free and non binding to the motorist, so this would make it even more of a "Penalty"

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