I AM SURE that there are few of us who have not had the experience of being hit with a parking ticket. Usually, we accept that it is our own fault. We overstayed our welcome in a parking space we paid for, or we thought we’d take a chance on a single yellow line, or perhaps we parked outwith a marked bay. In these circumstances, we accept that we have done wrong, and grudgingly pay up.
Unfortunately, too many drivers in Scotland today are being hit with unfair penalty notices. Over the last three years, I have had many hundreds of constituents approach me complaining about penalty notices received from one private car park operator in particular, but I know that this is also a national problem with more than one company involved.
I have had examples of individuals being hit with penalty notices for short overstays of perhaps no more than fifteen minutes, or where they have inadvertently entered their number plate details into a ticket machine incorrectly, or for other minor infringements. Far from being hit with a reasonable charge, I am aware of many cases where debt collectors have sought to recover sums of up to £160, with threats of court proceedings should payment not be forthcoming. It is not surprising that many of the recipients of these notices, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, have felt intimidated into paying up even when notices are not justified.
There is currently a great deal of confusion over where the law in Scotland stands in relation to privately operated car parks. It is something of an urban myth that private penalty notices are not enforceable. But, at the same time, it seems very unlikely that penalty notices of £160 would ever be held to be reasonable in a Scottish court.
It is precisely because the current law is unclear and inconsistent that I believe that there is a greater need for regulation of private car parking in Scotland. As a result, I launched this week a consultation on a proposed Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament on regulation of privately operated car parking in Scotland.
The provision of car parking is a legitimate, indeed a desirable, business exercise. Our towns and cities need sufficient, accessible and affordable car parking if they are to thrive as business and retail centres. It is not my intention to make the operation of car parks a more difficult enterprise for private operators; but rather to strike a fair balance between the interests of the car park operator, and those of their clients.
In light of this, I am proposing to clarify and adjust the current legal position of Scottish law to benefit both clients and car par operators. I wish to introduce balanced measures that will make the experience of using a private car park more straightforward and transparent for the individual, and more consistent for the car park operators.
In my proposed Bill I plan to address the issues of excessive charges, the inconsistency of signage, the process for appealing imposed penalties, and the presentation of invoices. Also, to ensure that issues of fairness to operators are also considered, I want to examine the introduction of keeper liability, which would help operators to identify those who would become liable for penalties.
A number of years ago the law in England was changed to introduce an independent appeal system for private car parks. At the time, this was not introduced in Scotland. Whilst the system in England is not perfect, and indeed improvements are currently being considered, I believe that it is time that we had at least the same protections available in Scotland.
I would encourage all those with views on the issue of private car parking in Scotland to respond to the consultation, including car owners and drivers, representative groups, consumer advice bodies, business interests, and of course car park owners and operators. The consultation can be found on my website www.murdofraser.com