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Illegal Car Park Charges

Daily Mail Newspaper - February 2015

A whistleblower approached us to reveal how thousands of motorists were being illegally issued with parking fines by local councils.
The whistleblower leaked us a copy of a Department of Transport letter which warned councils they were issuing the fines contrary to the Road Traffic Act.
We sent details of the story to the Daily Mail newspaper which ran the story exclusively.
The whistleblower retained their anonymity.
Full story:
  • Thousands of drivers have been illegally handed fines of up to £100 
  • Many town hall car parks are operating outside the law, ministers say 
  • This is because they installed automatic number plate recognition
  • System has not been approved and it cannot be used in town halls
  • The AA condemned the 'rip-off fines' as 'dodgy' and 'outrageous' 
  • Drivers are being encouraged to challenge fines and bring cases to court

Many of the town halls that have installed automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems in their car parks are operating outside the law, according to the Government.Tens of thousands of drivers have been illegally handed fines of up to £100 after stays in council car parks, it was revealed yesterday.
Ministers have now blown the whistle on the system and drivers who have been fined may be eligible for refunds. Local authorities began introducing ANPR systems in 2010, believing that it would be cheaper and more efficient. 
The cameras read licence numbers of cars as they drive in and out.
But the system has not been approved by the Government and cannot be used under the regulations which apply to town halls.
Some councils tried to get round the legal problem by contracting private operators to run the systems and collect fees.
However, roads minister Robert Goodwill has now written to council parking managers warning them ANPR car parks are not lawful and that whatever councils say about who runs their car parks, they cannot avoid legal responsibility.
Motoring organisations condemned councils for the 'rip-off' fines and accused them of fleecing customers.
They also called for drivers who have been fined to come forward to bring a test case to the courts. 
Local authorities take a high share of the money that drivers pour into off-street car parks, taking some £635million in the financial year that ended last March.
Paul Watters, of the AA, said the ANPR system is 'dodgy' and 'outrageous', adding: 'This is a rip-off situation and a £100 fine in a council car park is ridiculous
'ANPR is the lazy man's way of enforcing parking rules. There are a lot of errors. They should have staff working in their car parks.'
Hugh Bladon of the Alliance of British Drivers said: 'People will want to get back the money they have wrongly paid to councils, which have been fleecing motorists left, right and centre in every way they can think of.
'We now need someone to bring a test case to establish the rights of drivers here.'
In his letter to councils, Mr Goodwill said: 'Local authorities are expected to comply with the relevant legislation and guidance, and are accountable to their electorates.
'I would hope that you would reconsider any plans to enforce your off-street parking outside the framework.'
He added that council parking should be entirely separate from privately-run parking. The minister told the Mail yesterday: 'This Government is on the side of the motorist; local authority car parks are on public land and it isn't right for councils to target unsuspecting motorists with powers that were never intended for this use.'
Last night two councils of at least 30 in England that have ANPR car parks – Welwyn Hatfield and Cheltenham – said they were reviewing their operations.
The RAC Foundation also yesterday challenged the right of private car park operators to impose fines for people who overstay while parking on private land. It said £100 penalties, usually reduced to £50 for payment within two weeks, could be overthrown by the court and declared legally unenforceable.
Automatic number plate recognition allows cameras to read car number plates.
Invented in Britain in the 1970s, its use by police was followed up by private car park operators who use it because cameras do all the work. Fewer, if any, attendants are needed.
Cameras are linked to computers which recognise numbers and letters on a plate, check cars coming into a car park and then recognise it when it leaves.
If the driver has not paid, or the car has been in the car park longer than allowed, the operator sends the number to the DVLA which will send on the details of the owner’s address to the operator.
The operator will send out a penalty notice – which is unofficial but carries a similar name to the statutory penalty charge notices sent out by councils – demanding a fine be paid.
But it is illegal for councils to use it because the system is deemed to be unreliable.