I recently had the misfortune to receive a PCN (Parking Charge Notice) for using the car park at a retail park in Nottingham. The PCN was left on the windscreen of my car, claiming I had been observed ‘leaving the site’ and was therefore in breach of a contract. After I got the notice, I went looking and found the signs on site which explained how long you could stay, and other restrictions, including a very small set of text saying you weren’t allowed to leave the site.
Let’s get a few things straight. I’m not a lawyer and this is not advice. This is a description of my understanding and a description of what happened to me.
I’d heard about PCNs before. They are not fines, nor are they penalties. They are invoices. Invoices based on the assumption that you agreed to a contract by parking your car, and that the terms of the contract are clearly published somewhere you can read them. Essentially, when you park, you read the signs, and that’s you agreeing to the contract. The contract will state that there’s a charge for not complying with the terms or something similar. Private companies, paid to manage the car parking space, will then place a PCN on your vehicle if they believe you’ve broken the terms, and will pursue the invoice.
The advice a few years ago was ignore them, don’t respond and don’t pay them. However, I believe that advice has changed recently to be appeal, object and complain, but still don’t pay. The car parking companies have started taking people to court, and they have won some cases. So it’s no longer safe to assume they’ll never take you to court. There are also added complications since the law changed in 2012 which allows them to pursue the registered car owner if the driver doesn’t respond to the PCN.
Given I was driving, and I didn’t want Grete being chased, I opted to appeal and complain making it clear I was the driver. I wrote to the PCN company, to the manager of the shop I had spent money at on the day in question, and to the owners of the retail park. I wrote some letters by post, sent a few e-mails, and some tweets.
The way it works is that if you pay within 14 days, the charge is reduced (by at least 40%, according to the law), so I was facing either £60 for paying early, or £100 for paying within the 28 days. I decided I’d rather pay £100 after complaining and appealing than simply rolling over and paying the lower of the costs. I’m lucky that it would have been a financial pain, but not the end of the world.
Yesterday, I was advised by the owners of the retail park (by e-mail) that they spoken to the car park management company and had the PCN cancelled. They also made it clear they were doing me a favour, and that they felt the charges were appropriate.
I haven’t yet heard back from the car parking company. I got a response from the shop (by e-mail) saying they couldn’t do anything, to which I replied and said they could advise the people they rent from that the behaviour of the car park management company may result in them losing trade, to which they’ve not replied yet.
When I used the car park, it was less than 40% full, and there were hundreds of free spaces. I shopped in one of the shops at the retail park. I left within the 3 hour window (although until after I got the PCN, I didn’t even know there was a 3 hour limit). I wasn’t parked across any bays or outside of the white lines. Without giving the location away it’s adjacent to, and arguably part of, an area where lots of people take breaks and enjoy the wild life and a walk. There are no signs on the site indicating where the car park ends (so I don’t believe it would be possible to enforce a ‘don’t leave’ contract, since you can’t tell when you’re leaving).
The car park management companies clearly undercut each other for their services and then supplement their income using the speculative invoicing scheme. If I was ‘observed leaving the site’ and the aim is to reduce losses to the shops, then the best bet would have been to alert me at the time, or clearly indicate the start and end of the site in question.
Anyway, it’s done now (assuming the owners are right and the car park management company do cancel the invoice).
I am considering whether it’s worth the hassle of writing to the car parking company in a couple of months and asking what data they hold on me under the DPA, and asking for them to remove it. I’ll see if I can be bothered.