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Stop the parking sharks bringing misery to motorists across Britain: Four shocking cases laid bare and why we are calling for action

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 09/10/2018 Lee Boyce for Thisismoney.co.uk and George Nixon For Thisismoney.co.uk

© Getty When Scott Bevan went to work in Swansea one morning in June, he paid to park for 12 hours with a parking app. 

Yet, he returned eight hours later to a £70 fine. His crime? Scott had entered the last three letters of his registration plate incorrectly. In a rush to get into work, he had partially used details of his old car.

The private parking firm that issued the fine could have rectified it with a common sense approach, as Scott could prove he had paid for parking and had made a simple human error. 

But four months later, the 29-year-old, of Llanelli, Wales, has endured a barrage of threats from debt collectors and could be forced to go to the County Court to defend himself.

a man standing in front of a building: Willing to fight: Motorist Scott Bevan (pictured with his wife Kelly) received a charge after making an error with his registration plate - and it could go to County Court © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Willing to fight: Motorist Scott Bevan (pictured with his wife Kelly) received a charge after making an error with his registration plate - and it could go to County Court Scott's story is typical of many tales from drivers across Britain and today, This is Money is calling for action to stop the DVLA selling personal details to private parking firms and making British motorists' lives a misery.

As overzealous enforcement unleashes a wave of parking fines on Britain's drivers, we are also asking for the appeal process to be fairer, in order for people to have their side of the story heard.

That would come instead of being held to ransom by the threat of spiralling costs.

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Furthermore, we believe that automated private parking ticket hotspots should be identified and then investigated by the DVLA, rather than it enabling firms to profit by selling on motorists' details to them for £2.50.

In short, we call for common sense, as we lay bare some of the shocking cases that have seen motorists chased, bullied and harassed over private parking fines for dubious and minor infringements.

Other cases involve off street car parks, supermarket parking and even a numbered driveway of a specific house, in which the owner, George MacKay, saw a fine slapped on his windscreen. 

We are calling for three simple changes in our 'stop the private parking sharks' campaign:

Deprived of the ability to sell personal details, it would become much harder for private parking firms to contact the registered keeper of a vehicle demanding money – often with the threat of a 'fine' increasing if they appeal, despite those drivers not having breached the Highway Code.

In a world in which our right to privacy has been heightened by GDPR rules, we ask how is it that the DVLA is allowed to pass on these details without permission?

We're not talking about instances in which authorities such as councils or police ask for the information, but instead the menace of private parking firms.

Private parking enforcement using automatic number plate recognition cameras has mushroomed across the UK in recent years. Stations, supermarkets, shopping centres, pubs, restaurants, hotels and more have joined private car parks in setting up cameras to catch drivers.

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How private parking firms make money

Research by the RAC Foundation last year found that 19,000 motorists a day had their personal details bought by private parking firms. 

This works out at 570,000 people over the course of a 30-day month.

Certain private parking companies can buy your personal details from the DVLA at a cost of £2.50 per motorist.

This means that these firms only need to claw back a £60 charge from one in every 24 drivers to break even on the cost of buying your details.

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A sign is erected, with often onerous rules, to claim the driver has entered into a contract with the land owner and any minor infringement, however suspect, sees a ticket automatically sent out. 

The parking sharks are located across the land, targetting people in almost every car park and the plague has worsened in recent years, as parking firms armed with cheap Big Brother ANPR cameras have convinced landowners to cash in.

And the DVLA is raking it in too. It pulls in £1.5million a month from selling on registration details.

But that's at the cost ofmental anguish for drivers, many now becoming scared to stop anywhere, and damage to the High Street as people stay away.

We are also calling on the independent appeal process to be made fairer.

In typical circumstances, private parking firms dish out the 'penalty' and pressurise payment within 14 days. 

If you don't pay up straight away, or dare to appeal, the notice often threatens a higher charge- including via the official appeal process - and the threat of court action.

Many simply pay out of fear.

We want the appeal process to freeze the original charge while it is investigated, meaning more drivers are likely to take their case to the independent body rather than worry about a bigger charge. 

Thirdly, we are calling for a change to the application form sent to the DVLA by private firms to include the location of the 'offence' – once they apply for a certain number it should be investigated as to whether or not they are fair.  

In August, This is Money assistant editor Lee Boyce revealed how he fought one of these unfair charges and won.

Off the back of this, we have been swamped by drivers sharing their woe. Many of the cases where the firms have not backed down despite a simple explanation are simply astonishing, as we reveal below.  

Heading to County Court even though I paid for a ticket

Scott Bevan was threatened with possible court action after he accidentally entered the last three letters of a registration plate of an old car when paying for a parking ticket.

The 29-year-old from Llanelli parked his car one morning and paid for 12 hours through the Ringo app on his phone, before heading to work in Swansea.

When he returned eight hours later, he found he had a parking charge notice stuck on his windscreen from a private company asking him to pay £70.

When he contacted the firm in question to inform it that, despite the mistake, he hadpaid for a ticket, which he could prove, and not overstayed his allowed time, the company told him that the charge was still due because 'the terms of the contract to park on the land had been breached'.

Scott, who works at an insurance company, said that after his initial appeal was rejected he was harassed and sent many debt collection letters by a solicitors, who he said were acting as debt collectors for the private parking firm.

He said: 'I am at the stage now where I am about to be set a "Letter Before County Court Claim," even after contacting the solicitor and explaining the situation.'

He added that he planned to take his case all the way.

He added: 'It has been a very trying time as I am also moving house. Essentially they want me to pay £70 for breaching a contract even though I paid for a ticket and was out of the spot before my time ended.'

a man driving a car: Fightback begins: This is Money has been inundated with tales of private parking woe (picture posed by model) © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Fightback begins: This is Money has been inundated with tales of private parking woe (picture posed by model)

Sent £60 charge – despite photos showing I left car park in time

Naida Begum was sent a parking charge notice asking her to pay £60 - more than a month after she had parked, without even explaining why.

The 47-year-old parked in an off-street car park in Oldham on 23 February 2018 and paid for a ticket for an hour, leaving again within that time period.

Yet on the 27 March, more than a month later, she received a letter from a private parking firm at her home address in Sutton Coldfield telling her she had breached the car park terms and conditions.

However, the charge notice did not explain why she had contravened the parking rules, stating only that 'either a ticket was not purchased, or the vehicle remained in the car park for longer than the ticket allowed.'

Accompanying photographs showed the car entering the car park at 13.36 and leaving again at 14.35, within the time period she had paid for.

The foster carer wrote back to the company, explaining that the charge was invalid because the company had failed to write to her within 14 days of the alleged contravention, as required by Schedule 4 Paragraph 9 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

She told This is Money that since sending that email to the company in March explaining why she would not be paying the charge, she is still yet to receive any kind of response from the firm in question.

She said she has not been given any acknowledgment that the company had received her response, nor had they told her they would be rescinding her charge.

This has left her in limbo and worried that it has been escalated to debt collectors

Second day in new home and slapped with charge for parking in my own bay

Retiree George MacKay, 65, had only just moved into his new house with his wife on a private estate in Chichester when he received a penalty charge notice for parking in his own bay.

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The appeal process

When a British Parking Association member parking firm rejects an appeal, they have to offer you the chance to appeal via an independent body.

This is a POPLA code which can be used in reference to the case.

On its website, it says it is not funded by the individual operators. 

Instead, it charges the BPA for all cases it handles. 

It adds: 'This is a set fee regardless of the outcome and as such, appeal outcomes are not driven by commerciality.'

The biggest problem with this appeal process is drivers worried about appealing, being turned down, and then facing a bigger fine.

Often, a £60 fine will turn to £100 if an appeal goes to POPLA and it is rejected. This may deter many from going down this route. 

We want this to change.

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The estate has a parking management system which is operated and enforced by a private firm.

Each property on the estate has a recognised parking space with a number on the kerb in front of the space.

The residents are allocated paper permit discs with the corresponding number to be displayed, proving they are permitted to park there.

On just his second day in his new home, George and his wife had been out shopping and left the paper disc displayed on the dashboard with their car parked in their house's space.

To their surprise, the following morning they found the dreaded yellow bag with a parking violation attached to the windscreen.

They discovered that their parking disc had ended up on the floor of the car on the passenger's side.

George said that there had been a strong wind the previous day, and that must have blown the disc off the dashboard when they closed the rear door.

He added that, at this time, there were still a number of vacant properties on the development, and many times witnessed casual parkers leaving their cars in designated bays without the requisite parking permits.

He wrote to the company objecting to the charge, sending them a photocopy of their permit to prove that they had a right to park there.

However, even after this, the private parking firm told him the decision was final and he must pay. Worried, George paid the £60 charge to put the matter to bed.

I visited same supermarket two days in a row – and received a penalty for staying for 18 hours straight

a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Aldi madness: Sylvia received a penalty charge thanks to camera mishap © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Aldi madness: Sylvia received a penalty charge thanks to camera mishap

Sylvia Newham, 60, received a £70 penalty charge after a private firm claimed she had been in an Aldi car park for more than 18 hours.

In fact, what had actually happened is she visited the supermarket in Nuneaton in consecutive days in July 2018.

She said: 'I would think that the camera didn't pick me up leaving on the first day – or they are trying it on.'

She did not have a charge stuck on her windscreen, but received a letter through the post a few days later asking her to pay £70 within 14 days.

The retiree from Wolvey, Leicestershire, contacted her bank to prove she had made two separate transactions over two days, showing she had shopped twice.

Instead of appealing to the private parking firm running the car park, she went directly to Aldi, who investigated her case and came back saying that the charge had now been suspended.

She said: 'What distresses me are the folk who aren't able to deal with challenging these notices and end up paying out – even when they don't have the funds to do so.'

Why can't drivers opt out of having details passed on?

This is Money spoke to three experts about personal information being sold on by the DVLA.

Annabel Kaye, a GDPR expert, says: 'The DVLA have not made it clear in their documentation what their legal basis for processing and sharing this data is.

'It must judge the risk of a breach to personal privacy with the need to enforce the law and public policy on vehicle and driver related crime and trespass.

'Normally you would expect a written Data Privacy Impact Assessment before such sharing was established.

'We have not seen that DPIA. We do not know if that DPIA takes into account the fact that whilst some people knowingly park on private land without permission, others genuinely mistake the signage and there are a tiny minority of dubious organisations who deliberately offer poor signage and make a business out of collecting fees by using the DVLA information to track down individual car owners.

What about the consultation? 

A consultation was ordered by the then Department for Communities and Local Government in 2015 entitled: parking reform: tackling unfair practices.

From here, an 'Advisory Code of Practice' was developed that:

- to access the DVLA vehicle record that operators must be a member of an accredited parking association.

- that inability to follow this code will lead to the denial of the access to the DVLA vehicle record.

- That the Secretary of State will accredit parking associations only if satisfied that they have the capability to assess compliance with and enforce the code.

- That the parking associations and operators will, in turn, be audited by a Scrutiny and Standards Body.

However, it appears this code of practice is not working, as many drivers continue to face unjust charges from parking firms unwilling to budge upon appeal.

You can read more about this after a recent Freedom of Information request from someone who took part in the consultation.  

'If you object to your data processed this way you can do that under Article 21 of the GDPR but you have to show grounds relating to your particular situation.

'Anyone can find out the registered keeper of a car for £2.50 and if this is dangerous for you, make sure you write to the DVLA and object.

'You will have to do more than say you are scared - you will need to provide something to support this.'

Marie Kell, partner and head of commercial law at Andrew Jackson Solicitors LLP, says: 'Contrary to your readers' beliefs, consent is not a prerequisite to processing personal data - instead it is only one of the grounds on which a controller can process personal data. The relevant grounds in the case of the DVLA would be:

- The processing is necessary to comply with the controller's legal obligations (Article 6(1)(c) and recital 46);

- The processing is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller (Article 6(1)(e)).

'Put simply: the DVLA will provide data to allow landowners or their agents (private firms) to pursue legal rights and disputes (such as the enforcement of a parking fine) but only if they are members of an Accredited Trade Association.'

Sarah Pearce, privacy and cybersecurity partner at international law firm Paul Hastings, says: 'The GDPR does not prevent the DVLA from sharing/selling an individuals' personal data to private organisations where it has (i) provided valid/sufficient notice to individuals; and (ii) has a lawful basis for the sharing/selling of data.

'A driver has a right to object to processing of data (e.g. sharing/selling in this instance) if the processing is for the DVLA's legitimate interest.

'This right is not absolute and the driver must be able to articulate the specific reasons why they are objecting to the processing, and demonstrate that they have a compelling reason as to why their interests override those of the DVLA.

'The DVLA can refuse to comply with this request where: (i) it can demonstrate its compelling legitimate grounds for the processing, which override the interests, rights and freedoms of the individual; or (ii) the processing by the DVLA is for the establishment, exercise, or defence of legal claims.'

What the DVLA says

This is Money put our concerns to the DVLA and asked for its comment on our the actions we are calling for. It would notgive us an on the record comment.

On its website, it says: 'Private car parking management companies that give out parking tickets or trespass charge notices can only request information from DVLA if they're members of the BPA or the International Parking Community.'

It says that it ensures data processing complies with data protection rules – and it shares information with third parties where the law permits.

It provides information to private parking management companies according to strict guidelines, including regular audits to ensure the information is used appropriately.

Where issues occur, it says it will take appropriate action – however, as our cases above outline from four different private parking firms, this doesn't appear to be working.

If the DVLA was receiving some of the complaints from motorists of unjust fines they may see just how ridiculous many of them are. 

It goes on to add that the information provided relates to the registered keeper, not the driver and it is possible that the registered keeper may not be the person who was driving the vehicle at the time of the alleged contravention.

The release of information to follow up private parking contraventions is provided for in law and this has not changed with the introduction of GDPR.

Vehicle keepers are not able to opt out and the consent of the data subject is not required where processing takes place under these conditions.

Further guidance on disclosure of DVLA information under reasonable cause is published at www.gov.uk/request-information-from-dvla.

While DVLA charges a fee for the release of vehicle keeper information, the charge is set to recover the cost of processing, ensuring that the burden is met by the requester and not passed on to the general taxpayer.  

 
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