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Ignorance no longer bliss…?

It's a common myth that parking charges issued by private companies in respect of private car parks are not enforceable. It's widely thought that if you are issued with a parking fine by the owner or operator of a private car park, you should simply ignore it and not make payment, since there's nothing the car park owner or operator can do to enforce payment.

This is exactly what motorist Carly Mackie thought when she was issued with multiple parking charges by Vehicle Control Services Limited who were contracted by the factors of her parents' housing scheme to provide and monitor a parking management scheme. Ms Mackie continually parked her car within the area controlled by Vehicle Control Services Limited, despite there being visible signage advising motorists of the requirement of a permit to park in the area and the consequence of a fine if the terms and conditions of the parking were breached. There were eight signs displayed around the entrance points to the private parking area.

Ms Mackie had been offered a parking permit by Vehicle Control Services Limited, however she declined the offer, preferring instead to park without a permit within the private parking area, as she was of the belief that any charges levied against her by Vehicle Control Services Limited were unenforceable in law and therefore she would not face any consequences or financial penalty for non-payment. Vehicle Control Services Limited issued Ms Mackie with numerous parking charges, each in the sum of £100, reducible to £60 if paid within 14 day of the date of the charge, as a result of her parking her car without a permit in the property managed by them. Ms Mackie failed to make payment of any of the charges and a debt of £18,500 was accumulated by her. Vehicle Control Services Limited raised an action for payment against Ms Mackie at Dundee Sheriff Court. The action was defended by Ms Mackie on the basis that Vehicle Control Services Limited had no right to issue the parking charges and therefore she was under no obligation to pay them. The decision has recently been issued by the Sheriff at Dundee Sheriff Court.

The law

The law in respect of parking tickets can be differentiated between parking on local authority owned land and private property.

Local authorities are able to issue parking tickets (known as a 'fixed penalty' or a 'penalty charge') by virtue of the powers vested in them by legislation.  Unless successfully appealed, these charges are properly payable to the local authority and enforcement measures can be used to secure payment.  This fact seems to be well known and generally accepted by the public.

Private property owners - or more commonly, car parking operators that are employed to manage the private car park - are able to issue parking charges, provided they display adequate signage within the parking area, including the entrance area, which clearly sets out the terms and conditions of use of the parking area and the consequences of breaching those terms and conditions. It all comes down to fairly simple principles of contract law.   By parking in car park which has clear signage setting out the terms and conditions of using the car park, the driver is taken to have accepted the terms of the contract and therefore is bound by those terms.  Guidance is provided by the British Car Parking Approved Operator Scheme Code of Practice: The Control and Enforcement of Parking on Private Land and Unregulated Private Car Parks.

However, a common misunderstanding persists that private car park operators are not legally entitled to issue parking charges and consequently, parking charges issued by private car park operators are often ignored.

The decision in Vehicle Control Services Limited v Carly Mackie

In this case, the court confirmed that Vehicle Control Services Limited had a valid contract with Ms Mackie. Their parking area clearly advised motorists of the consequence of parking in the area without a permit. By choosing to continually park in the area, Ms Mackie accepted the contract and its terms and conditions. By parking in the area without a permit, Ms Mackie breached those terms and conditions and, in doing so, breached the contract. Vehicle Control Services Limited were therefore entitled to issue parking charges to Ms Mackie as a result of her breach of contract. The Sheriff ruled that Ms Mackie must pay Vehicle Control Services Limited the sum of £24,500 as a result of her breach of contract. Ms Mackie was also ordered to pay Vehicle Control Services Limited's expenses in respect of the action, as assessed by the Court.

Parker beware!

This case provides a stark warning to motorists of the consequences of ignoring parking charges issued by private car park operators. As long as the parking operator's terms and conditions are clearly visible around the parking area, motorists are deemed to accept those terms when parking in the parking area and must therefore accept and pay charges which are legitimately issued by the parking operator in respect of the motorist's breach of those terms.