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Parking charges on private land – the implications of Parkingeye Limited v Barry Beavis (2015)

When you park on private property (commonly car parks at shopping centres and supermarkets or a private road) you enter into a contract with the landowner regarding permission to park on their land. When you break these rules (i.e. overstaying, non-payment, or parking in the wrong areas) then the landowner can issue you with a parking ticket, called Parking Charge Notices (“PCN”), to recover the loss(es) they have suffered as a result of your breach.

Parking tickets issued by councils are also called PCN, but don’t confuse the two. A private landowner cannot fine you, they are merely invoicing you.

Sometimes you may wish to challenge a PCN because the sign was unclear, you didn’t actual commit the breach or the amount of the PCN is disproportionate.

The latter was the basis of a challenge brought by Mr Barry Beavis. In April 2013 Mr Beavis left his car in the Chelmsford Riverside Retail Park which offered the initial two hours for free. He overstayed by 53 minutes and was issued with a PCN by ParkingEye Limited for £85. He didn’t pay the PCN and ParkingEye Limited issued a claim in Chelmsford County Court which was then transferred to Cambridge County Court. In May 2014 the judge decided against Mr Beavis and he was ordered to pay £130. The judge said that in order to decide whether a clause was unenforceable as a penalty various factors needed to be considered including proportionality to actual loss, deterrence, and commercial justification.

Mr Beavis appealed and the decision was made on 23rd April 2015. The issues in the appeal were whether the charge was a penalty for deterrence, or a charge representing recovery of liquidated damages, or whether it was an unfair term under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. Previously, the position was to compare where the sum was exorbitant and unconscionable compared to the damage that could reasonably be expected to be suffered. But courts are moving away from this simple analysis, and confirming that social and commercial factors also play a key part. It concluded that ParkingEye Limited had prominently displayed the conditions for use of the car park and the fact that it was making a profit from the charge was irrelevant and it had not acted in contravention of good faith (i.e. unconscionably). Lord Justice Moore Bick stated, “Although the principal object of the charge was to deter overstaying, it was neither improper in its purpose nor manifestly excessive in amount, having regard to the level of charges imposed by local authorities and others for overstaying in public car parks”.

Mr Beavis is potentially taking the appeal further to the Supreme Court so this may not be the end of the story.

You can still challenge a PCN for other reasons and the case was only dealing with the amount of the PCN itself, not whether the making of the PCN in the first place was justified or not.

It should also be noted that since October 2012 under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 clamping and towing on private land is illegal.

Although the sums in issue are relatively small, if they are unpaid they can easily rack up once you add administrative charges, interest and legal costs. We have a client who is now defending an order for sale of his home as a result of parking charges. So there are serious implications and you should never just ignore a PCN; if you want to challenge them the sooner the better.