Recently, I parked at a service station car park. The car park was operated by a private company. The first two hours’ parking was free but after two hours you had to pay an hourly charge.
The private company says that I was 12 minutes over the two hours and, as I had not paid for the extra time, they sent me a Car Parking Notice. The Notice itself looked very official and not dissimilar to the sort of notices/tickets sent by Councils and Law Enforcement Agencies for unlawful parking or speeding.
The gist of the Notice was that if I did not pay £60 within 14 days, I would have to pay £100. Either way a lot of money for (allegedly) 12 minutes’ parking.
Subsequently, I obtained a copy of the private company’s accounts. I was very impressed with its profitability. I was also interested to see how hard the private company would push the Notice…
I received several letters chasing payment but then the other week I received a letter Before Court Action. It is foolish on many levels to ignore a letter Before Court Action and so I did respond to that letter.
What many recipients of these types of Notices do not understand is that it is nothing to do with the criminal law (or Law Enforcement Agencies). It is purely a civil matter. The private company says that, when you park, you enter into a contract with it. It claims that one of the terms of the contract is that if you park for more than two hours and do not pay at the time for that extra parking, you must pay £100, reduced to £60 if paid within 14 days. But it is important to understand that it is not a claim based on a debt. It is a breach of contract claim. As such, the private company must show that there was a contract, that there were terms of the contract, that the terms were lawful, that there has been a breach of the terms and that it has incurred loss as a result. The car park was pretty empty at the time. I can’t see how the ‘fine’ the private company seeks to charge is its true loss for any breach of contract. If it is not based on a genuine pre-estimate of loss, such terms are known as penalty clauses and are legally unenforceable.
I have asked the private company to supply me more information and evidence to substantiate its claim.
But if you receive such a Notice it is always worth:
- Following the appeal procedure if there is one
- If your appeal fails and proceedings are threatened, invite the company to prove properly all aspects of its contractual claim.
The moral of this story is, more generally, we all need to be careful about entering into contracts and what terms may apply. But don’t forget that not all terms in all contracts, even in writing, will be lawful and enforceable.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.