£85 is too much to pay for 3 hours parking, right?
It might sound like the biggest car park charge in history but the Supreme Court has said it should stand.
On 13 April 2013 Mr Beavis, the motorist who challenged the ticket, used a car park managed by Parking Eye. There was a sign at the entrance to the car park, and at other locations around it which made it clear that the maximum stay was 2 hours. A failure to comply with this time limit would incur a charge of £85. This fact was not hidden; it was stated in large black letters. All of the signs said that motorists agreed to comply with all of the car park rules and regulations by parking there.
Mr Beavis made the ill-fated decision to park for 2 hours and fifty six minutes. Unsurprisingly he then received a notice telling him he would have to pay the £85 charge, which would be reduced to £50 if he paid within 14 days.
So what did Mr Beavis do? He ignored the notice and Parking Eye took him to Court. Mr Beavis fought on all the way through to the Supreme Court. He said that the charge was a penalty clause because it did not compensate Parking Eye for any losses it might have suffered due to his overstaying his welcome. He argued it had suffered no loss at all and Parking Eye agreed that it was not a genuine estimate of their loss in these types of cases. In fact they made money (not lost it) with these charges.
Normally, a company cannot make a consumer pay a sum for breach of contract unless it is a genuine estimate of the loss they will suffer as a result.
But this case seems to fly in the face of this. Parking Eye said it had good commercial reasons for setting the charge. The car park was used to provide parking to customers at the nearby retail park. The charge was to make sure the car park was used efficiently and was not clogged up for long periods. Its other purpose was to allow Parking Eye to make a profit.
The interests of the landowners who relied on the availability of parking for their retail customers, the public who wanted to use it and Parking Eye who sold their services were enough as the charge was not excessive. Car park charges to penalise those who overstayed their welcome are also fairly common.
So, where there is a commercial interest in influencing the conduct of people using the facilities or services which cannot be satisfied by the right to issue a claim, that can be enough to justify a charge like this.
The decision may benefit you if you are the service or facility provider. But if you are the end user you might find yourself at the end of a charge if you overstay your welcome. The moral of this story, then, is to make sure you know exactly when your time is up.
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