Drivers may be able to reclaim millions in unfair parking fines

Ticket disputes should have been handled by local authorities and not their private contractors, tribunal rules

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The Independent Online

Motorists could demand the refund of more than £100m in parking fines, after what experts described as an “explosive” tribunal ruling left local government traffic officials in “absolute panic”.

Councils have handed over parking management to private companies, but in many instances have also asked them to handle any appeals against penalty charge notices (PCNs). This process is supposed to be handled by councils, partly because it would be a conflict of interest for a company to examine its own possible mistakes.

The Traffic Penalty Tribunal is the second point of appeal and an adjudicator, Christopher Nicholls, has spelled out that council contractors must not be left to process PCN objections. His ruling stated: “I find that no reasonable local authority could have concluded this contract met the terms of its regulatory and public law duties.”

As a result, 13 motorists in Gloucestershire were awarded their parking fines and costs after their initial appeals were turned down by the county council’s contractor, Apcoa. The motorists were repaid sums ranging from £42.50 to £155.67.

The decision has widespread implications for people who may have been incorrectly fined.

Barrie Segal, who has acted for tens of thousands of angry motorists complaining about fines through his Appeal Now campaign, “conservatively” estimated that incorrectly issued fines are worth around £30m annually. He believes those who did not pursue their fines after the first rejection could claim back well over £100m, going back five years.

If the sums are correct it would amount to a major dent in a lucrative source of revenue for councils, which have suffered from spending cuts since the coalition took power. In 2012-13, councils raked in £353m in parking fines, up nearly 12 per cent on 2010-11. Critics claim councils are using these penalties as a revenue-raising measure.

“This decision is absolutely explosive in terms of catching out the councils,” said Mr Segal. “Clearly, councils are ignoring their responsibilities and the decision sets out that this is completely wrong.” A parking appeals officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “There has been absolute panic – people are going: ‘Oh my God, we might have to hand all this [the fines] back.’”

Solicitor Richard Auton, of Walker Morris, said councils “may have to have a good look at what they have done” in their contracts with parking contractors, and that legislation “does not say they can give authority for appeals to anybody else”.  

A Gloucestershire council spokesman said: “Following the decision of the tribunal, the council has implemented the tribunal’s recommendations and apologised to the motorists involved … [This is] a perfect exposition of the law, including the statutory duty, common law duty and public duty.”

A spokesman for Apcoa said: “Naturally, as a private contractor, Apcoa operates within the guidelines set by the British Parking Association, and are compliant with the Traffic Management Act 2004.”