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Government cracks down on rogue parking firms

Rogue parking firms that clamp cars for minor offences and charge motorists extortionate rates to have their vehicles released are to be forced to comply with strict rules as part of a Government assault

Car clamping has become an increasingly lucrative industry in Britain, and it is believed around one in 10 motorists in Britain have fallen prey to a private clamping firm. Examples have included one woman who had her car impounded while the engine was still running. Some motorists have been charged more than £100 for minor parking offences such as straying slightly outside parking lines.

In the past, anyone wanting to inflict misery on motorists could simply set up a business, pay landowners to guard their land and begin hunting down unsuspecting drivers. They were able to charge motorists by obtaining their details from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). But new rules announced yesterday will mean that only parking firms that sign up to an officially approved trade association and agree to abide by a strict code of conduct will be given access to the information held by the DVLA.

Kelvin Reynolds, technical director of the British Parking Association (BPA), the only recognised trade association for clampers, said the rule change was welcome. “The Government has closed a loophole that allowed unscrupulous parking operators to continue to function,” he said. “Now everyone in private parking enforcement will be required to work to a code of practice. This is a good first step towards better regulation and increased fairness for everyone.”

However, the BPA said that it would not blacklist any firms that were found to have broken its code of conduct, but would rather “work with members through a disciplinary process to get them to improve”. It led motoring groups to warn that the reforms did not go anywhere near far enough in curbing the actions of private paring firms and demanded a blanket ban on clamping in private land. “Even if a parking company is a member of an accredited association this does not mean that they will abide by their codes or indeed be disciplined if they do not,” said Edmund King, president of the AA.

“We have a dossier of cases where accredited companies do not adhere to their code and no action has been taken. The whole private parking enforcement system is out of control and requires urgent action. Perhaps now is the time to stop trying to patch up a failing system and take bold steps as they did in Scotland to outlaw clamping on private land.”

Sadiq Khan, a transport minister, said the move was just the first blow in the fight back against cowboy clampers. Ministers are considering the introduction of a compulsory licensing system that would see the Security Industry Authority, which already regulates the private security industry, given powers to hold parking firms to account. Fixed rules setting out the level of fines, the reasons for clamping vehicles and the display of warning signs for motorists could be introduced later this year. Drivers are also likely to be given a guaranteed right to challenge fines.

“Where drivers break legitimate conditions set by landowners, then it is right that penalties are applied. But we will not tolerate unscrupulous firms breaking the law by overcharging or intimidating motorists,” Mr Khan said. “We will be publishing later this year a cross-Government action plan which will help us to protect motorists and put a stop to the unacceptable behaviour of cowboy clampers and rogue parking firms.”