Motorists ‘could have paid out millions’ in illegal parking fines

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DRIVERS may have been illegally charged many millions of pounds for overstays while parking on private land, according to the RAC Foundation.

Some drivers have been threatened with, and have paid, £100 for exceeding time limits, but the courts could see such payments as penalties and thus unenforceable, the foundation said today.

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: “Millions of drivers could be in line for a refund. We estimate that in 2013 alone drivers might have been overcharged by some £100 million.” In one case highlighted by the foundation, a mother from Buckinghamshire was forced to pay £100 even though the reason she ran over time was that she was attending to her upset three-year-old son. The foundation said that although the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 banned clamping on private land, drivers who stay longer than the time they have paid for were still likely to receive tickets that demand payments of up to £100, and in some cases significantly more.

Now barrister John de Waal QC argued that this is likely to be several times more than compensation for a genuine loss. So it would not be enforceable by the courts. Mr de Waal said: “Payments at the level that operators presently demand as sanctions are unlikely to count as genuine pre-estimate of loss; they should be seen by the courts as penalties, which means they are unenforceable.”

Mr de Waal said that European consumer legislation which requires contracts to be fair means so-called “early payment discounts”, which put pressure on the public to pay up quickly or face a higher charge, are in fact unlawful He also said that when signs are not clear or prominently displayed, the charge can also be challenged on the grounds of unfairness.

Prof Glaister said: “We would like to see this legal argument tested in a higher court so that a binding precedent is set. At the same time we would like the Government to do what it should have done at the outset and set out what are reasonable charges.”