Echo Fire and Medical, an independent provider of emergency services, was asked by the NHS to attend a 999 call in Stockport, Greater Manchester, on September 4 last year, and as a result entered a car park for no longer than 15 minutes to attend the incident.
Parking management company Excel Parking, which is also headquartered in Sheffield, then served the ambulance service a parking fine of £100 through a notice dated September 17 for its failure to pay the car park fee.
The parking penalty notice included photographic evidence of the ambulance parked between 6.03pm and 6.18pm.
Echo Fire and Medical’s Director of Emergency Response, Joe Leary, said the parking fine is in contravention of guidance by the Department for Transport that says ‘ambulances used for emergency purposes are exempt from any parking fine’.
He said he attempted to call Excel Parking 14 times and on each occasion the system cut him off, preventing him from speaking to anybody personally about the parking fine.
“We also replied to their email, which didn’t allow email replies. We used the required parking portal to submit appeal information advising the vehicle was attending a 999 call,” he said.
Echo Fire and Medical stated that shortly after they were notified that their appeal had been received on October 11, they then received an email from Excel rejecting their appeal, which has been seen by sister paper The Star.
Excel Parking advised the organisation to provide more photographic evidence, including details pertaining to the 999 call itself, to prove they were responding to an emergency call.
The firm said it was willing to offer a discounted fine £60 if payment was received before October 27.
But it warned that failure to comply would result in the amount due reverting to £100, and may result in debt recovery action being taken and further costs being incurred.
Final Demand notice served
Mr Leary said he refused to comply with the company's request for further information relating to the emergency call, citing confidentiality.
He said: “As an emergency services provider and in line with GDPR, we do not take pictures of patients nor will we ever share patient report forms or other patient identifiable information which is deemed highly confidential.”
Despite repeated requests to appeal the fine, the parking management company served a 'Final Demand' notice dated December 22 and a subsequent 'letter before action' court letter. At this point, the final amount payable had become £170.
Mr Leary said that as the situation escalated, his attempts to get in touch with the parking services company fell flat, claiming the company accepted no inbound calls or allowed any further appeals to be made.
Mr Leary added: “Our crews have worked tirelessly over the last couple of years during very testing times to ensure we support our NHS colleagues to the best of their abilities and respond as quickly and safely as possible to patients calls for help.
“Being penalised for not paying a public parking charge whilst in attendance of a 999 call only adds further pressures for our crews and unnecessarily increases the workload upon our administration team to attempt to close this unexpected parking fine.
“This is not acceptable, its in contravene of the Department for Transport's own national guidance. Our crews are trained to drive under a range of emergency conditions and further to park (where possible) safely and without obstruction to the public whilst being as close to a patient or incident as is possible.
“Expectations from this parking organisation that our crews are to refer to signage and pay to park within one of their managed car parks upon entry, whilst in attendance of a 999 call is not acceptable.”
Excel Parking: ‘We are satisfied the PCN was issued correctly’
In response, Excel Parking explained that the car park which the ambulance entered is a 24 hour pay to park facility and is monitored by Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras.
A representative said: “Naturally, the cameras cannot determine a vehicle’s reason for visiting the car park, only if the vehicle was compliant with the advertised Terms and Conditions.
“An appeals procedure is in place and full details were set out in the Parking Charge Notice (PCN) that was issued to the company who is the registered keeper of the commercial ambulance vehicle.
“The company did engage with our appeals process, albeit three days after the specified deadline, and explained that the vehicle was under contract to a local NHS Trust and claimed it was on-site attending a medical emergency, stating that they could provide supporting evidence.
“We would highlight that our appeals process did request that all relevant supporting evidence should be submitted at the time of the appeal.
“In light of the alleged circumstances, we made a reasonable request for the evidence to be supplied in order that we could review and cancel the PCN.
“Disappointingly, and contrary to what had been stated in their appeal, the company categorically refused to provide any evidence, making reference to maintaining confidentiality.
“We can understand their obligations under Data Protection Legislation but that doesn't prevent appropriately redacted evidence being provided as other emergency services regularly do so.
“As a consequence of the company's lack of cooperation we had no alternative but to formally decline their appeal.
“However, in doing so we provided the company with details of how they could appeal, for free, to the Independent Appeals Service.
“The company did not act on our correspondence and as such matters have progressed further and the cost of the PCN has escalated.
“In summary, we are satisfied that the PCN was issued correctly and that the company did not fully engage with our appeals process despite our leniency in processing the late appeal.”
Mr Leary insists Echo Fire and Medical fully cooperated with the parking management company and responded within the timescale given. He said the matter is to be pursued further.