Legal battle over ‘illegal’ car park fines at supermarkets and hospitals could spark refunds for millions of motorists
Millions of people given extortionate car parking charges outside train stations, NHS hospitals and supermarkets could be in line for a refund thanks to a new campaign.
Cambridge law graduate Michael Green, 22, is leading a legal battle to have the ‘fines’ overturned in what could be Britain’s largest ever group litigation.
Private companies which run car parks outside some of Britain’s biggest store chains will often allow customers to park for free, but threaten a large fine for exceeding a certain time limit. However, Mr Green believes that these fines are unlawful – and is trying to gather 100,000 cases together to go to the High Court and prove it
If he wins the landmark legal case, then that could open the door for ‘at least 10million people’ to claim their money back, and could put a stop to the fines for good.
‘These “fines” are not official fines, but instead a matter of private law between two parties.
‘When you park in a car park you are entering into a contract with the company which provides that parking space. If you breach a contract then under contract law that company is only allowed to make a claim for the amount they have actually lost. Because these spaces are free to park in, I would argue the amount is actually nothing.
‘People take cases like this to the county court fairly regularly, and judges will often rule that the fines are unenforceable and the charge will be overturned…By gathering the cases together, and taking it to the High Court, we can set a legal precedent.’
Mr Green believes a new ruling could apply to 98 per cent of parking fines handed out by private companies.
An estimated 2.2million such fines were handed out last year alone, and that number is set to rise to 2.7million this year. In total, it is estimated that these companies will collect around £127million in so-called ‘fines’ this year alone, almost double the £93million collected in 2010, and a 600 per cent increase on 2006, when just £21million was charged to motorists.
He is currently gathering interest on his Challenge the Fine website, before deciding whether to go ahead with the scheme. If enough people sign up, he will attempt to gather 100,000 cases together before going to court.
Among the companies using the potentially illegal practices is UKPC, Parking Eye and Total Parking Services. The companies will issue ‘parking charge notices’ – named to replicate official council ‘penalty charge notices’ – but which do not have the same legal standing as official fines.
A growing number of people are refusing to pay, and because of this firms often follow the ‘fines’ with letters threatening court action, in the hope of browbeating people into submission. Simply ignoring the legal summons is not enough, and will often end up with a person being issued with a CCJ.