Norfolk’s consumer watchdogs are telling drivers – know the rules of private car parks or run the risk of of picking up a hefty fine.
The number of complaints about the enforcement of parking rules has increased year on year since new requirements were introduced in 2012, making it one of the most vexatious consumer issues reported.
The guidance, from Norfolk County Council’s Trading Standards Officers and the national Citizens Advice consumer helpline, particularly urges drivers to check, before they park, that there are signs which clearly explain the terms and conditions of using the site, and that they understand those rules.
And it also comes with a warning to car park operators that trading standards will take action if they don’t provide adequate information to help drivers understand and comply with the terms and conditions which they enforce.
Brian Chatten, county community safety and fair trading manager said: “It is entirely legitimate for landowners to charge us to park on their land, to set down rules for how we park there and to enforce those rules if we breach them.
“Equally, if as drivers we choose to use a private car park, then we need to take responsibility for making sure we understand what the rules are for parking there, and what the penalty could be if we don’t comply.
“But people should also expect to be treated fairly and given every chance to be able to understand those rules and make an informed choice about whether they park on the site or not.
“That means there should be adequate and clear signage, at the entrance of car parks and elsewhere on the site, which explains in terms that can be easily understood what the rules are when parking at that site.
These rules should be clear without being misleading. People should also be able to easily pay for parking - for instance ticket machines should be working or alternative ways of paying provided, and people should be afforded a reasonable grace period to leave the car park should they decide not to park there.
Mr Chatten said: “The majority of private parking companies operating on private land in Norfolk are members of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA) such as The British Parking Association (BPA). Many of them are approved operators and follow the rules set down in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and their trade association’s code of practice – as they are obliged to do.
“Most car parks do provide the right level of information on their sites to help people understand what they need to do to avoid getting a parking charge notice.
“However, there are also some cases where people are genuinely being incorrectly treated – whether in receiving a parking charge notice unfairly or when they try to challenge a parking charge notice.
“Our advice to drivers, to help avoid having a problem, is to firstly to ensure you understand the rules about parking that site and the obligations of parking providers and users alike. Visit the “Consumer” section of the Citizen’s Advice website (www.citizensadvice.org.uk) and follow the links for cars and vehicles, where there is lots of information about parking and parking tickets.
“Secondly, when you are considering parking in a private car park, take enough time to check that the rules are clearly and well explained. If you have any doubts, don’t park there.
“Thirdly, if you do receive a parking charge notice and you think it’s unfair, or you think that a car park is not meeting the right standards, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06. The information you give them is passed on to us in Trading Standards, and we’ll take action if a parking company is not complying with the requirement to give clear information about their charges or is otherwise acting in an unfair or aggressive manner.”