West Norfolk Council under fire over £70k made through ‘no change’ parking charges

West Norfolk Council's offices
West Norfolk Council's offices

Council chiefs in West Norfolk have been accused of “punishing” drivers after it emerged the authority made almost £70,000 by not giving change from its parking meters.

Figures published this week revealed that the borough council received £69,630 from overpayments made by motorists at its car parks during the last financial year.

The authority says its payment options and charging structures offer drivers choice and do not force people to pay more than they need to.

But Dia Chakravarty, political director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said yesterday: “This practice is deeply problematic, punishing taxpayers for not having the right change.”

The figures, which came from a Freedom of Information request by the BBC, showed the borough made more money than any other council in East Anglia from overpayments, though more than a third of the 50 councils questioned said they could not supply data.

The figure equates to around two per cent of the £3.4 million the borough council says it received in revenue from parking in 2015-16, including VAT.

A council spokesman said: “Our approach is to offer people choice.

“If people choose to park in the pay and display car parks they can check the fees before arrive to ensure they have the correct change, they can register to pay by phone in any of our short stay car parks in King’s Lynn or they could use one of the 20 minute free bays while they get some change.

“No one is forced to pay more than they choose to.

“Any surplus from the car park overpayments is reinvested into the car parks, or surrounding facilities such as public toilets and street sweeping.

But Ms Chakravarty said: “Every council is having to find necessary savings but the idea of bridging gaps in funding through these machines is ridiculous.

“How can the funding of essential services depend on the random and unplanned overcharging of parking tickets?

“Local authorities must plan better and fight the temptation of treating hard-pressed families as cash cows.”

And Ian Josland, of Terrington St John, questioned why parking charges were increased in April in the light of the figures.

He asked: “Is this another kind of stealth tax on the shoppers in Lynn?

“Let’s face it, other local towns seem to be able to provide car parking at much lower rates or it is free.”

But the council pointed out that this year’s increase in charges was its first for six years and a popular three hours for the price of two promotion had been made a permanent feature of its charging structure.

The installation of barriers, which require drivers to pay when they leave a car park, or the use of linear charging systems, where any additional money paid provides extra parking time, have been proposed as possible alternatives.

But the council says barriers would be costly and unsightly in areas such as the Tuesday Market Place, while its own research suggested that linear charging deters people from staying for longer.

The spokesman added: “Footfall figures are bucking national trends and people do appear to be shopping for longer.”