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Parking fines and penalty charge notices - do you know the difference? - April 2017

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The case is a cautionary tale - the Defendant who was ordered to pay £24,500 in parking tickets when she was taken to court by a private parking company for failure to pay. Would you know the difference between a parking charge notice and a penalty charge notice? Do you know when you have to pay, and when you might be able to appeal?

What is a penalty charge notice?

A penalty charge notice is a fine which can be imposed by criminal law.

Penalty charge notices can only be issued by a Council for parking and breaking certain traffic rules, and by Transport for London (TfL) for not paying the correct charge for the London Congestion Zone, Low Emission Zone or Dartford Crossing ('Dart Charge'). Parking bays and car parks in town centres are likely to be Council-owned, but be sure to read the signs carefully before assuming this.

You have 28 days to pay up, though in some circumstances if you pay within 14 days the fine will be halved.

If you do not pay within 28 days, you will receive a 'charge certificate' which gives you a further 14 days in which to pay, but you must pay an additional 50% on top of the original charge.

Failure to pay a charge certificate will result in a court order for payment and possibly prosecution. You may have to pay a bigger fine as well as court costs. You could also receive penalty points on your driving licence, but this will only occur in certain circumstances, for example for leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position.

Challenging a penalty charge notice

You have 28 days to challenge a penalty charge notice. If you challenge the notice within 14 days but your challenge is rejected, you may only have to pay 50% of the fine.

The way to challenge the notice will depend upon who it was issued by. If you find a ticket on your car windscreen, it has possibly been issued by the Council and you would initially look to make an informal challenge via the Council's website. If you have been sent a notice in the post, or if your informal challenge is rejected, you would then seek to make a formal challenge - a 'representation,' again via the Council's website. If you are looking to challenge a TfL notice, you should do so via the website. The website provides a step-by-step process by which you can challenge the notice.

You will have 28 days from either the date of rejection of your informal challenge or from the date your notice is received in which to make a representation.

If your representation is rejected you will receive a 'notice of rejection' - you will then have 28 days in which to pay or appeal to an independent tribunal - either one of the London Tribunals if your notice was issued by TfL, or otherwise the Traffic Penalty Tribunal. Your prospects will depend upon your individual case and the evidence you submit in support.

What is a parking charge notice?

A parking charge notice is issued by a private company to vehicles parked on private land. They are not fines or penalties but are instead "invoices" for breach of contract, which would be enforced in the courts. Parking charge notices may be issued at airports, supermarkets and hospitals, among other places.

The Citizens' Advice Bureau reports that there has been a dramatic increase in people seeking help as to what to do about these charges.

Challenging a parking charge notice

Landowners are entitled to charge for your parking on their land, however you may have a right of challenge where the charge is exorbitant, disproportionate or there was inadequate signposting warning of the charge.

Be warned - if the private parking company is not accredited, they are unable to request your details from the DVLA and will find it hard to pursue you. Be wary, therefore, of any correspondence received at your home address and, if they are not accredited, report them to Action Fraud.

If the company is accredited, they will have a code of practice for issuing charges, a maximum charge limit and an appeals process. Check the BPA (British Parking Association) or IPC (International Parking Community) databases to see if the company is registered with either of these bodies.

Initially you should look to challenge the charge directly with the accredited company. Include any evidence you may have, such as a valid ticket or photographs of inadequate signage. If your challenge is rejected, you can appeal to POPLA (Parking on Private Land Appeals) if the company is accredited by the BPA, or alternatively to the Independent Appeals Service if they are accredited by the IPC.

If your formal appeal is rejected, you should really look to pay your parking ticket as otherwise the costs could increase and you may be taken to court.

Be aware that paying and challenging parking tickets is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so make sure you check the rules for where the penalty charge/ parking charge was incurred.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Our Dispute Resolution Team will be happy to assist you with all your litigation issues. Please contact Head of Department, Michael Callaghan, on 01245 228136 or via