Millions of drivers slapped with unfair parking charges on private land could be entitled to repayments totalling tens of millions of pounds, according to an RAC report.
According to the appeal, many motorists have been threatened into paying huge charges handed out to them by private parking companies, despite these fines not being enforceable by court.
Experts like barrister John de Waal QC, who undertook the study for the RAC, believe that drivers in the UK could have been wrongly charged as much as £100 million in 2013 alone.
Many fines “unenforceable”
Mr de Waal said: “Payments at the level that operators presently demand as sanctions are unlikely to count as genuine pre-estimate of loss. They should be seen by the courts as penalties, which means they are unenforceable.”
He added that European consumer legislation requires contracts to be fair, meaning that many of the methods used to put pressure on members of the public to pay up are in fact unlawful.
In more potential good news for drivers, the barrister said that when signs in car parks are not clear or not prominently displayed, any charges handed out to motorists can be challenged for unfairness.
The RAC said that although the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 banned clamping on private land, drivers staying longer than they pay for could still see fines of £100 or more.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said that it’s hoped that the government will outline “reasonable charges” and put an end to the current “barely regulated” system.
Ambiguous legislation blamed
Back in 2012, the RAC warned that despite the ban on clamping, ambiguous legislation left the door open for private parking companies to issue unreasonably expensive fines to drivers.
In one example highlighted by the organisation, a mother in Buckinghamshire was forced into paying £100 for accidentally over-running the time she had paid for while tending to her upset child.
Brian Koffman, an expert on motoring law, said: “This is a very welcome development. At the moment motorists and the public generally are being persuaded by these companies that they have to pay.
“Even those that don’t want to pay feel it is so difficult to take action, many just give in and think they will pay it. It is an area of law which it is in the public interest to be determined.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport added that the government will be investigating into the report, saying that Whitehall ministers are “on the side of the motorist”.
They added: “We have been clear that we want to see an end to unfair parking practices – including taking strong action to ban clamping on private land.”