Parking tickets on private land
This information applies to Scotland only
In many areas, parking on public land is managed by the local authority. Where it isn’t, the police are responsible instead. Parking tickets can be issued by either the local authority parking attendant, or by a police officer or traffic warden.
On private land, parking is often managed by private parking companies who issue their own parking tickets. The rules about issuing these tickets are different to the rules about tickets issued by local authorities or the police.
On this page, read about what you can expect if you get a parking ticket if you parked in a private car park or on private land.
Parking on private land
If you park on private land, such as a supermarket car park or a privately owned multi-story car park, you will have entered into a contract with the landowner. If there are clear signs displayed in the car park setting out rules for using the car park, then these are the terms of the contract. If any of these rules are broken, then the car park owner can take steps to enforce them. There is often a parking operating company managing the car park for the owner or landlord.
NHS boards are responsible for the management of NHS car parking facilities. There may be a private car park operator managing the car parking facilities on behalf of the NHS board.
If you park on private land without permission from the owner, or breach any conditions imposed by the owner, then the owner or someone authorised by them, may give you a parking ticket. This might look like an official fixed penalty but it isn't one. It's a notice that the owner of the car park or the private car park operator intends to take you to a civil court, and will offer to let you pay the charge to settle the case out of court. This is a civil matter, not a criminal one.
The car park operator issues the notice on the basis that you have broken the terms of the contract between you and the landowner. There is no specific legislation dealing with parking on private land in Scotland. The general principles of contract law apply. This means that for a binding contract to be formed between you and the landowner, the rules about where and when you can park and what charges apply must be displayed clearly throughout the car park (particularly at the entrances). They must be clear enough so that no reasonable person could claim that they were not aware of the rules.
A sign is misleading if it fails to make it clear what the car parking rules that form the contract between you and the landowner are. If signs are misleading or deceptive, they might break consumer protection regulations, as well as not forming a valid and enforceable term of the contract between you and the landowner.
Landowners and car park operators do not need licences to issue parking tickets. It is an unregulated business although many car park operators are members of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA), such as the British Parking Association or the Independent Parking Committee.
If you get a ticket
If you get a ticket on your windscreen or through the post, and you think that it is unfair because, for example:-
- you didn't break the rules
- it wasn't obvious what the rules were, either because the wording on a sign wasn't clear or there were no clear and prominent signs about the car parking rules, particularly at the entrance to the car park
- the charge you are being asked to pay is too high. The law on this point comes from contract law and common law. When there has been a breach of contract because the signs were clear and a contract was formed the amount charged has to relate to a calculation of the loss to the landowner. This is where the common law provides some guidance. The landowner can claim for lost income if you occupy a space that someone else could have paid for and used, but only if the car park was full and there were no parking spaces left. For example, if parking cost £1 an hour and you have been issued with a parking charge notice for £30, you would need to have parked there for 30 hours to justify the charge. If you challenge the ticket because the amount charged seems too high, you can also ask for a breakdown of how the landowner’s losses were calculated
- the ticket has been sent to you as the registered keeper of the car, but you were not the person who parked the car at the time the ticket was issued
- you had a good reason for breaking the rules, for example you may have stayed over the time you paid for in a hospital car park because your appointment overran.
You should contact the parking operator, giving your reasons and asking them to withdraw the ticket. You could also approach the private company with an interest in the car park, for example, the supermarket whose car park you had parked in, and ask them to withdraw the ticket. It is important to provide the car park operator with as much evidence to support your case as you can. This might include, for example, a photo of an unclear sign, or paperwork showing that you either sold the car before the date of the ticket or bought it afterwards.
There are two template letters to help you challenge a parking ticket for parking on private land. You may want to read both before deciding which one applies to you.
- Use the template letter to challenge a parking ticket - you think the ticket is wrong or unfair
- Use the template letter to challenge a parking ticket - you broke the car parking rules but had a good reason
If you get a ticket and you don’t think you should have to pay, you can decide not to pay and not to reply to the parking operator. It is possible that the parking operator will take enforcement action in order to recover the charge although in practice a threat of this nature may not be followed through as the amount of money being demanded is usually quite small. A parking operator has no power to recover a parking charge without first taking court action.
The company may continue to send requests to pay and you can continue to ignore these unless they decide to take you to the small claims court. If the parking operator does take you to court, you may be able to defend the action, for example, on the grounds that the signage in the car park was unclear and/or that the fee being demanded is unreasonably high. In July 2015, an expert legal opinion stated that consumers can challenge tickets issued by private car parks, and for the first time has set out the grounds on which they can do so.
If the company keeps contacting you, you can ask them to stop harassing you. If the company behaves badly, you can also report to this to the landowner or to an Accredited Trade Association (ATA), such as the British Parking Association or the Independent Parking Committee if the company is a member.
If the company is a member of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA), like the British Parking Association or the Independent Parking Committee, their procedures can be followed to complain against the parking ticket. Members of the BPA should wait 28 days before sending a final demand. Members of the IPC should wait 14 days before sending their final warning letter.
If you are complaining because of a lack of clear signs or because a BPA member has breached their code of practice, the car park operator may be committing a breach of the consumer protection regulations and you may want them to be reported to your local Trading Standards Office, so they can investigate your complaint. You can do this by contacting the Citizens Advice consumer service. It can also help with any queries about tickets for parking on private land.
The British Parking Association
The British Parking Association (BPA) is a professional association for the parking industry. Its members include many local authorities and parking operating companies, some of whom remove vehicles parked on private land or in private car parks and issue parking tickets.
The BPA has produced a code of practice which its members are required to follow that includes guidance on the issue of parking tickets. If you have been given a ticket, while parked on private land, you could find out if the parking operator is a member of the BPA and so should have followed the relevant code of practice. The code contains detailed provisions about, for example, the use of automatic number plate recognition cameras, the wording to be used on parking tickets and the requirement to provide clear and adequate signs.
If you have a complaint about a company which you think is a member of the BPA, you should first follow the company’s complaints procedure to try to resolve the matter. If after doing this, you still feel unhappy, you can contact the BPA. The BPA cannot become involved in individual complaints, but it will investigate whether a member company has breached its code of practice. It may then decide to suspend or withdraw that company’s membership.
The BPA’s contact details are:
The Independent Parking Committee
The Independent Parking Committee (IPC) is another professional association for the parking industry. Like the BPA, it has a Code of Practice and you can make a complaint in a similar way. There is more information on its website below.
The IPC's contact details are:
- If you need more help - Citizens Advice consumer service
- Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline to report your complaint to Trading Standards
- When your car can be clamped or towed away
- Parking tickets issued by the local authority
- Parking tickets issued by the police
- Blue badge scheme for disabled people and parking tickets
Other useful information
The British Parking Association code of practice at www.britishparking.co.uk.
The terms of the Independent Parking Committee's Code of Practice can be downloaded from their wesbite at www.ipc.info.