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Parking tickets on private land

This advice applies to Scotland

This page tells you what you can do if you get a parking ticket on private land, for example:

  • privately managed car parks - like supermarket car parks
  • private residential roads - where the residents have employed a private company to enforce parking restrictions, like an estate.

The rules about issuing these tickets are different to the rules about tickets issued on public land. Parking on public land is often managed by the local authority. Where it isn’t, the police are responsible instead.

When you can get a parking ticket on private land

A parking ticket for private land is called a Parking Charge Notice (PCN) – check your ticket for this wording.

You might get a parking ticket on private land from the owner or a company employed to manage the car park if you:

  • park without the owner’s permission, or
  • breach any parking conditions imposed by the owner. 

There may have been signs displaying the rules for using the car park. When you park on private land (like a private car park) you enter into a contract with the landowner. Any signs that clearly display rules for using the car park give you the terms of the contract. The car park owner can take steps to enforce any of these rules if broken.

Landowners and parking operators do not need licences to issue parking tickets. It is an unregulated business although many operators are members of an accredited trade association, such as the British Parking Association (BPA) or the International Parking Community (IPC).

You might get a ticket on your windscreen or in the post. This should state the name of the landowner or company that has issued the ticket.

Parking on a private residential road

Some roads are privately owned by residents. As private landowners, they’re entitled to impose reasonable terms and conditions on people using their land. You could get a ticket if you break these terms. 

The residents may ask the local authority to 'adopt' the road, so that it's treated like public roads in the area and attended by the local authority’s traffic wardens. Otherwise they may come to an agreement with a private parking operator to manage restrictions on the road.

NHS car parking facilities

NHS boards are responsible for the management of NHS car parking facilities at hospitals. There may be a private parking operator managing the facilities on behalf of the board. Some NHS hospital car parks are free to use - but not all NHS car parks. Even if the car park is free to use, you could still get a ticket for breaking the rules, for example if you block another parking bay.

Your options if you get a parking ticket on private land

You could decide to:

Parking tickets on private land aren't a criminal matter. The Parking Charge Notice might look like an official fixed penalty from the police but it isn't one. It's a notice that the owner of the land or the private parking 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.

If you decide to pay the fine

Sometimes the parking operator will offer you a 'discount' if you pay the charge within the first 14 days, for example a charge of £50 instead of £85. If you miss the deadline you might not get another chance to pay the lower amount, unless you can argue there was a good reason for missing it (e.g. because you were in hospital).

If you decide to do nothing

If you get a ticket for parking on private land and you don’t think you should have to pay, you can decide not to pay and not to reply to the parking operator. The company may continue to send requests to pay and you could continue to ignore these. 

Private parking operators could take you to court, but they may choose not to do this, as the amount of money being demanded is usually quite small.

Keep the ticket and any other paperwork or evidence.

If the parking operator does take you to court, you may be able to defend this, for example on the grounds that the signs in the car park were unclear.

A court may decide that you breached a contract with the parking operator and that you must pay the charges. You should remember that if it goes this far, you’ll probably face a higher charge than the one that was originally sent to you.

If you're not sure what to do

If you're unsure what to do, get advice. You can contact your local Citizens Advice bureau or Advice Direct Scotland's consumer service.

Advice Direct Scotland's Consumer Service 

Freephone: 0808 164 6000
Website: www.consumeradvice.scot

If you want to challenge the ticket

You have a consumer right to challenge tickets issued by private car parks, although it can be difficult to challenge a charge just because you feel it's too high.

Reasons you could challenge a parking ticket

You might think getting a ticket was unfair because:

It wasn’t obvious what the rules were

You may get a ticket because the parking operator claims you’ve broken the terms of the contract between you and the landowner.

There’s no specific legislation dealing with parking on private land in Scotland. Instead, 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 entrances).

The signs stating the rules must be clear enough that no reasonable person could claim that they weren’t aware of them.

A sign is misleading if it fails to make it clear what the parking rules are. If signs are misleading or deceptive, they might breach your consumer rights. You might argue that such signs couldn’t form valid and enforceable terms of a contract between you and the landowner.

You didn’t break the rules

If you don’t agree that you broke any of the rules, you might want to challenge the landowner or parking operator. It helps if you have evidence to support your argument - for example, if you took a photo of your car showing that you still had time left on your parking ticket after finding the charge notice on your windscreen. Alternatively you might argue that you hadn’t left your car, so hadn’t parked, and therefore you didn't agree to the contract in the first place.

You weren’t the person who parked the car

If you’re the registered keeper of the car, you may be sent a ticket. If you didn’t park the car at the time the ticket was issued and you don’t say who the driver was, there’s no law in Scotland that makes you, as the registered keeper, automatically liable for the ticket.

You don’t have to identify who it was that parked the car. It’s still possible that a parking company may try to make you pay the parking charge by taking you to court. You can defend any court action.

You had a good reason for breaking the rules

For example, you may have stayed over the time you paid for in a car park because you were taken ill.

You take longer than others to buy your ticket or return to your car 

For example, you may need extra time because you're older, disabled, pregnant or have a very young baby. Charging you a penalty because of this could be unlawful discrimination.

If you think getting a parking ticket may be discriminatory, you should get advice.

You can contact your local Citizens Advice bureau or Advice Direct Scotland's consumer service.

Advice Direct Scotland's Consumer Service 

Freephone: 0808 164 6000
Website: www.consumeradvice.scot

You think the charge is too high

Whether or not a charge is too high does not depend on the normal cost to park where you did. In other words, the fact it costs £2 per hour to park and you only overstayed by an hour but were billed £85 does not mean that this charge is automatically unreasonable.

When looking at a high parking charge, a court won't consider your ability to pay, but how reasonable it is for the company to charge what they have.

Under the professional codes of practice, the charge should not exceed £100 unless it can be justified. So you may be able to challenge a charge of more than £100 if the parking enforcer is a member of a professional trade association.

If you need advice or help to challenge a ticket that you think may be too high, you should get advice. Contact your local Citizens Advice bureau or Advice Direct Scotland's consumer service.

Advice Direct Scotland's Consumer Service 

Freephone: 0808 164 6000
Website: www.consumeradvice.scot

How to challenge a parking ticket on private land

To challenge a ticket, you can follow the steps below. 

Step 1: Informal appeal to the parking operator 

You should first contact the parking operator, giving your reasons for challenging the ticket and asking them to withdraw it. You could also approach the landowner, for example the supermarket whose car park you parked in, and ask them to withdraw the ticket.

It’s important to provide the parking 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 sold the car before the date of the ticket.

Use our template letters to help you challenge a parking ticket

Below 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:

Step 2: Appeal to the Independent Appeals Service

If a parking operator rejects your informal appeal, you may be able to make a formal appeal to the Independent Appeals Service (IAS) run by the International Parking Community (IPC).

Members of the public who have a dispute with any parking operator can appeal to the IAS as long as the parking operator is willing to take part.

You can use the service free of charge providing you make your appeal within 21 days of the parking operator rejecting your informal appeal to them.

If the company keeps contacting you, you can ask them to stop harassing you, and consider making a complaint.

Complaints about parking operators

If a parking company is a member of a trade association, like the British Parking Association (BPA) or the International Parking Community (IPC), you can also use their procedures to complain about the parking ticket. You can also report their behaviour to the landowner. If you are able to challenge the ticket, you should always do this as well.

For example, you might complain because the parking operator sent you a final demand too quickly. Parking operators that are members of the BPA should wait 28 days before sending you a final demand. Members of the IPC should wait 14 days before sending their final warning letter. 

If you’re complaining because a BPA member has breached their code of practice, the parking operator may be committing a breach of the consumer protection regulations. If so, you may want to report your complaint to the local Trading Standards office for investigation.

You can do this by contacting your local Citizens Advice bureau, who can also help with any queries about tickets for parking on private land. 

Trade associations for parking enforcement

The British Parking Association

The British Parking Association (BPA) is a trade association for the parking industry. If you’ve been given a ticket, you could find out if the parking operator is a member of the BPA and so should have followed its code of practice.

You should first follow the company’s complaints procedure to try to resolve the matter. If this doesn't resolve your problem, you can contact the BPA. The BPA don't get involved in individual complaints, but will investigate whether the code of practice was breached. It could then decide to suspend or withdraw that company’s membership.

The BPA’s contact details are:

British Parking Association
Chelsea House
8-14 The Broadway
Haywards Heath
West Sussex
RH16 3AH

Tel: 01444 447300
Fax: 01444 454105
Email: info@britishparking.co.uk
Website: www.britishparking.co.uk

The International Parking Community

The International Parking Community (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:

The International Parking Community 
PO Box 662
Macclesfield
SK10 9NR

Website: theipc.info

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