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Legal Weapon: cowboy clampers turn to tickets

A wheel clamp
Image caption The fear is that unscrupulous clampers will now turn to ticketing

Motoring organisations are warning that the scourge of cowboy wheel clampers is likely to continue, despite new laws designed to stop them.

The RAC says unscrupulous private parking firms will still be free to hassle motorists, even though clamping itself will soon be made illegal in England and Wales.

It says operators are finding a new tactic to get around the law.

Their weapon is legal to use, and low-tech. It is a parking ticket.

"The fear is that unscrupulous clampers will now turn to ticketing," says Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation.

"And it'll be the poor motorist who'll end up paying."

Victims

Taz and Fam Khalique already know what that feels like.

In an underground car park in the East End of London, they show us the car-parking bay that they own outright.

Image caption Taz and Fam Khalique have been issued with six tickets so far this year

Signs warn about clamping, but the couple have been issued with tickets.

Six of them so far this year.

Each one asked them to pay £60, or double that if they didn't pay within 28 days.

"I'm disgusted by it," says Taz.

"To them it's a money-making machine. They put a ticket on, and you end up paying for it."

The pair have not paid these demands, which total £360.

New laws

The Home Office is currently drawing up legislation to ban wheel-clamping on private land in England and Wales.

It has already been banned in Scotland.

Under the Freedom Bill, towing cars away or blocking them in will also be illegal.

But so far tickets are not included in the Bill.

Issuing tickets is already much easier than positioning clamps.

Parking firms that clamp have to be registered with the Security Industry Authority, a government body.

But firms which issue tickets do not have to be licensed at all.

In fact anyone can issue tickets, providing they own the land involved.

DIY enforcement kit

To prove how easy it is to do that, we purchased two "DIY parking enforcement kits" on the internet.

One cost £60, the other £30.

Image caption The kits comes with a book of tickets and waterproof envelopes

For that outlay, you get a couple of signs to warn motorists that the land is private, and that parking is not allowed.

One set of signs indicated that the fine would be £90.

The kits also come with a book of tickets, and waterproof envelopes.

To complete the effect, one of them also contains a yellow high-visibility jacket.

If the parking enforcement firm is registered with the British Parking Association (BPA), it can track down any offenders through the DVLA computer.

If it is not registered, it can just chance its arm by placing a ticket on your windscreen.

Some 30% of offenders just pay up, with no questions asked, to avoid the hassle of challenging the ticket.

Compulsory registration

The BPA is also concerned about the rights of landowners, many of whom have to put up with motorists parking illegally on their property.

Keith Banbury, from the BPA, is keen to see some compromise.

"We're looking for something that's fair to the landowner, who needs protection, and the motorist, who should be treated fairly," he says.

What he proposes is a compulsory membership scheme, which would establish a proper code of conduct.

This would include standard charges, and an appeals procedure in the case of disputes.

'Breach of regulations'

The Home Office had no comment to make about the issue of ticketing, or whether it may eventually be included in the Freedom Bill.

However a spokesman at the Department for Transport told us there is another route for anyone who feels badly treated by a private parking firm.

"Where signs or information for motorists in a car park are misleading, unfair or aggressive, this is likely to be a breach of the unfair trading regulations."

But at the moment there's little practical advice for motorists who feel they've been given a ticket unfairly.

Indeed, whether motorists are obliged to pay such tickets at all is a controversial legal area in itself.

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