Locals take Sandhills 'car park from hell' operator to court

Car park signs
Image caption Wesley Floyd, 88, said he got a £100 penalty charge after stopping in the access road for three or four minutes to use the toilet but he had not seen the 'no stopping' sign

Frustrated motorists are fundraising to take the operators of a "car park from hell" to court over "predatory tactics".

Locals in Instow, Devon, say they have been hit with £100 penalty charge notices since Direct Solutions for Parking took over Sandhills car park.

They say the firm is greedy and has pursued elderly and vulnerable people for payment.

The operator said it felt "bullied" and that every charge was "justified".

Drivers entering the car park are logged via an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) camera.

Campaigner Rachael Hunter said motorists who fail to purchase a ticket within 10 minutes from the moment of entry face a charge.

Ms Hunter said this wasn't enough time at busy periods when queues can form.

"A lot of people have been charged who are elderly, disabled, vulnerable and the attitude is 'pay up, we just want your money' and I think it is greedy," she said.

The British Parking Association's Code of Practice states that operators should give a minimum 10-minute "grace period" when entering and leave a car park.

Its director of corporate affairs Kelvin Reynolds has said an "observation period" for a motorist to decide whether they wish to park should also be allowed.

Ms Hunter, who said she had received four tickets since automatic number plate recognition cameras were installed in 2017, has raised £1,500 for legal action against Direct Solutions for Parking.

Image caption Campaigners say charges are issued for stopping to read an information sign on the access road

The 3,000-strong Sandhills Action Group wants to raise a total of £2,000 for its case.

The standard penalty charge at Sandhills car park is £100 but drivers have the opportunity to pay £60 if they settle the debt within 14 days.

Lukasz Palecki, managing director of Direct Solutions for Parking said every penalty fee issued is "reviewed beforehand and is justified" because the driver is "in breach" of the terms and conditions of the car park.

He said his company is being "discriminated against by local people who don't understand why they can't park for free in their own village" he added.

"Regardless of the haters, we will stand our ground and not let anyone bully us."

What to do if you get a PCN

Private companies manage hundreds of car parks across the country, at locations including supermarkets, hotels and retail parks.

They also issue millions of tickets a year.

If you think you've been hit with an unfair penalty charge notice:

  • Don't ignore it. Companies can and will pursue the keeper of a vehicle through the courts
  • Complain. In a supermarket car park, for example, if you were a genuine customer doing a weekly shop who ran over the allotted parking time, a call to head office or the store manager may be enough to get your ticket cancelled
  • Appeal. You can lodge an appeal against a penalty charge notice. Guides and parking ticket forums containing advice about the process can be found online

The advice for tickets issued by councils is different. Scotland also has its own rules for appealing parking tickets.

Private parking companies have been warned they face a government crackdown amid complaints of unscrupulous activities.

Last year, Conservative MP Sir Greg Knight's introduce a Parking Bill designed to target rogue elements in the industry.

Sir Greg said he wanted to tackle complaints of inconsistent practices, substandard signage, confusing appeals processes and intimidating payment letters.

Firms which don't obey the rules will be blocked from accessing drivers' DVLA records, preventing them from issuing charges.

The number of parking tickets issued by car park management firms in Britain hit a record 5.65m in 2017/18, according to analysis of government driver data.

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