When I explain to people what I do for a living, without fail, one of the things I get asked about the most is parking tickets.

From unclear parking rules to rubbish apps and opaque complaints procedures, it’s clear that this subject grinds your gears more than almost anything else.

So how do you appeal a parking ticket? And what do you stand the best chance of winning an appeal? Here’s my guide.

Private parking tickets versus council parking tickets

There are two types of parking ticket. ‘Official’ tickets are the ones issued by your local council or the police and are usually listed as penalty charge notices. However, if you get ticketed on private land then it’s a different process for making a complaint.

This matters because what we refer to as parking tickets are actually two different things. An ‘official’ ticket comes from the local authority because you are considered to have broken a law or rule, like parking on double yellow lines or blocking access to a hospital. You are effectively being fined for breaking these rules.

Parking on private land is different. Its is not an official fine; the landowner is basically billing you for (mis) using their facilities. To my immense annoyance, private parking fees often mimic the official ones down to the colour and font. But the two are very different things.

Just to complicate things, there are loads of different terms for both public and private tickets. Whenever I write about this subject one organisation or another always complains I’ve used the wrong term. Frankly, I’m not that bothered. So I’m going to use the generic term ‘parking ticket’ through this article as it’s what we all recognise!

How to challenge a private parking ticket

So there’s a big, angry yellow, plastic-wrapped notice on your car and it’s ruining your day. Don’t get mad – turn detective.

First things first. Ask yourself: Am I in the wrong? Frustrating though it is, if you made an error or failed to pay to park on private land, you’re probably stuck with the charge. But if there was anything that was unclear, prevented you from paying or was misleading you have grounds for an appeal.

Don’t just get in the car and drive off. Gather evidence in the first instance.

If it’s unclear that you actually are on private land, then get the camera on your phone out and take some pictures. If a sign informing you of this is hidden in the undergrowth, damaged or hard to read, or just in a location where you might reasonably have not noticed it, snap some pics. Many an appeal has been won on the grounds that it was unclear that you had to pay to park.

It may be that an over-zealous ticket issuer has jumped the gun and ticketed you while you are still within the parking time you paid for – or you’re in the free period (usually late evening or on weekends). If that’s the case, make sure you get pictures recording the actual time you were ticketed or parked. If you have evidence from other sources that support your argument – like shop recipts, for example – then photo those too.

Sometimes things just go wrong and it’s no one’s fault. So if your car has packed in or was being towed, which lead to a temporary situation where you got a ticket, include the details of what happened – both then and next. And finally, if there are any people around who witnessed the situation, get their details too.

Should I pay the ticket?

I’m a bit torn on this one. The official guidance is not to pay a ticket at all if you are disputing that it’s fair or correct. This is considered sometimes to be an admission of guilt.

However, failing to pay a ticket can involve increasing charges or fines – or in the case of council or police tickets, legal action. So the important thing is to get your complaint in as soon as possible.

Notify the private parking company that you are going to formally appeal or make a complaint about the ticket and ask them to suspend any action or increase in fees while the matter is investigated. This should be enough to stop further charges. However, if the business refuses, ask them to confirm this in writing. You could also pay them under duress with the written caveat that you are paying the ticket to prevent further charges but you are still disputing this and intend to take the matter further. Opinion is split over whether this is a good idea. But many of the people I have spoken to who have had bad experiences felt they had no other choice.

Of course if you’ve been clamped – or God forbid, towed – then you’ll usually have to cough up before your car is released. This is banned on private land – but there are, as always, some exceptions.

How to appeal a private parking ticket

If you receive a private ticket, then get in touch with the firm as soon as possible and notify them that you intend to dispute it. The ticket will usually say if the firm is a member of a trade body, like the British Parking Association or the International Parking Community.  It will also let you know that this can usually be done online.

Firstly, go through the parking firm’s complaints procedure. Make a formal complaint setting out why you disagree with the ticket and provide that evidence that you’ve gathered. When you appeal to a parking company, they should generally reply within 14 days. You have a window of 28 days within which you can appeal the fine. I’ve had some reports of parking companies claiming they’ve received no contact within this 28-day period, meaning that the time limit has expired – so keep a record of your complaint.

If that doesn’t work, there are two appeals organisations that you can go to if you are still unhappy. These organisations are kind of like Ombudsmen or alternative dispute resolution services (ADR schemes).

For British Parking Association members it’s POPLA

For International Parking Community members it’s the Independent Appeals Service

You may be issued with a code from the parking firm which allows you to take the complaint to the next level.

Appealing ‘official’ parking tickets

The same approach to appealing council parking tickets applies. So gather your evidence and get in touch as soon as you can. However, there’s a bit more at play here as in some cases you could end up in court if you ignore the ticket or get the hump and don’t play ball. So follow the rules.

Just to complicate things, you could get a ticket through the post if caught committing an offence on CCTV. You get an extra week to pay the ticket though, up from 14 days to 21. Oh and some tickets can be issued by the police for certain road infractions. So look closely at the ‘Excess Charge Notice’ or ‘Fixed Penalty Notice’ to see what the process is for appealing.

Council parking tickets can be appealed on many of the same grounds as private parking tickets, but other factors can apply, like unclear signage, badly painted road markings, traffic warden errors or good old computer errors. It’s a good idea to write down what you can recall about the day the event occurred, particularly if you get ticketed through the post.

The good news with council parking tickets is that the reduced rate you are offered if you pay within 14 days can be applied without ‘admission of liability’ so you can still pay and appeal. Do check this though. Most of the councils I’ve spoken to allow this, but some notably failed to call me back…

The process varies depending on whether you get ticketed on your car or by post, so follow the instructions on the ticket first. All roads lead to the formal appeal though. You’ll need to fill in an appeal form stating why you don’t think the ticket is fair. The council has 56 days to respond in full.

Even if that doesn’t work you still have the option to take your complaint to the Independent Adjudicator. You’ll be sent a ‘Notice or Rejection of Representations’ letter and a ‘Notice of Appeal’ form to take the case further. A word of warning though. The Independent Adjudicator can award costs to the council if it feels your complaint is frivolous. This is the term used to describe a complaint made ‘just to be difficult’. It won’t happen to you if you have provided reasons why the ticket was unfair. But if it’s clear you’re dragging out the process to be difficult, this could result in charges being awarded against you. I have to say though, I’ve never met anyone who has been billed – but I do have to warn you it could happen on rare occasions.

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James


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