/ Motoring

Brief cases: couple given £100 charge in hospital car park

A woman collecting her 94-year-old mum from hospital was slapped with a £100 parking charge even though her car was in a disabled bay and displaying a valid permit.

Jeanette and John Creasey parked in a Blue Badge bay in November 2014 when they collected her mum, Patricia Tanner, from Kingston Hospital, where she’d been treated.

They didn’t know that the hospital had just changed the car park from pay and display to a CCTV number plate recognition system.

The couple had left their permit on display, not knowing that Blue Badge holders were now supposed to take their badges to the hospital’s main entrance to have their details logged.

How were we supposed to know?

John said there were no signs in the bay where they parked warning of the change, or explaining how disabled drivers would now get free parking.

In fact, there were still some pay-and-display signs up. The couple were sent a notice demanding £100 payment within 14 days, reduced to £50 for early payment. John was unwilling to pay and contacted Which? Legal for advice.

After getting the notice, they went back to the car park and saw a few signs stating ‘Blue Badge holders – please see signage within bays for information on how to obtain free parking’.

Some signs were at payment machines, which Blue Badge holders wouldn’t need to go to and so wouldn’t see. Security asked the couple to leave when they took photos of parking bays without signs.

What we advised the couple

creasey

We advised the couple to tell the hospital that the charge was unfair as the charging signs in place were conflicting. John contacted the hospital on 10 December. It said the ticket would be cancelled.

Despite this, he had a reminder from the firm running the new system. John said he wouldn’t pay. He finally learnt in January that the charge had been cancelled.

What the law says about parking charges

Car parks run by private firms are governed by contract law. Operators can decide which types of vehicle can use it, how long they can stay, how much they must pay, and enforce special bays.

If you break the car park’s conditions, you could get a parking ticket. But signs must be prominent and clearly state the terms. If you get a ticket for breaching a term you weren’t made adequately aware of, you may be able to challenge it with the car-park operator or in the County Court (Sheriff Court in Scotland).

Have you had an experience like Jeanette’s? Did you contest the charge?

 

Comments
Member

The case quoted reinforces the need to abolish all hospital car park charges for patients and bona fide visitors. It also reinforces the need for the hospital to manage the car parks only with their own full time staff who are paid a normal wage and no extras governed by the number of parking tickets they issue. The use of private firms should be prohibited.

Member
John Creasey says:
3 May 2015

Hi BM – strangely, in a way, I do support some form of parking control at this hospital as it is 100metres from a main line computer station. Handing this over to a private parking company…….I totally disagree with though.

John C

Member
Bob says:
6 May 2015

“abolish all hospital car park charges for patients and bona fide visitors”

I think the NHS budget is for treating patients, not for parking cars.

Member

The local hospital has ticket machines where you are expected to pay in advance. It is difficult to know how long an outpatient visit will take and when I have taken friends to A&E I have had no way of predicting how long I will stay.

I would like to see free car parks for emergency visits. If someone is ill, getting them to hospital is more important than looking for change or even remembering to take money. To avoid abuse, a token could be collected from reception to open the exit barrier. Those who deliver their friends and neighbours to A&E often save the costs involved in calling an ambulance.

For routine visits to hospitals, I can see a case for charges, but these should be modest and it would be better to let users pay on departure since outpatient visits can involve unpredictable delays.

I hope that parking company that took action against Jeanette and John Creasey has had to pay considerable costs and has been dismissed by the hospital.

Member
John Creasey says:
3 May 2015

Hi Wavechange – just to clarify, Parking Eye did not actually in the end take any further action. However they did suggest that they would even after Kingston Hospital agreed that the charge was incorrect. I did send ‘Parking Eye’ a very ‘to the point and uncompromising’ response to their later threat in which I made it clear that I was not going to pay and that I would be seeking costs should they continue to Court action. The signs have now been changed but Parking Eye still runs the car parking.

Member

Hi John – Thanks for your post. I suspect that most people would have just paid up in your position.

There is no parking regulator, as far as I know. The House of Commons Transport Committee looked at the possibility ten years ago, but no action was taken:

“81. The existing institutional framework for parking enforcement should, if correctly managed and extended, provide adequate scrutiny of local authority parking management without the establishment of a ‘parking regulator’. But the local authorities, the Government, the parking adjudication services, and the private sector need to cooperate now to drive up the standards of performance. If they cannot manage to demonstrate real progress within a reasonable time scale then alternatives will need to be found. In those circumstances, the advantages of a ‘parking regulator’ might need to be considered further.”

It is vital that signage is adequate and car park users are made well aware of changes. Apparently a significant proportion of penalty charges are successfully contested, suggesting that parking needs to be managed better.

Member

Occasionally the press picks up on reports from the parking appeals services that adjudicate on local authority parking enforcement actions to the effect that a very high proportion of parking appeals go uncontested by the local authority suggesting that the penalty charge notices were issued without justification. There might be other reasons for not contesting an appeal [like time and cost of representation at the hearing] but it makes you wonder how many penalties get paid unnecessarily.

I think those private sector operators that are members of the British Parking Association are subject to a degree of compliance with a code of practice and subscribe to an ‘independent’ appeal process, but such membership is not compulsory so far as I am aware. The name “Parking Eye” suggests that this firm relies heavily on CCTV observation of parking activity rather than manual patrolling. This reduces the costs and raises the yield to the organisations that employ them, produces a higher ratio of penalties as there are fewer unseen contraventions, and minimises the likelihood of personal engagement which might otherwise lead, on the one hand, to conflict, but, on the other hand, to a caution rather than issue of a ticket.

Member

I should think ‘parking’ in all its manifestations must be very high up the list of stress-inducing issues. The immediate problem might only give rise to temporary stress but the repetition of parking difficulties and the inconsistent treatment of contraventions, builds up a latent anxiety state in people who might at other times be entirely rational, easy-going and laid-back about most things in life. The fact that so many of the bad stories are linked to hospital visits is a terrible situation. It really is ridiculous that every retail park, hospital site, railway station, and other public facility might have one of several different payment systems [pay-&-display, pay on exit, etc], bay widths, enforcement regimes, penalty charges, signage styles, and so on. It is not surprising that many people think some of these elements are set to catch us out. The general inadequacy of signing is a scandal and there is no excuse for it; I don’t understand why there is not a recommended design standard for car park signage in terms of lettering, shape, colour, location, and condition such that operators that choose to adopt sub-standard signs lose the right to enforce their penalties. On the public highway disabled drivers have the right to park anywhere [even on double yellow lines] so long as they are displayig their blue badge and not causing an obstruction; similar rights should apply in off-street car parks without people having to go to a specific place to register their badge in order to avoid enforcement, and the monitoring system employed should be designed to cope with that. It would be more to the point if a sophisticated automatic system was used to make sure that ineligible people were not parking in the designated parking bays to the detriment of disabled drivers.