/ 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


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?



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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Robert Cope says:
2 May 2015

I agree with you john whole heartly,All this money dose not go to the N H S it just go to private companies.

What I believe is stressful about parking are the high penalties imposed when you inadvertently or otherwise contravene the terms. A penalty is fair to prevent abuse, but extortionate charges are not. Perhaps Which? would like to campaign against the unjustifiably high penalties imposed.

Absolutely right. There can be little confidence in the rule of law when penalties are disproportionate to the contravention; after all, wrongfull parking is not a criminal act, rarely deliberate, and has no lasting harmful effects on society. “Let the punishment fit the crime” The whole mentality of parking enforcement seems to have lost sight of the objectives of parking provision as a service, and the avoidance of unsafe and disorderly parking, and turned into a form of institutionalised persecution with deterrence as its prime objective. There should be more tolerance of minor transgressions and first-time infractions – after all, to a very large degree, this is a law-abiding country and the heavy imposition of extortionate penalty charges is not justified. Although much maligned for their actions at hospitals and shopping centres, I am not convinced that the private sector parking organisations are much less reputable than the municipal ones which without a shadow of doubt have misused the superiority of their legal position to generate money unnecessarily.

My real concern about this unfair incident was that the very people being hit, were likely demographically to be the elderly and infirm. The signs were missing explaining the new system from the blue badge bays, and it was possible to ‘walk’ several routes from ‘blue badge bays’ into the hospital departments without any signs whatsoever being visible about the new system. (I have video evidence of this – much to the delight of the ‘Hospital security’ people who threatened to have me arrested) Most people get scared by these charges and just pay up. I may perhaps have a stubborn streak about injustice.

In spite of parking charges, some local but out-of-town hospitals have car parks that seem to be always full, so at busy times it can be hard to find a space even if you don’t mind paying.

Big Blue says:
2 May 2015

This is rubbish. Parking in a private space is purely a civil matter. Private companies simply cannot fine people under English law. In fact the existence of a penalty clause itself is usually enough to make a contract unenforceable. All the parking company can do is to take you to the county court and demand compensation. What is that? Well, it’s their loss on the space you’ve occupied but I suspect that they’d have quite a job on their hands in this case because this couple were entitled to free parking anyway. Even if they weren’t, we’re only talking about a few quid. Would a parking company really take someone to the Small Claims Court for a few bob? I very much doubt it. I have never ever paid any penalty charge in my life. I just bin their many letters and they give up in the end. Don’t even bother with replying.

Big Blue says:
3 May 2015

Apologies. I’m totally wrong here for now. I hadn’t keot up with the Beavis v Parking Eye case where the judges quite incredibly ruled that because the penalty was the same as the local authority’s penalty then it wasn’t actually a penalty. Barry Beavis is an Essex chip shop owner and needs everyone’s support to take his case to the Supreme Court.

Dalefarm says:
2 May 2015

Hospital car park charges are surely the result of the money making culture we now live in and are often excessive. When people are attending an establishment that deals with life and death the last thing they need to be thinking about is car park costs.
Just for the record as a former nurse who had to pay for the ” luxury” of parking at work it is not straightforward either. Working long irregular shift patterns that often could not be predicted car parking was essential, but not always an automatic right. Insufficient spaces often meant having to arrive for shifts early in order to find somewhere to park was not uncommon.

clive kaye says:
2 May 2015

Unfortunately Which lost a landmark case in the courts Beavis vs Parking Eye

I was under the impression that while the Court of Appeal upheld the parking company’s right to levy charges for non-compliance with their parking rules, and to set charges at a level that would recover their costs and losses due to over-staying as well as acting as a deterrent, it did not make a judgment on whether or not the £85 charge in that case was proper. I hope there will be a further appeal to the Supreme Court on that point which is really at the heart of this matter.

Realistically, there cannot be a range of charges depending on whether the overstay was two minutes, five minutes, half-an-hour, or whatever, but it nevertheless does need to be proportionate to the company’s revenue impairment on an averaged and equalised basis, and – more to the point – it should not be extortionate and purely a profit stream. I would argue that there should be no profit element at all in the excess charging structure, all commercial surpluses being derived from turnover through the payment system.

When the enforcement of car parks had to be done manually it was often not cost effective to patrol some places routinely, random patrols being sufficient to maintain adequate compliance. Now, with digital enforcement using CCTV and ANPR [automatic number plate recognition], every technical infringement can result in the generation of a parking ticket. This is indiscriminate enforcement that to my mind offends against our tradition of justice; camera enforcement that might be justifiable on the public highway [for safety reasons] is out of place on private land, especially at hospitals where it is heavily in the interests of the NHS and the public transport authorities to facilitate private travel as the alternatives would require massive extra costs and subsidies.

These charges prey on the elderly, infirm and sick. There is only one fully equipped hospital in Herefordshire (the County, in Hereford), which also serves large parts of central Wales.

Hospital visits were frequent for my elderly mother, who was disabled. Hereford County has disabled spaces but they are charged at full whack. So, when I took her in as a day patient, we had to pay.

When visited her as an in-patient, or if I need to go to the hospital on my own account, I put the bike on the train for the 15-mile journey and park the bike for free at the hospital. But its bike park is always overflowing – staff also have to pay to park their cars so many cycle to work instead.

Frank says:
2 May 2015

I had to park at my nearest hospital when I had an emergency once and found it the most stressful experience of ny life. If Which? ever started a campaign to abolish such charges I would support it 200%/

When hospital car park Chargers were introduced at first this was challenged by various consumer organisations. It did go to Judicial Review with the outcome that as it was not a direct NHS Service then it was acceptable for NHS authorities to impose charges. Where hospitals are built under Private Finance Initiatives the car parks normally fall under the remit of the Contractor as it is their responsibility to maintain them.

One plus of charging is it does deter abuse from people who used to dump their car for a day and go off to work. However charges in many places are unreasonable. My local hospital charges £1.90 for 3 hours this grates with me as 1) I rarely have the correct change so loose 10p on many visits. And 2) many of my visits last less than one hour which most local authority car parks do have!

The hard part for me was when my son was in intensive care at Leeds to find the daily charge to park was £16.00. I was given one free pass to come and go but the rest of my family had over an hours journey each day and had to pay through the nose to park. When someone is critically ill what you do not want is to worry about finding the daily cost of parking which just added to he cost of getting there which was over an hours journey. Fortunately for us he survived due to the splendid care he was given. But the cost of car parking and lack of relative accommodation placed a service pressure on our lives wondering in my case where I would find the money for hotels.

The government in 2014,did issue guidance advising Trusts to be a little more flexible and sensitive to people’s needs with regard to parking but as yet I gave to see it put into practice and the example given here of extortionate fines and threats of police action just proves that point!

Makes me wonder what the police would do apart from make an arrest under the Terorrism Act (I don’t think!!).

Brenda says:
2 May 2015

My daughter recently gave birth at the North Middlesex Hospital. When she was taken in her partner was given a “permit” for their car to be parked in the car park. What he was not told was that the permit was only for 6 hours, and being in a hurry to get back for the birth he didn’t read all the details but placed it in the car windscreen.
As a result of this they received a parking ticket BUT it was removed or fell off before they returned to the car (she was in for 5 nights) and instead of being asked to pay £15 it is now up to £40. Which she is contesting.
Totally unacceptable due to lack of information.

woodward says:
2 May 2015

I had to pay 3pounds at midnight to get my car out of hospital car park after my wife was taken by ambulance in an emergency .what a sick selfish country we live in all hospital car parks should be free. I am a 84 year old & am ashamed at what has happened to our old country.

Robert Macmillan says:
2 May 2015

Re parking at NHS hospitals

In my opinion this practice of charging for patients or those visiting patients should be abandoned immediately. Not all those visiting a Hospital are able to walk distances and often have difficulty using public transport assuming it is running at the time of visit (emergencies at night etc). I think the idea of charging may have come from some dim witted boffin who thought this would be a easy fund raiser for cash strapped NHS. It has added an unfair and unnecessary burden to sick persons and their visitors whilst letting the uncaring persons and selfish individuals who park their cars whilst going to work and merely make use of a facility not intended for them. This is the area which should be addressed and if necessary laws introduced to enforce compliance. Perhaps a loss of Drivers licence for persistent offenders would discourage the practice!

My own brush with paid parking occurred at a large Hospital in Glasgow was when I attended as a patient to see my consultant and being disabled, in a wheelchair and I did not know anything about parking charges I parked on a disabled bay, displayed my Blue Badge I returned to my car some hour and a half later to find a fine notice on it! The parking attendant approached and informed me that the ticket was for parking in a staff car park. He also informed me that the notice stating the car park was Staff Parking was erected whilst I was seeing my consultant and that he would lose his job if he had not issued a ticket. The ticket gave details of who to complain to in writing if I so wished. I did not wish . I found out where the person in charge of this fiasco was located in the hospital and made my way to her office. It of course was at the top of the building with no elevator and no disabled access.. So I informed the porter at the entrance to advise the lady that I would wait at the bottom stairs until either she or one of assistants was able to come down and take my complaint and that it would be unfortunate if they could not accommodate me as it may be a beach of Discrimination laws since the building was accessible to the public and had not been adapted for disabled access. She came down within 10 minutes (much to her credit) and interviewed me (or perhaps I interview her) and I found her helpful and saw my point and agreed with my version.
She went on to tell me the NHS Glasgow had abolished all parking charges on sites covered by NHS parking attendants but because of contractual agreements they were not at that stage to remove the Private Firms until their Contracts ended. She cancelled my ticket immediately.
She was very helpful and treated me with respect and she also advised me of plans to stop charging Car Park fees and of new parking multi-storeys which were planned. I was very impressed with how she handled this situation and of her plans to make hospital patients as it, in my opinion should always have been , free ant the point of usage.
I ave not been back at this particular Hospital since then, but my investigation show that she has kept her word and most of the proposals are in force.

The point of this email is to illustrate how a simple thoughtless act on the part of some administrators can cause patients and officials unnecessary upset.
I know that their are differences between NHS Scotland and NHS England but I hope in the administration on this subject would be common.

I expect that hospitals outsource their parking management partly to avoid the extra management effort and partly because the company selected pays them an annual fee. Can we hear from such a hospital please?
I also suspect that parking is restricted not only becuse of space constraints but also to encourage us to use public transport – laudible, but not practical for emergencies or those who are ill or infirm.
What cannot be disputed is the unconscionable profiteering – prepayment and penalties are both wrong, and we should expect hospitals to regulate both in their contracts with private companies.
I suspect Big Blue’s advice to ignore penalties is sound – don’t communicate with them at all and they go away, despite pseudo-legal warnings (search the web for background).

Alan Pascoe says:
2 May 2015

What people can also do is vote UKIP! They have promised to abolish charges in hospital car parks.

If these private companies (who earn fortunes) can afford to have these CCTV systems which read number plates ‘in and out’, why can they not be required to have a system whereby if you have ‘underpaid’, there is a sign which flashes on your way out, reminding you that you still owe charges before you leave. This would be fair.
The hospital authorities claimed to us that they do not wish people to be penalised for underpaying by accident – this would certainly go a reasonable way towards consumer confidence in the fairness of these charges.

It is sometimes claimed in defence of hospital car parking charges that any surpluses are reinvested in the NHS and help to provide better services [not higher pay for managers]. This arument is fallacious. The NHS is a charge on the whole country met through taxation in various guises under which the better off contribute more than those on low incomes. The people who are paying hospital parking charges are either the ill or the relatives or carers of the ill. If their parking payments generate profits they are forced to make an unfair and inequitable contribution towards the costs of running the hospital.

I am not against charging for parking at hospitals; the costs of running a ‘free’ parking scheme are significant because of misuse [e.g by commuters] and extended occupation to the detriment of capacity [reduced turnover of spaces]. There remains a need to supervise car parks to some extent to prevent nuisance, provide safety and security cover, and protect access for disabled drivers and passengers. So a fair fee seems appropriate but there must be good signage and adequate provision of exemption arrangements clearly described and sensitively implemented.

Certainly worth ‘sharing’ this story, if only to make more people aware.

Sara says:
3 May 2015

I recently accopanied my disabled father to an appointment at Stoke Mandeville Hospital to find that their disabled parking is as follows:
1) take ticket at barrier on entering car park
2) park in disabled bay – well if you can find one not occupied by the builders vans…
3) display disabled badge otherwise if in a disabled bay you will get fined, oh hold on
4) take disabled badge to reception to exchange ticket for a pre-paid one so you do not have to pay to exit car park
5) go back to car to display disabled badge, hoping you have not got a ticket in the meantime.
6) go back into hospital, attend appointment and eventually leave.

At least you get to park free, but you have to manage to get back and forth to the car park extra times to get your ticket exchanged and display your badge – not at all easy for someone like my father who cannot walk more than about 20 yards. Good job I was with him to run backwards and forwards for him!!

Sara, at Stoke Mandeville you take a ticket on entry and pay at a machine when you leave to get an exit ticket to operate the barrier. If disabled you take your blue badge and ticket to a desk where they will issue you with a free ticket to open the car park barrier, No need to go back and forth. Unless, that is, it has changed in the last couple of weeks.

Wasn’t the point that after getting the free ticket from the desk you have to return to the car with the blue badge and display it otherwise a penalty notice will be issued [Sara’s point 5]? In this day and age it should be possible to register with the hospital in advance and download an exemption ticket [showing the vehicle registration mark] so that you have it ready for when you arrive. And why on earth cannot cars with blue badges be parked free-of-charge in any bay and not just the specially marked ones, especially if the disabled person can get in and out of the car safely and easily? – some non-wheelchair-accessible spaces couild be nearer to the required entrance than the wheelcair-accessible ones. While permanent and severe walking disability is one of the key eligibility criteria for a blue badge, there are other criteria [blindness for example] so it should not be assumed that all blue-badge holders will need to unload a wheelchair. Indeed, I walked over to Tesco’s today to collect an order and I noticed on the approach that there were about forty cars with blue badges parked in the disabled parking bays but in the store I saw only two wheelchairs in use. Many of the disabled parking spaces were over fifty yards away from the store entrance and there were many much closer undesignated spaces available. This is irrelevant in Tesco’s case because there is no parking charge and no enforcement but it shows how the least fortunate in society have become so conditioned to having to park is specific places for no good reason that they even do so at the supermarket. Obviously, the hatch-marked spaces between cars make it easier to open the doors fully and get in and out easily, and that might account for the preference of those spaces, but there were other spaces adjacent to kerbs, at the end of rows, and alongside the covered walkway that might have been suitable.

[N.B. It is often not appreciated that any occupant of the vehicle can be the blue badge holder and that the badge is not associated or identified with any particular vehicle.]

John, the disabled bays are very close to the desk when we have parked there. However, with a blue badge you can, of course, use the ordinary bays, take your blue badge with you, and only collect an exit ticket when you leave. Therer were other disabled bays close to the entrance outside the pay car park where you just had to display a blue badge.

Hi Malcolm,

The act of ‘displaying’ the blue badge had ceased at that time – however, the signs didn’t tell you this. They had not put the signs up all around the car park at all the disabled areas explaining that the system had changed. Therefore you would park and enter an area of the hospital completely unaware of the changes. It was no longer a pay and display car park – however the signs were still up saying that it was.