/ Motoring

Brief case: How to challenge a parking notice

A Which? Legal member has successfully fought a parking penalty notice with our help by arguing that the signs that were on display in the council-run car park were confusing.

Barbara Cummins and her friend Cherith parked in the Phoenix Causeway car park in Lewes, east Sussex, on 30 April.

A sign said that parking wasn’t allowed between 20 March and 30 April. Barbara believed this meant that the suspension period had finished, so she bought a ticket.

But when Barbara and Cherith got back to the car, they found the penalty notice and visited the council’s local parking shop to query it.

The staff there told Barbara the suspension was permanent, although the sign had made no mention of this. Barbara and Cherith felt that the sign was misleading and appealed for the charge to be cancelled.

Our advice

Briefcases women

Barbara contacted Which? Legal for advice. Our lawyers advised that she was right to challenge the notice as the dates on the sign were open to interpretation.

We also advised her to challenge the term as unfair and therefore unenforceable, and request that the council exercise its discretion to cancel the penalty charge notice to avoid lengthy and potentially costly independent arbitration.

After advice from Which? Legal, Barbara completed the appeal form and within a week the council cancelled the charge.

What the law says

The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 say that terms in consumer contracts, such as the sign in the car park, must be expressed in plain and intelligible language.

If there is any doubt, then it will be interpreted in the customer’s favour.

In this case, the parking sign left room for interpretation about the dates.

When appealing a ticket, you must be aware of the strict timelines involved. These depend on the type of ticket issued. More on the procedure to follow can usually be found on the website of the local authority or parking company that issued the ticket.

Watch our video on how to appeal a parking ticket.


“A sign said that parking wasn’t allowed between 20 March and 30 April.” In common usage, that means that the restriction applies on these dates and during the intervening period.

I suppose you could say “… between 20 March and 30 April inclusive but on that basis it would be necessary to alter virtually all signs relating to parking, bus lane restrictions and goodness what else.

I very much support what Which? is doing to tackle unfair parking charges but I don’t see anything misleading in this example.

I agree – I would interpret this sign as no parking including these dates.

I also would like Which? to use its influence, and that of its members, to have parking penalties restricted to what we would all regard as reasonable, and to render illegal extortionate ones. I think if you don’t pay then say twice the daily rate might be reasonable. plus a modest agreed administration charge. If you do pay but overstay then maybe the daily rate applies. Short stay car parks would need to ensure an equivalent “daily rate” penalty is not beneficial to the parker..

Whilst Barry Beavis appears to have abused ParkingEye’s conditions I totally support his appeal to have extortionate penalties declared illegal. However I note that private parking companies are writing to previous “offenders” who had challenged their penalties informing them of Barry’s failure in the High court in April. They are demanding they pay up or solicitors would be taking them to court. What they omitted to say was that the case was going to appeal.

Actually Barry Beavis challenged his “Penalty” in the Court of Appeal not the high Court, but nevertheless, his appeal has now been heard in the Supreme Court (on 23rd July) and the decision is expected sometime in October or November.

PaulB says:
1 August 2015

No. Never mind ‘common usage’ (which I’ve never heard of, so it can’t be that common), in ordinary plain English the word ‘between’ without the word ‘inclusive’ means the intervening dates and not the dates themselves. Nevertheless, I would not have taken the risk of parking without checking, because I would half expect whoever wrote the signs to be sloppy in his/her use of language, and there would have been doubt in my mind as to what was really intended.

I agree that I would read the dates as being inclusive. It would take quite a pedantic interpretation for the start and end dates to be excluded. But the point here is that there is an element of ambiguity. Consumers can always quote the very useful principle of “contra proferentem“, whereby courts interpret any ambiguity in contract wording in the author’s disfavour or “against the offerer”. In this case, the car park sign was written by the council and so the ambiguity would be interpreted in the council’s disfavour and in the motorist’s favour.

There are other common ambiguous references to dates and times. For example, it is quite common to see “midnight” as the start or end time of something, where the author believes that the day ends at midnight rather than starts at midnight. If one writes “12am” or “00:00”, then it is obvious that the day begins at midnight.

Indeed. I wonder if anyone can come up with any example where ‘between date X and date Y’ is intended to exclude these dates.

Having said that, I’m very much in favour of unambiguous statements, and it would be as short to have ‘date X to date Y inclusive’.

They could have said ” up to ” . . . !

John, I’d assume “up to” April 30th included April 30th. But I think you are “up to” mischief here 🙂 .

It can sometimes be difficult to state something briefly, in good faith, without some ambiguity so it is good that the benefit of the doubt is given to the recipient as NFH points out.

As Wavechange points out, between is pretty clear (to me anyway) – if you were born between 1941 and 1944 it wouldn’t mean you were born in 1942 or 1943 only.

I think we are between a rock and a hard place here ( oh dear).

I always liked the sign in my local Tesco that said:

“This counter is for customers only buying newpapers and flowers.”

I never saw anyone buy both newspapers and flowers there, and yet they were still served.

Of course what Tesco meant was:

“This counter is for customers buying only newspapers, or flowers, or both.”

In short we must be aware that both dishonesty and incompetence is becoming increasingly prevalent in British bureaucracy

It doesn’t matter now, but I think the Council’s parking suspension sign was wrong. As Paul B says above, ‘between’ is not inclusive. In football, the ball has to go between the posts, and not hit the woodwork, in order to score a goal. “From 20 March until 30 April inclusive” would have avoided any confusion. Suspension notices are not that common and are probably made to order for each instance so it would not have been difficult for the council to get it right.

I would like to think that this penalty charge notice would have been cancelled on a straightforward challenge but councils seem to feel they have to defend every parking ticket in the hope that the driver will cough up and not take it to appeal. In this case the council staff even tried to suggest that the suspension was permanent. If that had been the case then the parking bay(s) should have been taken out of commission by markings or physical alterations – putting a misleading sign up is not the way to do it. I am also surprised that the enforcement officers had not queried the confusing message on the sign – their management is supposed to ensure that what they are employed to enforce is actually legally enforceable.

Sue says:
1 August 2015

I hired a rental car and after I had returned the car discovered the well known car hire company had accepted a parking fine from an an issuing authority with no name at a an alleged location 200 km from where I was on the date of the ticket. The fine was £60 plus the hire company’s administration fee of £40 plus a transaction fee of £3. I am unable to challenge because no parking ticket was issued to me, the contact number on the invoice does not function, the name of the issuing authority has been withheld, the Penalty Tribunal can do nothing because the alleged fine has been paid. I have committed no parking infringement that I am aware of. be. This feels like a scam. What do I do?

Dispute it with your credit card company

What am I missing here?

The council said ‘the suspension was permanent’.

What has this got to do with whether 20 Mar to 30 Apr includes 30th Apr?

Barbara was told by the council’s staff at their parking office that the suspension was permanent as some sort of justification for their advice that the parking penalty was valid and should be paid. They used that “permanence” defence to skirt around the issue of whether or not the sign at the car park was misleading. You are quite right, CJM; It had nothing to do with whether or not 30 April was included in the, presumably, temporary suspension which was the basis for the issue of the parking ticket. Perhaps it was not as intentional a misguidance as it sounds [although you never know . . .] but it would have been better if that particular dimension had not been introduced into the question and the staff had dealt straightforwardly with Barbara’s challenge and admitted (a) that the sign in the car park was unclear, and (b) that the PCN should not have been issued on that day. [I suspect also that the enforcement officers had become so used to booking cars in the car park for several weeks that they had lost sight of the fact that the temporary suspension was by then over.]

At 7pm my friend parked on a “Free after 6.30 ” car park. Returning at 10 pm there was a ticket made out at 8.29pm stating illegal parking. No other cars were on the car park. At the office next day, the clerk showed him a photograph; one rear wheel was half an inch on the white line marking the parking space. He paid the fine. I believe this applies even on free parking at places like Tesco ?

This kind of over-zealous enforcement is undermining all public respect for parking regulation – the purposes of which are to ensure orderly parking, the free flow of traffic, and the safety of road users. It begs the question whether the contravention applies if no part of the vehicle is over the outside of the line. The only answer to these tiresome rulings is to stamp your feet, and scream “You . . can . . not . . be . . serious ! !”.

For all the things we say about Tesco’s, I don’t think they behave as badly as local authority enforcement people and in our area they don’t really worry about the car park – it seems to sort itself out.

Paul says:
2 August 2015

This happened to my wife too – she had to park over within the bay as the car next too her was right over also. She had to park a little further over to accommodate being able to get 2 young disabled children out of the car. She had 1 wheel 1inch onto the white line & got a ticket. The council wouldn’t budge so we appealed the decision but the adjudicator said he had no choice but agree the fine as she had indeed parked on the line but did slate the council for being so zealous about it

The variety of views expressed here support the assertion by Which? Legal that the notice was open to interpretation. The reply from the Council confirmed this, saying that they would change the wording of the notices. They didn’t. They continue to put up similar short term notices which are replaced every few weeks.

Patricia Cockayne says:
1 August 2015

I definitely think that the sign meant the dates including April 30th. In this case I think it was wrong of Which? to back this case.

I think the point was that not everyone would interpret the sign that way, so it was not fair of the council to issue penalty notices on the 30th, when they could easily have made the meaning much clearer by the addition of the word “inclusive”.

Yes, that is exactly the point. Where there is doubt, the driver should be given the benefit of the doubt, not the council which gave rise to the doubt [as NFH made clear previously and which is enshrined in the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations].

If something can be expressed in clear and unambiguous language by a public authority [and that has not been disputed in this case] then it should be. To persist with wording that has been shown to be open to interpretation, as Barbara reports, and to persist with reliance on that wording for punitive enforcement purposes, are nothing short of contemptible.

Patricia Cockayne questions whether Which? should have backed this case. As I understood it, Barbara Cummins approached Which? Legal Service, which is a paid-for service, and she was entitled to their legal advice and support. They clarified the legal position with respect to the Regulations and recommended that Barbara appeal against the penalty [which was successful]. My interpretation is that Which? was, quite rightly, backing the Regulations which are an important protection of consumer rights. It is Which?’s job to do that.

Like Barbara I would have interpreted this as no parking commencing and including 30th March and ending on 29th April excluding 30th April, and agree as it is open to interpretation this legally endorses Barbara’s right to challenge the parking fine.

When it comes to white lines however, CCTV cameras and Hawk Eye have different interpretations.
Councils are hell bent on using their own clever terminology to claw in as much revenue as possible from unsuspecting motorists. I read somewhere recently that a lady motorist received a fine for temporarily moving over into a bus lane to make way for an emergency ambulance! How unwarranted is that!

Here is an article about a motorist who was fined for moving into a bus lane to let an ambulance pass: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/cars/advice/why-you-could-be-fined-for-letting-an-emergency-vehicle-past/

It is not the only case.

Enforcement staff sitting in a darkened room viewing CCTV images of traffic are bound to see far more violations than would be observable by an enforcement officer on the beat but there should be some common sense applied. Bus lanes give rich pickings to local authorities for very little effort; in return they should scrutinise the evidence most carefully before issuing a penalty charge notice for driving or stopping in the bus lane and actively look for any mitigating factors [such as making way for an emergency vehicle] in order to avoid wrongful penalisation and putting the driver to the trouble and expense of challenging the ticket. Since such tickets are issued by post some days [or longer] after the alleged contravention took place it is all the more important that the system is fair.

There was a notorious bus lane enforcement scandal a few years back in north London that reaped enormous sums for the council. The bus lane ended at the approach to traffic signals and drivers were able to filter into the inside lane if they were turning left or going forward to leave space in the other lane for right-turning traffic. During the rush hour, many drivers would make the filter movement prematurely, before the physical end of the bus lane. Obviously they had checked their mirrors, and recalling that they hadn’t overtaken a bus for ages, made this manoeuvre in a sensible and helpful manner since it reduced congestion at the traffic signals and smoothed the flow of traffic – thus improving road safety. None of this carried any weight with the local authority which persisted in enforcing these technical contraventions of a short section of bus lane. Even where councils ultimately accept that their signs or enforcement action are wrong they will not refund penalties paid unless the drivers claim them, and the reality is that for various reasons only a minority of drivers do so.

I believe the government is trying to rein in these pernicious enforcement tactics which are primarily about making money; I am not sure how it now stands but it’s about time the tide was turned. In my opinion drivers in the UK are exceedingly compliant with parking and traffic regulations [no doubt out of fear of invisible and robotic enforcement] so they deserve some recognition from highway authorities as responsible motorists, not mass condemnation, persecution, and exploitation as a money pot.

There are a few drivers who will routinely park their cars straddling the white lines marking parking bays in order to discourage others from parking nearby and scratching their paintwork. I have seen examples of this selfish behaviour and don’t mind if they are fined, since one car occupies two spaces – not good if the car park is full.

It sometimes requires a slightly trickier manoeuvre to park a longer type vehicle into a more confined space at first attempt without first entering at a slight angle causing a wheel to touch or overlap a white line and some inconsiderate drivers are not motivated enough to pull out again and straighten the vehicle, which I invariably find myself doing, to avoid touching a white line in the adjacent parking bay.

The one and only time I accidentally strayed into a bus lane was for a same day hospital emergency appointment arranged by my GP. I opted, and it was much quicker to drive myself to save the ambulance services the trouble of coming out. The three lane one way street consisted of a bus lane on the outside right leading up to traffic lights and a roundabout where I had to make a right turn to reach my destination, but as I was travelling in the middle lane with a double decker bus obscuring all road signs on my right and the white arrow painted on the road was indicating straight ahead I entered the bus lane in order to take a right at the roundabout.

I realized my mistake straight away and immediately abandoned the bus lane but this was not accepted by the Council even after I challenged it on the grounds that this was an emergeny and the bus obscured all traffic signals. If I had insisted upon an ambulance to drive me to the hospital this would never have happened.

Paul says:
2 August 2015

I’m a disabled driver and regularly park in residents parking bay outside friends houses as I can’t walk far. With the exception of Westminster every London borough allows disabled drivers to do this EXCEPT the LB of Redbridge – no signs, no notices, nothing on their website just a nice fat fine with a parking ticket from a nice smiling traffic warden. I thought this was just a simple mistake but when I contacted Redbridge I was just informed that the disabled driving instruction book states you cannot park in a residents bay – which it does BUT when I explained its a well acknowledged fact that (almost)all London boroughs waive this rule I was just bluntly told “well we don’t”, even when I asked how people we’re to know this I was informed “not our problem” – sometime banging your head against the wall is just not worth it – just pay and let their conscience deal with it.

So how are you expected to park? Will your friends have to buy Visitor permits for you? This seems to be an extreme and excessive abuse of power. The daft thing is that with a disabled person’s badge you are entitled to park on double yellow lines so long as you are not causing an obstruction. Probably of no help in your situation since there are probably no DYL near enough to your friends’ houses to be of any use. I expect the streets are generally empty when you wish to park as well.

There is an organisation that might be willing to take this up with the council. Redbridge Disability Association has a website at disabilityredbridge dot org dot uk.

My wife was parked at our local ASDA store in a Disabled parking space and with her Blue Badge displayed, as usual, on the dashboard. There were four of us in the car, 3 of us disabled and our son who is our carer. When we returned to our car we were surprised to find a Parking Enforcement Notice attached to the car.

Upon reading it we were surprised to see that it was for parking in a disabled bay whilst not displaying a valid Blue Badge. Upon getting in the car we noticed that the Blue Badge was in the passenger seat well and all we can presume is that, because it was a very windy day, when we all got our of the car the badge, unknown to us, must have blown off the dashboard and into the seat well.

My wife appealed the notice (issued by a private firm who is, apparently, contracted by ASDA to enforce parking restrictions at their store(s)) and they requested she email them a copy of the Blue Badge top them, giving her their email address, which she did. Shortly after we went away on holiday and upon our return she had received a letter informing her that the charge had now increased because she had failed to pay the charge. She immediately telephoned the company who stated that they had not received the email. She checked the email address and confirmed that it was the same one she had sent the copy to and agreed to re-submit it.

Two weeks later she received a further letter informing her that the charge had now risen to £120.00 due to non payment. Again she rang them and they, again stated that they had not received the emailed copy of her Blue Badge despite her checking, once again, that the email she had been given and sent it to was correct. The person she spoke to on the phone was quite intransigent and stated that as they had not received the copy of the Blue Badge they required IMMEDIATE payment or they would start legal proceedings to recover the debt thus increasing the amount owed.

My wife refused to pay it and has now WRITTEN to the company, the collection company that has raised the second charge and ASDA complaining of the actions of the company. She has included copies of both emails along with the copy of her Blue Badge and stated that she cannot understand why they have not received the emails despite them giving her the email address and that perhaps this was a matter of tactics to try and browbeat her (which may succeed with somebody less willing to complain) into paying a substantially increased fine.

Currently she is awaiting the outcome of these letters which were sent a week ago. She has not, to date, even received an acknowledgement from ANY of the companies that they have received the letters and are looking into the problem.

I parked in a side street in Edinburgh on a single yellow line next to the municipal dustbins
I displayed my blue badge correctly
I checked with the parking attendant that my park was legal.
When I came back an hour later after a medical examination I had a ticket.
I collared another parking attendant.
He protested that he had not issued the ticket and that the park was legal as far as he could see.
I took issued with City of Edinburgh parking authority.
They told me that the expiry date on the badge could not be read so they would fine me £75
I told them I would take the matter all the way to high court under Parking attendant and traffic wardens act 2005.
They still argued it was my fault.
My regret is that I warned them before they issued the summons. Next time i will wait until the summons is issued.

On another occasion I was met at the door late at night by two police officers.
They told me that I did not have a driving licence
So I pulled my perfectly legal driving license out of my wallet and asked them to look without touching. Who says I don’t have a licence?—- DVLA
What the digance is this then?
Can we take it with us to copy and bring straight back?
Not without a receipt FIRST!

Months later I discovered that a police woman had given false info to the DVLA
and the DVLA accepted that I had surrendered my license on medical grounds even though I had not because a policewoman lyingly said I had, NOT a doctor.

I complained to the PPCC and they said it was an honest mistake
But I was off the road 3 months because some police officers tell lies and the system covers up for them.

At 76 years of age and disabled I have concluded that British bureaucracy is paranoid and that we will soon all be living in a police state There is no such thing as an independent police complaints commission.

Jane Frost says:
6 August 2015

Here’s one scam which people might like to know about..

I parked in a car park and when I returned( in time) I had a parking ticket for ‘Not displaying my ticket correctly’

On the reverse of the ticket it said it had to be on the windscreen ……and NOT the dashboard.

It was ridiculous, as the operative had put the number of the ticket on the parking ticket. So he could see it quite clearly.

I argued that a condition had been added, after the contract..as I had already paid for the ticket and therefore the company could not add conditions after payment. ( it didn’t have positioning of tickets on the parking conditions displayed) .

The company then gave up that line and stated that I had ‘overstayed’ stating a time..but could not provide a photograph. Fortunately I still had the ticket..a couple of months afterwards, so could prove I had plenty of time to go

* Suggest reading the back of tickets and keeping them for a few weeks as a precaution.

Because although you might be in the right – dealing with these aggressive vultures is soul destroying.