/ 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?