/ Motoring

Don’t stand for unfair parking tickets

Parking fine on car window

Our chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith looks at unfair parking enforcement, from a lack of clear signage to faulty meters. Have you been hit by an unfair parking fine?

There are few areas of everyday life which generate stories of laughably blatant unfairness quite as consistently as parking controls do.

A few years ago, before I worked at Which?, I parked in a street in west London where there were no parking restrictions of any kind. I returned at the end of the day to find yellow lines painted on the space previously occupied by my car, and the car towed away to the car pound. I did not see the notice warning of the impending restrictions because it was much further down the street. At the time, I didn’t contest the large fine but if it happened today, I definitely would.

Unfair parking ticket stories

Hundreds of you have contacted us in recent years to tell us about unfair parking tickets (and to ask Which? Legal Service to help you challenge them). In many cases, the issue is lack of clear signage or information. In others, it’s down to faulty meters, Blue Badges which were partly obscured or upside down, or you’d slightly overstayed the limit.

In one intriguing case, a Which? member told us he was ticketed for parking on his own property. There are so many ridiculous cases emerging on websites devoted to the subject of parking that someone has written an entire book about it.

A high proportion of parking appeals are successful – about 50% at the last count – adding weight to the theory that somewhere along the line there has been a breakdown of common sense in parking enforcement.

New parking proposals

The government has responded in favour of a number of measures proposed in a recent consultation on local authority parking to inject some common sense, and, indeed, a sense of proportion – the measures include a mandatory five minutes’ grace period after your time is up before you get a ticket.

It also called for councils to publish revenue from parking bays and tickets. This seems sensible to me. Most of all, however, I would like to see a curb on ticket-happy traffic wardens.

Yes, they have a job to do to keep traffic moving, and undoubtedly many of them are beyond reproach, but when so many appeals are successful, you have to ask who is generating these unjustified tickets – which are an utter waste of time and money.

If you’ve had a ticket that you believe is unfair, find out how to challenge it on our consumer rights website.


Two gripes about parking. One is when you are prevented from extending your paid parking by buying another ticket – you decide to do some more shopping, so why not be able to purchase another hour or two? But my main gripe is the outrageously-high penalties imposed for overstaying – £50 to £100 is out of all proportion to the “offence”. I would suggest that 5 times the maximum parking fee would deter most people from taking a chance and, for those many who inadvertently overstay, it would be seen as a fair cop. Adding 5 minutes grace will be ineffective – most people will factor that in to their stay.

I personally doubt believe it’s anything to do with parking enforcement, it all about revenue generation.

From when I worked my office overlooked a roundabout which had a bank branch and cash point right next to it. You would always see people pulling up and getting at to use the cashpoint and not once did I ever see one of those clearly illegally parked cars get a ticket. And if wasn’t for lack of enforcement officers. But sadly they’d all be patrolling up and down the pay and display areas making notes on when a ticket would run at and at 1 second beyond that time they’d be a ticket on as the officer would write it out in the minutes leading upto the time. Yet not one of those cars would be causing an obstruction.

By ticketing vehicles as soon as the period expired, the parking wardens are simply doing the job they are paid to do, efficiently and fairly. Perhaps parking wardens should be instructed to allow an extra ten minutes before issuing a parking ticket.

Banks should not put cash dispensers in places that encourage people to park illegally. The answer is either to install the cash dispensers where there is plenty of parking (e.g. supermarkets) or where there is parking specifically for use of these machines.

Dave says:
24 April 2014

This is crazy I don’t agree with either of the things you have said its just crazy, you blame the banks for putting cash machines near to the road what rubbish its nothing to do with the banks where people in vehicles are going to stop! you could put them inside the banks they will still stop out side what do you suggest they put them on the roof tops of there buildings? and the traffic wardens run by councils are told to ticket almost any thing thats parked as the councils who are running these want the revenue from the fines they are told to get as many as they can that’s a fact! where I live the traffic wardens are still run by the police they are much more fair as its not about raising money for the council its about stopping those who offend parking restrictions. my girl friend got a ticket her fault but the traffic warden gave her 10 mins grace before he put the ticket on the vehicle he told her she could appeal the ticket given reasons he was not nasty he was doing his job but not over the top either being a human not a robot unlike some of the council run robots they employ and have you noticed also a lot of them don’t speak good English either makes you think why that is.

As an ‘inner city’ resident I’m invited to discuss proposed changes to parking restrictions in my area. There are two kinds of restriction that I agree with. Where there would otherwise be danger created for ‘normal’ road users including pedestrians and where people who have no other place to park would be crowded out by shoppers and office workers. But that’s it.

I and other concerned residents ensure that other crafty measures are not slipped in to force people into expensive but mostly empty multi-storey car parks, to create ‘parking reservations’ for local authority staff or to prevent people dropping off their children near their schools. This last should not be necessary however the ‘gerrymandering’ of catchment areas to provide socially engineered schools for the benefit of those in the know means that many children are forced to cross arterial and busy suburban roads at peak times.

Experience has proved to us that asking the simple questions like ‘you have proposed that in the interests of road safety, explain your reasoning’ or ‘what is the actual width of the carriageway at that point’ usually results in fast withdrawal of proposals for evermore complex and often petty restrictions. You need to keep an eye open for those little notices tied to lamp posts and then to make sure that you are heard!

Mr Vicary-Smith makes the statement – “A high proportion of parking appeals are successful – about 50% at the last count – adding weight to the theory that somewhere along the line there has been a breakdown of common sense in parking enforcement.”

I think the conclusion that “there has been a breakdown of common sense in parking enforcement” does not follow. Those who appeal are likely to be those who feel they have a strong case for making an appeal. One cannot however conclude that those who don’t appeal will have an equally successful outcome. After all, if you know you have clearly broken parking regulations you are very unlikely to appeal.

Depending on the proportion of those who do appeal, the percentage of all appeals of all tickets issued may be quite small, No breakdown in common sense there.

Maria Delgadillo says:
22 April 2014

I live in a street with restricted parking as otherwise we would be swamped by commuters and shoppers. Like many of my neighbours I would like more enforcement not less. Many of the successful appeals are people exploiting loopholes and Council mistakes. They are not fighting a major injustice. Why is Which? fuelling the myths that some motorists like to spread to defend what is in most cases little better than stealing? Why is fare dodging outrageous but overstaying in a car park ok? The fines here range from £50 to £70 with 50% discount for payment within 14 days. This is less than the 5 times the maximum car park fee (£8 – £10). Car parks and roads need maintenance. I am more than happy for car parking and fines to be used for revenue raising (along with speed cameras). Why should responsible, law-abiding people pay for those who would rather turn our town into a grid-locked, dangerous, fume-infested, giant free car park? I will drive when essential but we all need to remember it is a luxury and a privilege and not a human right. The over stayers are causing an obstruction of a parking space that was designed for short trips (such as cash points). If I wanted to read this sort of stuff I would buy the Daily Mail. It makes me seriously question the content of the rest of the magazine.

Peter’s introduction focuses on genuine unfair treatment of people, for example where signs are not clear or meters are faulty. I can relate to both of these problems.

If parking fines were always fair then appeals would always be unsuccessful, but that is certainly not the case.

I like Maria’s points. Driving isn’t fun, and Which?’s attitude to cars when it reviews them can still tend to the Top Gear view, of speed, acceleration and that Toad Of Toad Hall approach, as much as the greener issues. And the law is there to be respected, if it’s properly applied. As was earlier said, while 50% of appeals are successful, that is not 50% of tickets issued, and nowhere near it. Perhaps someone should listen to the Radio 4 numbers programmes about crunching statistics.
I deliver, often in town centres where car drivers are using the loading bays intended for my van. Parking on pavements (even partially) is illegal, though I am allowed to block the road while I deliver. Red Routes – don’t even think about it. Most people know their own area, and if they are away from it, then an appeal may succeed, but that’s about it? I now use a dashboard recorder. It gives you more confidence when you’re down a side street by the London Palladium stage door, and there’s a warden standing there 🙂 Maybe if you’re that worried, you should invest in one. The review is due.

Martin Cocking says:
26 April 2014

I drove to the top of the Great Orme in Llandudno, North Wales, to walk my dog at about 2.30/3pm on a cold and windy Monday afternoon in January. The large car park was empty. I walked my dog and drove away. It was only later that I noticed the parking ticket, and the reason for my receiving it was :- i hadnt parked within 2 white lines. I tried to appeal it but paid it in the end. Needless to say we dont visit there again.

I think what annoys people is the ticket like the one on top of the Great Orme, which is clearly given to raise money and not because any actual harm is done or hazard created. I have just received a £110 ticket for parking across a dropped kerb. Fair enough – except that this is a very old stretch of dropped kerb and whatever entrance or gate it used to serve no longer exists. So I did not obstruct anyone’s access to anything but a stretch of six-foot fence covered in ivy. I await the result of my appeal with interest.

How could I have been so stupid? Of course I was causing an obstruction – to anyone in a wheelchair wishing to cross the road at that point. I should have realised this if I had thought about it for a few seconds instead of feeling aggrieved. I have written to the council to withdraw my appeal and paid the (entirely justified) fine.

It’s nice that you realised. A friend of mine would have scrapped down the side of your car with his wheelchair or let your tires down just to make a point. Same for people parking to the pavement. RIP Tim

But if there’s no corresponding dropped kerb on the other side of the road, maybe you’re right to question it. As once in the road how is the wheelchair user, pram pusher or person with a walking frame expected to get back onto the pavement.

My parents have a dropped kerb outside their house and some “person” in a red car parked across it the other night. If the council had had an easily accessible reporting system she was hoping to get it ticketed but gave up after 5 mins being passed from one automated menu to another.

Sarah says:
5 June 2014

I recently received a parking ticket for parking on a street where it was permit-holders only after 5pm. I had been at an opticians appointment and hadn’t expected to be so long so thought I’d be back before that time, but fair enough I was late and got a ticket. However when I accessed the council’s website to pay the fine online I was shocked and quite upset to discover 12 photographs of my car taken as evidence of my crime. Can they do that? If photographic evidence is necessary surely one or two pictures would suffice – but 12?? There were photographs of every sticker displayed in my vehicle, and a close-up shot of a bit of loose trim on the drivers’ door as well as pictures showing the car’s location and the registration plate. What are my rights here? Can I insist on those photographs being deleted once I’ve paid the fine?

Sarah, I think you should at least request the deletion of all the photographs since, if you have accepted the penalty charge and paid it, there is no further need for the council to retain the photographs. I think the number of photos is also grossly excessive; they demonstrate the paranoid mentality of parking enforcement. I don’t actually rhink any photos are required at all in that situation. The parking enforcement officer’s notes and hand-held computer should clearly identify the date, time and location of the contravention, the make and colour of the vehicle, the vehicle registration mark, whether or not a valid permit was displayed, and [additionally but not relevant in your case] the tyre inflation valve positions. That is more than enough evidence to stand up a parking ticket. As a matter of interest, did any of the photographs show clearly which road your car was parked in and the property it was outside? If not they are useless from an evidential point of view since the vehicle could have been somewhere else. The trend towards photographing everything is obviously driven by the facility of digital photography and the apparent ease by which images can be stored and transferred to various databases. Once pictures have been taken the enforcement mentality refuses to see that any of them might be redundant so they all get filed away regardless. How do you know that they will not be used again for some other purpose unconnected with parking enforcement, or for some future parking issue; the parking enforcement database cross-references all tickets issued to every vehicle and the digital images can be called up at any time. They can even be transferred between different authorities. If you buy a used car that has accumulated parking tickets, they will be recorded in the enforcement history of the issuing authority and, although the PCN is enforced against the current registered keeper or the driver [not the vehicle], it is not helpful in the event of a future contravention to have so much evidence in the background which could – where the mentality is conducive – influence the attitude of the officer dealing with recovery of the fine. I should be interested to see how you get on if you do request deletion of the photos.

When parking enforcement was decriminalised about twenty years ago it was seen as a civil function administered by council workers [or contractors] according to sensible codes of practice with an effective appeal process and a democratic process for determining where parking restrictions should be imposed. Two adverse things have happened: first, councils have extended parking controls way beyond the realms and control-times of what were justified largely as a means of raising revenue; and second, the on-street enforcement regime has adopted a para-military style with aggressive enforcement and virtually no tolerance in a way that the former police style of enforcement never displayed. Naturally, the revenue-raising imperative emanating from councillors has permeated into the enforcement operations characterising the behaviour, demeanour and attitudes of the enforcement officers. Under the local authority-run system “offences” became “contraventions” and “fines” became “penalty charges” but the language no longer matches the actions.

barry says:
4 July 2014

PRIVATE parking (penalty charge) this one you can ignore as long as you do not reply to the letters ,you will get threatening letters,reduced charge offers,debt collection firm letters,different debt collection firm letters,legal action threats, BUT DO NOT RESPOND stand firm,back to the wall and all that, seems to have worked for me. DO YOU HAVE THE NERVE?

Mr Magnet says:
26 December 2014

I have paid using my credit card for two days at Newport Railway Station at 04.22am. All that came out of the machine was only one ticket, which displayed with big bold letters “EXPIRES” and next set of bigger letters showed to stick it to the wind screen. Everything else written (it is a receipt etc.) is in very very small letters, difficult to read and at an angle of 90 degrees to the word “Expires”. (I could not read this at that time). I displayed it on the dashboard went for 2 day conference.
Result: Two Penalty notices on my car. When appealed against them showing the credit card payment details etc, it was refused saying I have displayed only the receipt, not the actual ticket.
The fact was I have received only that ticket nothing else. Secondly why it said in bold letters “expires” and stick it to the wind screen rather than it is receipt and keep it.
Any one had similar experience?. I am not sure what to do now?.

Hope you opted for a court battle! He appeal system is not what it seems, as the organisation doing the appeal is connected to the parking company. I would be interested in hearing the outcome of this. Like me, you paid the fee and didn’t overstay. The problem was with the machine. I don’t think motorists have responsibility for any machine fault. If you have proof of payment (always use a card when you can) and you’re within the time

Jeremy says:
20 January 2015

Thanks to Which for your template letter to “challenge a Penalty Charge Notice.”

After I pointed out the lack of clear signs and the confusing parking system (with photos), they replied….”We have cancelled your Penalty Charge Notice after carefully considering what you say.”

Milton Keynes must make a lot of money from people buying the wrong parking ticket in a car park operated by two difference machines for different spaces.

Lorraine says:
3 April 2015

Hi I got a ticket as there bays that are filled up outside my house I parked inline with the other cars and the time on the ticket was 12:23 to 12:23 but there was a car that was outside the White box and he said that he made an effort on this good Friday

My wife received a ticket after parking on her college carpark. The ticket machine was broken when she arrived (and had the foresight to take a photo). when she finished her lessons, she had been given a ticket. A number of other students suffered exactly the same fate. Now, I don’t know whether to appeal just for my wife or to compile a joint appeal to cover everyone affected that day, just to demonstrate that there was a fault with the machine. I was tempted to suggest ignoring the notice but am not sure of our Rights in this case.

Ian, if that was the only machine in the car park then your wife could not possibly pay so I cannot see how she could possibly lose contesting a parking penalty. I’d suggest each person affected sends in the same letter and photograph. If the penaly issuer pursues the matter then tell them you will counter claim for harassment and charge for time spent in dealing with the issue. Good luck.

Bought the ticket (£2) at the hotel car park by Swindon railway station run by Parking Solutions, put it on the dash, returned and left within the hour. Parking notice as the car registration was not correct – only one letter was printed. I kept the ticket (always do) and paid by card. Appealed including a scan of the ticket and screen shot of card statement showing £2 for Parking Soluitions. Now in the hands of GW Legal (Solicitors) demanding £160, and I’m opting for court. Reason of offence “No trace of ticket” but the offensive lawyers keep taking about the ticket being incorrect. Who is right? I paid for the service provided – a one hour parking limit, and they have accepted payment. The issue is wearing me down, has taken hours of writing and answering their almost daily contacts. Should the court find in my favour, is there any way I can get some recompense for this?

The greatest abuse of Enforcement of Parking fines is when the offense is not committed at all. The breach of contract parking on private land relies on a photo of a vehicle arriving and it leaving the Private Parking area. The fact that the car was parked only during the first free half-hour set in the signage and left during this time, only to come back the next day and park again for the first free half-hour and left on the second day during that free half-hour – only to be issued with a Parking Charge Notice for the period of entry on the first day and exit on leaving on the second day. The “photographic evidence” is used as proof of the offense. As the victim of this fraud, I find it unreasonable and expensive for me to be obliged to gather evidence to prove I had not been in the private car park.

Presumably they will have photographic evidence of all arrivals and departures each day that you can require them to produce.

Just a silly retrospective thought – does this case suggest the potential for using footage from a dashcam to challenge the parking company’s evidence?