/ Motoring

We quiz the RAC Foundation about the clamping ban

Car with clamp on wheel

The Protection of Freedoms Bill proposes to outlaw clamping on private land and was debated yesterday in the House of Commons. We talk to the RAC Foundation’s Stephen Glaister to find out what it all means.

1. What does the RAC Foundation think about the plan to ban clamping on private land?

The plan in the Protection of Freedoms Bill to ban clamping on private land has certainly caught the headlines. But the real problem for motorists has always been caused by lack of regulation of the parking industry, not wheel clamps per se, which will continue to be used legally by local authorities.

While the legality of wheel clamping on public land is clearly set out in law under the Traffic Management Act 2004, the situation on private land has been quite different with very little restriction on wheel clamping activities.

As a result, rogue wheel clampers have been able to exploit their essentially unregulated position to charge motorists punitive amounts of money to have wheel clamps removed from their cars.

Government did introduce the statutory licensing of wheel clamping operators in 2001 but this failed to stop the cowboys. Throughout, ministers have avoided the best option – thorough and wide-ranging regulation of the private parking industry.

2. Are there any alternative deterrents that could be introduced?

Proposed changes in the law to make the owner of a vehicle, rather than its driver, responsible for parking infringements will act as a deterrent to some motorists who use a loophole to avoid paying penalty charges incurred on private land.

In small car parking areas, rising bollards and other obstacles could be used to stop ad hoc unwanted parking. Local Authorities will still retain the right to clamp cars and can be asked to take control of areas where there is a significant nuisance from inappropriate parking such as a supermarket car park near a town centre or station.

3. Could we face a situation where cowboy clampers turn to cowboy ticketing?

A penalty charge may be irritating but it doesn’t have to be paid immediately – motorists have a period of time, stated on the ‘ticket’, to pay. After that, a car park operator who is a member of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA) will send a demand for payment by post, having got the car owner’s details from the DVLA.

But not all those operating car parks are members of an ATA. So yes, some operators who have relied on wheel clamps to get money from motorists may well now turn to heavy-handed ticketing methods.

Since they cannot legally access DVLA records to send out reminders by post, they will want to ensure payment before drivers leave the parking area. Others may simply chance issuing tickets on land where they have no right to be in the first place and demand instant payment.

4. What protection will be available for car owners who could now be at the whim of cowboy ticketers?

The Consumer Protection Act 1987 provides certain legal safeguards. Part 3 of the Act makes it a criminal offence to give consumers a misleading price indication about goods, services and accommodation or facilities.

Other laws have been used by Trading Standards to pursue rogue clampers and could be used to stop ‘rogue ticketers’ but the procedures are complicated, time consuming and expensive.

We think the easiest solution is for all private car park operators to be regulated and signed up to a government-endorsed code of practice.

5. Will the Freedom Bill introduce protection for private landowners who need to stop people from parking on their land?

The expression ‘parking on their land’ evokes ideas of wealthy landowners keeping out the peasants.

The reality of the situation is that many small businesses and shops with one or two parking spaces, and owners of private parking spaces for which they have paid a premium, may find they can’t access that parking because others are parked there.

To compensate, the Bill will extend the powers of the police to remove dangerously or obstructively parked vehicles from private land.

But our understanding is that the police will use this power only at their own discretion, and it’s likely they’ll only attend if there is a real risk of harm from the nuisance vehicle.

6. What changes or measures would you like the Freedom Bill to introduce?

The Freedoms Bill has been sponsored by the Home Office and so is not an appropriate piece of legislation to deal with the wider issues of operating car parks on private land which the public pays to use.

However, we hope many MPs see that another government department should now consider how to protect motorists better by demanding:

  • Compulsory membership of an ATA;
  • Compulsory compliance with a government endorsed code of practice; and
  • Compulsory support for an independent appeals system (for motorists who want to contest a ‘penalty’ charge) for car park operators.

7. What are your thoughts on yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons?

The danger is that the Freedoms Bill tackles the wrong thing, targeting the clamp and not the rogue clamper who will simply turn to another form of unscrupulous activity to fleece the public.

The majority of MPs who spoke on the matter welcomed the ban on wheel clamping on private land but didn’t debate the need for regulation of the parking industry.

Does this answer all your questions about the clamping ban? Do you agree with the RAC Foundation or do you think other measures should be taken?

Comments
Member

I strongly support Stephen Glaister’s position on this. There is a need for a deterrent to unauthorised parking. Our city centre apartment block is ringed by parking controls including time-limited pay-&-display and residential parking permits but it has the benefit of basement level parking with each flat having one space. There is a hefty premium on these spaces so lease-holders have paid a substantial sum for the “free parking”. Currently it is enforced by a clamping scheme operated by a very reputable contractor. Unfortunately, but very occasionally because there are clear and conspicuous warning notices around the car park, drivers think they can park in residents’ private spaces with impunity in order to avoid paying parking charges or getting a penalty charge notice. If a resident reports a vehicle to the clamping contractor it takes some time for the clamping van to arrive and the operative usually has a good look round to see if the driver is in the vicinity and if so will let them off with a warning so long as they depart forthwith. I am wondering how this legislative proposal will leave hundreds of thousands of city dwellers who rely on their private parking spaces around apartment blocks since experience shows that clamping is the only effective deterrent.

Member

Mr Ward makes some very good points. Properly used, wheel clamps can sometimes be a useful tool to deter the minority of selfish drivers who park where they want, or commit serious infringements of motoring law. That is why local authorities and other authorised agencies have retained the right to clamp and tow. The unacceptable treatment drivers have suffered from rogue clampers has been a result of poor regulation and supervision by government who issue licences to wheel clampers (via the Security Industry Authority) without a suitable code of practice and without any system to hear appeals from the public. It has been left to motorists to find their ways through the courts to get justice: usually resulting in an unpaid award for compensation. It now looks as though the public will again be left to fight its own battles but this time by those requiring access to parking spaces they actually own.

Member

As I’ve said previously – I am now faced with motorists parking on my forecourt/front garden without any way of removing them. The police have never been interested in removing them. Why should I provide “free” parking to irresponsible motorists who simply want to avoid paying the councils parking fees.

It looks as though I will have to resort to breaking car windows to deter motorists parking on my land.

Member
kerry says:
8 March 2011

Hi richard i think i can help you

Member

Thanks for your comment, Richard. Having people park on your property without permission must be annoying .
Finding somewhere to park close to shops, schools and sports venues can generate stress for motorists in a hurry and some may be tempted to park thoughtlessly.
Over 80 per cent of people in Great Britain live in a household with a car and the DVLA says it holds the records of 43 million drivers. That means the majority of us are involved in parking at some time or another, so perhaps we could help ourselves by planning ahead.
On-street parking is largely well signed and many local authorities have comprehensive guides to parking in their areas on their websites. Other internet and satnav tools are also helpful in flagging up parking facilities for motorists who want to avoid stress at the end of their journeys.

Member

It is not just annoying – it is infuriating! Why should I have to park on the road – at MY expense (I am an OAP) – just because some irresponsible car driver decides they want to avoid paying parking fees??

Again why should I have to pay to get a tow truck to drag the offending car off of my property – I am not allowed to dump it on the road where it should be.

Nor can I afford the cost – on my state pension – to build gates. I can’t clamp – So can I puncture all tyres? – or smear paint all over the car – or break their windows – so what CAN I do??????.

Member
HARRY BARKER says:
4 March 2011

I agree that some form of control on unauthorised parking is required on private land (and indeed on some public roads where there is little enforcement). Our Church Hall is served by a private drive and the illegal parking has to be seen to be believed despite signs etc. and free parking in the village. Any fire in the Hall, where a playgroup is located, could not be attended by the fire brigade and despite being told otherwise mothers etc not only block the road, but also park in private drives and turn on private gravel drives waving to the angry residents as they do so. Clamping firms are the pits – run by thugs in the main and they have given that an appalling image. But I have never been clamped or fined for parking because I park legally and sensibly. There is no clamping on the Church drive – and I suspect when clamping – which I do not support – is dome away with, there will be real issues with the arrogant selfish motorists who think of nobody but themselves.

Member
Graham Holliday says:
4 March 2011

Stephen Glaister mirrors Tory politician’s in ignoring finding a full solution to the problem of illegal parking rather than merely removing the problem of rogue clampers.
I expect the Tories to win a few cheap votes by getting rid of clamping but I am disappointed that an organization like Which fails to address the very real issues that the loss of the clamping/tow-away solution to illegal parking will allow.