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?