/ 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

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.

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.

kerry says:
8 March 2011

Hi richard i think i can help you

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.

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.

John H says:
4 March 2011

Shame on you for trying to make this a party political issue; wheel clamping was banned in Scotland years ago and they have few, if any, Tory politicians!
It is absolutely right that clamping is banned; nobody should be deprived of the use of their vehicle until they submit to extortion because of a minor traffic violation.

John H – I profoundly disagree. It is a typical Tory Ploy in ENGLAND to ignore the finding of the full solution – and in this case throwing the baby out with the bath water. The banning of clamping on private does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of selfish – self centred – inconsiderate car drivers who park on private property.

Why the devil should property owners be completely deprived of their parking space because some totally inconsiderate lousy car driver decides to park there instead – purely because that driver is so inconsiderate. . I have to park – and PAY – just because the idiot driver decides to park in my place instead.- as the offending driver should have done.

Here the signs about No Parking on Private Land or face a clamp and charge are very clear – I can only assume that offending drivers can’t read – and don’t care. If you transgress you should be inconvenienced by clamping – just as the land owner is inconvenienced by the car owner’s inconsiderate parking. To me it is not a minor traffic violation it is total inconvenience often lasting for hours when I can’t park my car on my forecourt/drive.
.

Guy Morton-Smith says:
4 March 2011

The Foundation is essentially right. Of course the Clampers should be properly regulated but the distress caused to private citizens and small businesses in particular, in being denied access to, or use of, their own land, is considerable. If they object they are often told to f*** off, get a life, or may even be threatened with physical violence. We, and a couple of dozen of our neighbours, mostly on our 70s or 80s, suffer this on an almost daily basis.

It is quite unrealistic to expect the police to act, except in exceptional cases. Why is such a widespread problem not generally recognised and why cannot politicians legislate effectively ?

Tony says:
4 March 2011

Cowboy clampers should be banned, those which charge large sums of money to release you. Unauthorised parking on private land should be dealt with properly as council parking is now. But not at fantastic costs. Clear notices are required on land which is not obviously private and controlled properly.

JohnF says:
5 March 2011

There are good and bad aspects to clampers. As a past employer of their services they do significantly reduce improper parking. Clamping Companies will serve a large number of sites but they are really only interested in those they derive the highest clamping or ticketing income from. Excessive time delays to release vehicles or take action to clamp or remove vehicles is a continuing frustration. As a Clamping operative has to be SIA approved ticketing is now the preferred method. Clamping and ticketing still has a place to disuade the arogant opportunists who think they can get away with anything and ignore the inconvenience to others. Stricter Regulation and control over the operators and the amount of the charge they levy is the answer plus the ability for the motorist to pay later if required.

Robin says:
5 March 2011

I think the ban I’ll thought and could cause more problems than foreseen as irrisponsible car users park on private land.
Regulation of the industry would have been much better.
Let’s face it occasionally motorists will park on private land and not realise it but I suspect mostly the car drivers will be aware they are on private property.
Parking is so hard to find and there is always a temptation to just park on private land now that clamping is to be outlawed and what makes councils etc so special? Why should this deterrent be available to councils and not the private sector, after all many of the private parking will be owned by small businesses or normal householders.
Badly thought out and a reaction to the cowboys who abused the use of clamping.

Richard says:
6 March 2011

It should be noted that clamping on private land has been banned in Scotland for 2 decades.

I live in England not Scotland

Clearly banning clamping is complicated and demands more detail than the broad brush approach that the Protection of Freedoms Bill currently applies to the issue.

While Which? is not currently working on the area – the RAC Foundation, CAB and Consumer Focus are all doing a lot of work on the Bill already – we agree with the RAC Foundation that throwing out clamping all together leaves landowners, small businesses and anyone with a driveway exposed to inconsiderate parkers and leaves the road open to cowboy ticketing.

I think independent regulation of the industry (including a fair and transparent appeals process) is the best solution to protect both drivers and those at risk from rogue parkers. So I’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of the Bill – it still has to go through the Commons and the House of Lords – to make sure these issues are raised and considered.

Having eaten dinner at a restaurant, I left the restaurant’s car park for five minutes (to visit a cashpoint, ironically enough) and during that time my car was immobilised by opportunist clampers. They were more than a little threatening, and refused to remove the clamp until I went back to the cashpoint and paid-up.

Had they simply issued me with a ticket, I would have been tempted to just drive off, but I worry that some form of physical intimidation might then have ensued.

Without an actual clamp to keep you there, what could these people resort to? They are not always very pleasant types, after all!

That said, I’m not in favour of clamping. But I think this area needs to be carefully regulated (with all ticketers being members of an independent association) to prevent the cowboys from taking advantage yet again.

The government’s proposed changes are not good enough.I share the almost universal dislike of clamping when applied to make money quickly rather than as a last resort to control and deter unauthorised . But I am very concerned – as someone who lives in a “CPZ” – controlled parking zone – that I am being left with little chance of preventing unauthorised parking on my own drive! Even more disturbing, our small church has a modest private car park which it maintains and which is made available to some paying users, neighbours and members during the working day. However, if all the students from our nearby college (where there is no parking for students) and anyone else looking for a free place to park decide to park in our car park, how are we meant to prevent this abuse? We know that under current law we could get and use a clamp, and so do people tempted to park illegally. But after the proposed change, what can we do? We need a proper exemption for genuinely private land, and a code of conduct, and/or some other assurances and a process that will mean illegal parking – which is trespassing – can be controlled and deterred. At the same time the inflexible and disgraceful behaviour of cowboy clampers does need to be stamped out; but we are in danger of throwing out the babies with the bath water here…

Completely agree – I also live in a CPZ – there are normally a fair number of charged parking places available but they are not used – Instead the offending motorists park in driveways and force the property owner to pay to park if they are to obey the law.

James Quick says:
10 March 2011

Drivers & victims of private clamping companies be warned, since there is no apparent statutory powers a court can prevent these private clampers with until at least what looks like an appeasement law at this stage, in the intended new Protection of Freedoms Bill (PFB). Presently private ticketing & clamping can run up a driver’s bill in disregard for any regulation BPA or otherwise, usually using methods associated with SCAMs and fraud. The court will not prevent them pursuing their claims as debt, even where in some cases it means forcing the sale of a driver’s home. There is evidence in the courts that this is now occurring, despite the appeasment law PFB to the contrary. Be warned, binding contractual agreements are not easily contested where apparent signage is used. Peaceful demonstration might be the only answer for change in this haphazard (disorganised) so-called democracy today, i’ve not read of one case successfully challenge a private clamper under ECHR; although they are often in breach of these too.

Jeena says:
7 April 2011

I was clamped in a carpark today as I parked in a space belonging to a Costcutter shop. The shop is in a site where the carpark is shared by my employer and Costcutter have their named spaces. I arrived at the car inside the 20 minutes time limit given for using the space and when the clamper was putting on the first clamp. I stood and watched as he added clamps to my other wheels, despite me offering to pay for the removal of the clamp. I rang the police ( who gave me a number to ring which did not work) and the clamping company who simply said that I had to pay the fine. I offered to pay for the removal of the clamps (£125) but the clamper said that it was too late as he proceeded to attach my car to a tow truck and refused to remove it until I paid £375. What do I do now? Can a clamper do this whilst you are with them and the car? Any comments and advice would be really appreciated.

John Herriman says:
12 April 2011

Dear Sir,
I have read with interest your memorandum, made on the 23-3-2011, on the above Bill and would like to make the following comments. I would like to say first that there is a need for some kind of control of parking on private land.

1 You keep referring to penalties made by the Private Parking Companies. They are not fines or penalties but charges.

2 The Parking Charge notice (PCN) is an invoice only and in my opinion can be queried as any invoice can.

3 The BPA does a very poor job of regulating the parking industry as over £60million is paid by motorists each year on bogus parking tickets issued by the private parking companies. This figure is the estimate made by LV insurance on a recent internet article. Any further powers granted to the parking companies would only increase this figure.

4 Fraud of the above magnitude would be subject to an enquiry in any other industry.

5 As signs indicate clearly that parking is subject to an implied contract, then to make the keeper of a vehicle liable for any charges if he was not driving would be a breech of contract law.

6 Many signs on the motorway advise us to take a break if tired. However if by doing so a charge is incurred then this is a deterrent to take a break in future and even the BPA admit that this is detrimental to road safety.

7 My final point is if the highway code differentiates between parking and waiting why does a parking company not. Parking is to stop and leave a vehicle but waiting is to stop and remain in the vehicle.

Trevor Whitehouse says:
20 May 2011

EVIDENCE SUBMITTED TO THE PUBLIC BILL COMMITTEE-
PROTECTION OF FREEDOMS BILL, Sections 54-56

INTRODUCTION

1 I am the president of the newly formed Parking Enforcement Trade Association. (PETA) and provide evidence on behalf of its membership

2 PETA was formed in the October of 2010 in an effort to address several comments made by Lynne Featherstone Liberal democrat MP for Wood Green and Horsey,

The comments ranged from:–

2.1 ‘The new coalition will ban Wheel clamping and towing away from private land’
2.2 ‘The government will repeal articles 42, 43,& 44 of the crimes and security act’
2.3 ‘Successive governments have tried to regulate the industry and have failed’

3 PETA will be the first trade association approved by the DVLA that is specific to parking enforcement. PETA is not influenced by other trades within the parking industry which could benefit from the outlawing and banning of Wheel clamping and towing away.

4 Our Membership believes that the deterrent factor of wheel clamping and towing away is second to none and will never be superseded. Its ban would turn the clock back 20 years and introduce far more dislikeable activities which include the use of Bailiffs and the removal of one’s possessions.

5 It is the belief of our membership that if the committee believe ‘others’ that ticket issuing can be regulated then those very same regulations should apply to Wheel Clamping and towing away.

6 The British Parking Association (The BPA) have offered their ‘Master Plan’ as to parking enforcement on private land. Conceived in 2006 this never included Vehicle immobilisation or Towing away except on the proverbial ‘three strikes and you’re out basis’ and/or our European partners who frequent our shores. The BPA see themselves as the arbitration service, yet the BPA have proven to be :-

6.1 Far from Impartial and never represents the aggrieved motorist.
6.2 A voluntary code of practise which is not scrutinised.
6.3 Decisions which are governed by extortionate membership fees
6.4 Represents ACPOA, The Royal British Legion and other static guard suppliers
6.5 Represents very little members from enforcement companies

7 The PETA membership believe that removing Wheel clamping and towing away from private land is a breach of European Human Rights Article One, Protocol One, The right to Enjoy one property. (The vehicle once clamped is deemed as Chattel and outside the scope) In 1996 clamping was deemed to be an acceptable form of self help.

8 Today, it is fair to say that proprietors with car parks in every town and city throughout the UK have voted on what they want. You’d be hard pressed to find a car park anywhere in the UK where Clamping or Towing away is not used to enforce policy.

9 It is only those who prosper by the demise who wish to see both Wheel Clamping and towing away removed from private land for example :–

9.1 Those that wish to trespass by seeking free and convenient parking
9.2 The BPA and their ‘Master plan’ which includes ‘them’ as the arbitration
9.3 Companies such as ACPOA, The British legion who used to supply man guarding
9.4 The AA who still feel that fighting clampers gains new members
9.5 The media who have created a frenzy over the years.
9.6 ‘Barriers, ‘Pop up stud’ and CCTV suppliers
9.7 And without appearing facetious maybe and perhaps a few MPs who feel that their political career could be enhanced by tackling the clampers head on without reasonable consultation.

RECTIFYING THE PROBLEM

10 The PETA committee has worked long hours over the last six months, trying to bring answers to the committee’s answers and we believe that we have succeeded in our constitution.

11 All companies that register with PETA as an approved trader must or must not :–

11.1 Ensure that one parking offence incurs just one penalty, no escalating fees.
11.2 The penalty is no greater than £100 (linked to inflation and revised every 3rd year)
11.3 Provide a ‘ticketing service’ with a 50% incentive for early bird payments.
11.4 This ticket service is to be used for :–

11.4.1 minor infringements, and misdemeanour’s
11.4.2 Exceeding allocated time on a pay and display
11.4.3 Females in distress (after hours) No discount ))
11.4.4 Disabled Drivers who abuse their rights.

11.5 Vehicle immobilisation is only to be used for :–
11.5.1 Trespassing
11.5.2 Failure to pay at a pay and display
11.5.3 Failure to display a relevant permit
11.5.4 Hatched or Yellow line contravention
11.5.5 Other major breaches

11.6 A tow truck can only be used if :–
11.6.1 A vehicle has been immobilised for longer than 2 hours
11.6.2 The vehicle is causing a blockage
11.6.3 The Vehicle is a hazard
11.6.4 There is no other place on site
11.6.5 The driver refuses to make Payment
11.6.6 The driver has threatened criminal damage to the wheel clamp
11.6.7 The driver has used physical violence

12 A Tow Truck fee of no more than £175 can only be levied if the vehicle has been secured to the lifting vehicle and one or more wheels have been ‘lifted’ from the ground.

13 If a vehicle that has been impounded or immobilised for a period longer than 24 hours then that vehicles incurs an overnight penalty of 20% of the original infringement per night whilst the fee remains unpaid.

ENFORCING PETA

14 To join PETA and be an approved Operator the applicant must :–
14.1 Pay £500 membership per Annum
14.2 Be audited by Equas (ISO9001)
14.3 Complete and maintain standards within our ‘ Workbook’
14.4 Abide and conform at all times to our Code of Practise.
14.5 Display on all relevant literature and websites
14.5.1 The PETA logo
14.5.2 Our Parking Charter
14.5.3 The right to appeal

15 PETA can remain impartial by using :–
15.1 External auditors such as Equas during enrolment
15.2 Using the same auditors annually to ensure compliance of policies
15.3 Using the small claims court during arbitration
15.4 Huge fines of £100 per day per breach whilst grievances remain unsettled
15.5 Suspension and 3 strikes and your membership is revoked policy

SUMMARY:
There is no-one in Great Britain who has suffered more than I due to the Antics of the would-be ‘Cowboy’ clampers. Since 1998 I have been tarred with the same brush, even though my company has tried everything to distance itself from these unscrupulous operators It is true that should wheel clamping be banned then I stand to lose millions of pounds in royalties through no fault of my own.
On the face of it, it seems unconstitutional to persecute those who abide by the laws and act in a dignified manner. Including proprietors who will lose the use of their car parks unless they find the installation and running costs of car park barrier

Perhaps it is true that we should have ‘self regulated’ ourselves better, but it is also fair to say that we have had no assistance from successive governments and even less help with prosecutions for criminal damage and theft of a wheel clamp and I might add even less help when threatened with violence. The truth is; there have been only a few arrests for demanding by menaces although it is a fallacy that civil laws can protect them, the release fee should have been capped and regulations brought in.

Finally, in some ways isn’t life strange when the British government has been subject to similarly Bad press and been tarnished by a minority such as those in the expenses scandal. In particular and most recently Mr. David Laws and Chris Huhne MP whilst on the other hand we’ve had very little bad press since last August.

Perhaps decent members of the house who feel embarrassed can now understand just how we feel. If so why don’t you treat my industry, showing equilibrium and punish only the offenders and not those who provide an honest and decent service.

Trevor Whitehouse
President: The Parking Enforcement Trade Association
Honorary Member of the Institute of Parking Professionals
Chairman & Founder National Clamps, (UKAS: ISO 9001 & SIA ACS)
ANPR Ltd Chairman

I live in a small country town, not a big city but there is a block of flats which if the landlord did not use a firm of Clampers there would be no parking spaces for the tenants. The reason why the firm of Clampers was first employed back in 2004 was because all the parking places were taken and a tenant had to park elsewhere and received a parking ticket. Nowadays if the landlord can no longer use the threat of clamping then we believe it will take about two to three weeks for the car park to be filled by ‘non-tenants’ so where will the tenants park? Barriers or drop down bollards are not an option owing to busy roads at both entrances.