Most of us recognise that parking tickets, although financially unpleasant, are necessary to keep our roads clear from obstruction and the traffic flowing, but it is not just council traffic wardens that can give you a parking ticket.

Private companies can also hit you with parking tickets demanding payment, sometimes running into the hundreds of pounds, if you park on their property and break the advertised parking rules!

Here is how to handle a parking ticket from a private company.

Who gave you the ticket?

Different rules apply to tickets issued by public officials (police officers or council workers) and private companies (multi-storey car parks, supermarkets, hospitals and retail parks etc.) so before you decide which course of action to take, you need to find out who issued your parking ticket it.

It should be clear if your ticket has been issued by the council or police and you will need to take a different approach if you want to contest it.

If the ticket is from a private company the complaints process is less formal and the company issuing the ticket will have no legal right to demand payment from you.

However, that does not mean that you should not pay up; instead think of the ticket as an invoice for services you have used but not yet paid for.

Is the ticket justified?

Before you decide whether or not to pay the parking ticket you need to consider whether it is justified.

Did you park on the company's land and did you break the advertised parking conditions? For instance staying longer than you should have.

If you are at fault you need to decide if the amount you are being asked to pay is justified.

In most cases private companies can only invoice you for a loss of earnings, or where you have breached their civil contract. This means if you paid 2 for a 1 hour parking ticket and ended up staying for 3 hours you should expect to have to pay the extra 4 for the time you have spent, or the equivalent advertised rate.

However, some private companies will issue tickets demanding 100+, well over the amount of money you would have paid to park upfront. If this is the case you may feel justified in fighting the ticket and refusing to pay up.

What action can you take?

If you feel that the ticket is not justified or is unfair you have two options:

1. Complain to the company issuing the ticket & then appeal

2. Ignore it

If you opt to ignore your ticket many parking companies will give up, especially if the cost of pursuing you is going to outweigh the money you owe. However, ignoring your ticket could in some cases mean you find yourself in court.

Can they force you to pay?

No, private parking companies have no legal powers to force you to pay their parking tickets. The only way they can make you pay up is by taking court action, usually through the small claims court.

Even then you will have the right to defend yourself and give an explanation why you have refused to pay, meaning there is no guarantee their claim against you will be upheld.

Report the parking company

Although the private parking ticket business is unregulated and companies are not currently required to hold a licence to issue a ticket, many car park operators are members of the BPA (British Parking Association).

This means that they will have to have an in house disputes process if you want to reject your parking ticket.

Find out if this is the case and contact the ticket issuer within 28 days of receiving the penalty telling them why you are disputing the ticket and including any evidence you have to support your claim.

What if my vehicle is clamped or towed?

This is a very serious matter and in most cases clamping or towing on private land is highly illegal.

Unless any of the following exceptions apply clamping or towing will be illegal:

  • Your vehicle was committing an offence on a public road

  • If the clamping or towing is conducted by a certified bailiff

  • If the clamping or towing is conducted by the Police, local authority or a Government agency like the DVLA

  • Specific local by-laws are in place permitting clamping or towing

Private companies can be fined up to 5,000 for illegal clamping and towing and the rules are now very clear, so don't be afraid to act.

Can you appeal?

When requesting to have your parking ticket overturned, your case will be most convincing if it falls into one of the following legal grounds:

  • The contravention did not occur This could be argued if there were no parking restriction signs visible, if you were allowed to park at a particular time, or if there was simply an error on the part of the traffic warden in issuing the ticket.

  • The penalty exceeds the relevant amount This can be grounds for appeal if the fine is more than it should be (maximum 120 in London and 60 outside of London).

  • The Traffic Regulation Order is invalid This can be argued if the parking ticket is not valid; for example if it is missing information or has incorrect information.

  • I was not the owner of the vehicle when the alleged contravention occurred This can happen if you have sold your car but it is still registered in your name.

  • The vehicle had been taken without my consent when the alleged contravention occurred This can be grounds for appeal if your car was reported stolen when the incident happened.

Appealing to POPLA or the IAS

If the company that has issued your parking ticket has rejected your appeal, you may be able to take your case to POPLA or the IAS.

POPLA (Parking on Private Land Appeals) are an independent assessor which considers appeals for parking charges made by BPA members.

IAS (Independent Appeals Service) are the independent assessor which consider appeals for parking charges made by IPC members.

As long as your ticket was issued after 1st October, 2012 by a BPA or IPC member you can appeal to POPLA or IAS against your charge.

You should be given details of how to appeal with your rejection letter from the parking company; you can also find more details on how to appeal on the POPLA or IPC websites.

A POPLA appeal checklist is available from the British Parking Association website.

You can only appeal to POPLA or the IAS once you have complained about your ticket to the company issuing it.

If you appeal is rejected you will be given 28 days to pay your parking ticket, if you fail to pay in this time the company that has issued the ticket may decide to take you to court to pursue payment.

What if the company isn't a BPA or IPC member?

Non accredited trade members are unlikely to have the same dispute processes in place as registered BPA or IPC parking companies.

If you want to appeal your charge, you're only option is to appeal to the company themselves or report them to the landowner directly i.e. the supermarket or hospital and plead your case. Often if you do the latter, rather than risk losing a lucrative contract the company issuing the ticket will back down, or at least reduce the amount they want you to pay.

However, before your write your letter of appeal you need to weigh up whether contacting them is really in your interests...

Is it better to just ignore the ticket?

Parking companies that are not BPA or IPC members are not allowed to access the DVLA directory to find out who owns a vehicle. This means they can't issue a ticket through the post based on CCTV recordings or pursue you If they don't know your details.

To take you to court a parking company will need your address details, so if you decide to appeal to them or the land owner you'll be providing them with the information they need to take you to court, should they wish to.

For further advice dealing with unfair parking tickets from non BPA or IPC members contact the Citizens Advice Bureau.