Cowboy Clampers

Clamping cowboys in last chance saloon

21 October 2009

Cowboy clampers are going to be driven out of town, according to the AA President speaking at the British Parking Association 'Parking Summit' on 21 October.

The AA revealed that the public and politicians are totally fed up with the bully boy tactics of clampers. An AA/Populus poll of 100 MPs has found that 86% want clamping outlawed or more tightly regulated.

Parking firms and clampers have been given a chance to clean up their act but many have refused to do so. The AA receives many complaints about clampers, several relating to firms who are members of the British Parking Association who should be abiding by their code of practice.

Edmund King, AA President, told the conference: "You have had your chance to clean up your act but have failed. It is not just the one-man band clampers that are out of order but several of the established companies. Self-regulation has failed. We have told the Home Office that their proposed new regulation will fail without an independent regulator and independent appeals process.

"We're getting more complaints about parking enforcement on private land which is a largely unregulated, burgeoning industry. Whilst the public should take care where they park, they do deserve a fair and proportionate response to minor breaches of rules rather than extortion, threats and profiteering.

"The penalties and appeals for off-street parking should be similar to those on street. It cannot be just that there is no independent appeal against a clamp, removal or ticket. We believe that the government must now regulate the entire private parking enforcement industry or outlaw some of its worst excesses.

"If the government proposal for a compulsory licensing scheme for all wheel clamping businesses does not work then clamping on private land should be outlawed as it was in Scotland in 1992. We have reached the end of the road on reining in the antics of unscrupulous wheel clampers whose immoral excesses are reported to us almost daily. Licensing has not worked as, in many cases, it has simply legalised the cowboys, for example; charging pensioners £370 to recover their car after a minor parking error or leaving an 18 year old female alone overnight in a city because her car was taken and not given back until the next day.

"86% of MPs think that wheel clamping on private land in England and Wales should either be outlawed or more tightly regulated, according to a Populus poll of 100 MPs for the AA, and all three major political parties have promised action."

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell has said: "We are currently looking to introduce a compulsory licensing scheme for all wheelclamping businesses. We need to limit the size of penalties dished out by firms, regulate towing practices and put in place an effective and fair appeals process. Alongside this, we will also look at the issue of incentives given to clamping firms by land-owners.

"Public consultation on these proposals has recently ended. The next stage is to draft legislation and we want to introduce tough controls in the proposed Policing, Crime and Private Security Bill."

Edmund King told parking delegates: "Licensing in 2005 was a step in the right direction but was only a step – licensing in fact became a 'licence to print money' attitude on the part of some clampers.

"Some ever resourceful rogue clampers often tacked on spurious charges, even having the audacity to impose extra ones for calling the police or swearing and now it is almost common place for clampers to charge a clamping release fee and removal charge taking the cost to almost £400 even if a tow away never takes place.

"It is time for strict regulation on what clampers can and cannot do and this must be within a code which works for car park operators and drivers – many parking offences are minor in nature and don't deserve such draconian punishment. It is reported that the number of motorists who have been wheelclamped has risen by 64% in the last 12 months with private clamping firms taking £58 million.

"The dramatic increase in clamping is due to the fact that the cowboys know they are drinking in the last chance saloon and are trying to cash in before regulation drives them out of town."


The BPA Parking Summit took place on 21 October 2009.

Recent clamping horror stories

An 18 year old women who was left alone all night on the streets of Birmingham after paying to park in a pay and display car park but was 9 minutes late back. She had no means to pay the release fee. The £390 charge to get the car back was eventually paid the next day – this had to be handed over to a clamper who took the money through the bars of a padlocked gate. After a court appeal the clamper must now refund the victim.

Clampers from a PCM, a member of the BPA, descended 'like vultures' and towed 20 cars at 5.40am on a London housing estate charging £330 each.

A 73 year old pensioner and 77 year old sick husband had their car towed and charged £375 for parking for 25 minutes on scrap land despite the clamper being a BPA member whose code advised against clamping and towing within three hours.

Three Bradford students met to play football, all parked in an empty car park; unfortunately all three cars were clamped. The clamper demanded 3 x £155. They went to a cash machine but by the time they got back a tow truck had allegedly been called so the charges went up to 3 x £195. It turned out to be an expensive game.

Man clamped at Heathrow outside a hotel (looked like a public road). He was charged £150 release fee and £150 tow truck cancellation. The twist is he was actually sat in the car with the engine still running when they sneaked alongside and attached the clamp! Then they knocked on the window and demanded the payment to release him – chip and PIN machine in hand.

Cowboy clamping tactics

  • Parking decoy cars to 'encourage' people to park
  • Hiding signs by parking the clamp van in front of them
  • Making up and adding extra charges such as 'tow truck called' fee, swear box fee, 'police called nuisance fee'
  • Clamping drivers still in the vehicle, i.e. who have pulled over to check a map or make a phone call
  • Deliberately targeting 'vulnerable' motorists

The Security Industry Authority regulates the private security industry in Great Britain under the Private Security Industry Act 2001, reporting to the Home Secretary. The 2001 Act requires the compulsory licensing of individuals undertaking designated activities.

This includes the licensing of any individual in England and Wales involved in immobilising vehicles on private land with a view to charging a release fee. It also requires the licensing of anyone involved in blocking in or towing away vehicles for the same purpose, and of those who collect the fee.

Businesses are not required to be licensed under the 2001 Act at present. Businesses may, however, seek accreditation under the SIA's voluntary Approved Contractor Scheme.

The Home Office will now develop further proposals for a compulsory licensing scheme, likely to include industry-wide standards for:

  • signage, including size and visibility
  • maximum penalties charged and payment methods
  • minimum time between immobilisation and removal
  • providing evidence that a parking infringement has taken place
  • security and location of pound where vehicles are impounded; and complaints and appeals policy

Join the discussion in the AA zone


27 October 2009