Private Parking Enforcement Out of Control

Growing parking enforcement in private car parks and the huge amounts of money being taken from drivers has reached 'epidemic' level, says the AA. More than one in 10 drivers say they have been issued a private parking ticket over the last year* and tens of thousands of people have had their car clamped or removed from private car parks.

The lure of uncontrolled money-raking is so great that some companies offer DIY packs, with signs that can be printed off the Internet. Anyone can now set themselves up as a parking enforcer and start to cash in. The companies, who use their access to DVLA drivers' records, send out parking tickets on behalf of the DIY enforcers and take a cut of the fines.


The prevalence of bad and immoral practices is now shocking and unacceptable. Whilst the AA accepts that some enforcement is justified, the scale of private enforcement and level of punishment meted out by an army of private enforcers is frightening and often borders on criminality.

In recent examples:

  • An elderly pensioner and her sick husband who were wrongly 'doubled charged' £370 by a clamper/tower (who belonged to the 'trade association' and breached its code despite having declared it would abide by its rules) – they have now recovered their cash after threats of legal action.
  • A lady who stopped, literally for seconds, heard a noise at the rear of her car. Someone said 'I won't be a moment' and clamped her car while she sat in it with the engine running – before 'double-charging' her £300.
  • A lady who was given a ticket in a free car park for straddling lines. The ticket could not be paid as there were no details on it, and then she was sent a '£100 Charge Certificate' after the parking firm obtained her details from DVLA despite inadequate signing in the car park
  • A lady, on her own, whose car was clamped and removed in Enfield at night and was charged £527 to get her car back – the clamper belonged to the 'trade association' and breached its code despite having declared it would abide by its rules.

Private enforcers can either wheel clamp and remove or issue 'parking tickets', usually by accessing the car owners name and addresses from the DVLA's vehicle database.

There are no general regulations for parking control in private car parks, as it is regarded as a civil matter. The few basic rules, such as the licensing of clampers and a trade association's codes of practice, have not stemmed the tide of unscrupulous and often morally-unacceptable behaviour.

Licensing proposals

The latest Home Office proposals, to license wheel-clamping businesses in addition to the clampers themselves being licensed, will not work. The proposed new system would see all wheel clampers' businesses forced to register with an 'approved trade association' (ATA) and be bound by a code of practice.

They would then be granted a license to clamp and remove vehicles, providing the clampers themselves were also licensed in accordance with Security Industry Authority rules.

However, in its response, the AA has told the Home Office that the only ATA, the British Parking Association (BPA –a parking industry trade body) cannot be truly independent and provide proper protection for the general public.

The AA does not believe that the BPA can regulate a private parking enforcement industry which is out of control. Consequently, the AA believes that the only way forward would be to make wheel clamping illegal, as it is in Scotland.

A similar consultation was published earlier in the year by the DVLA, its aim to force all parking companies, that issue tickets on private land and seek vehicle owner records from the DVLA, to belong to an 'approved trade association' and abide by its rules.


The AA has also expressed doubt that this would work given the evidence that trade body members abuse their own codes of practice and nothing is done.

The AA's Head of Public Affairs, Paul Watters says: "Self-regulation is not working as there are too many firms and individuals operating in this often shady area. The trade body members making and enforcing the rules are trying to rein in something that is spiralling out of control.

"Private parking enforcement is big business generating millions of pounds and no-one notices and acts when the rules are broken. The public have absolutely no protection if a private parking firm acts unfairly – it is a civil matter and no-one is interested in helping. How on earth can people believe that if you appeal to an enforcer you are going to get a fair hearing – the BPA will not act as arbiter?

"It is time for regulation of private enforcement through local authorities who can licence the land where parking is to be controlled – and we need a completely independent appeal system, perhaps through the parking adjudication services which already exist."


* In an AA / Populus poll (2–8 June 2009), responded to by 13,905 members, 82% said drivers should have right to an independent appeal. In the same poll 91% said wheel clamping should be more tightly regulated or made illegal, and 11% said they had received a private parking 'ticket'.

Fact file

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.

Cowboy clamp tactics include:

  • 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. pulling over to check a map or make a phone call;
  • deliberate targeting of 'vulnerable' motorists.

The AA wants to add cases to the clamping dossier and drivers can do this via theAA Zone.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


22 August 2009