A Bristol motorist has been fined after being accused of leaving her car in a McDonald's car park for 41 days.
Teresa Tremlett was stunned when she opened a letter to find a £100 fine from MET Parking Services claiming she had overstayed her welcome in the car park in Bedminster by 60,160 minutes.
The parking company enclosed CCTV images of Mrs Tremlett's Mercedes entering the car park in Sheene Road on September 24 and another one of her leaving the car park on November 5.
But Mrs Tremlett, 34, from Headley, says she had simply gone into McDonald's to buy food using the drive-through on both dates and had not parked her car in the car park on either occasion.
When she explained to MET Parking Services, she was told her fine would be waived.
OK, let's get a few things straight here.
1) The "fines" are not fines. They are (unenforceable) invoices for a civil contract they allege you have entered into. These companies are for all intents and purposes, fucking con-artists. They put up signs in car parks of selected companies such as B&Q, McDonalds, Pizza Hut etc which are sometimes easy to see, sometimes not, and then post you a letter demanding money if you overstay in the car park. They rely on two things: a) You not knowing the law and b) You being duped by their attempts to make their demand look official such as a chequered border round the edge of the letter, and using terms in the letter such as "Penalty Charge Notice" or "PCN" (it's not one), as well as attaching a tear-off cheque.
2) These companies are operating with the permission of the car park's owners (be that B&Q, McD's or whatever) but often the owner has no idea of what kind of shady business practices the companies get up to, with threatening letters, abusive phonecalls, etc.
3) These companies are private parking companies. They have no legal authority whatsoever to issue parking tickets. The only people that can are the Police and the Council, and only then on the public highway or publically owned land.
4) The "contract" that parking company claim exists between you and them (i.e. by parking in the car park you agree to their terms and conditions) only exists if you are aware of it. In order for you to be aware of it you need to have seen the sign. These signs need to be clearly placed and be reasonably visible from where you parked.
5) The "debt collectors" and "CCJs" threatened by the letters will not materialise. You may well be sent letters from a credit collection company, but miraculously they will have the same address and bank account details as the parking company. It's a front. Furthermore, they haven't yet taken anyone to court. Why do you suppose this might be? Because these invoices are unenforceable in law. They are in a clear breach of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 by charging a "fine" which is completely disproportionate to the loss incurred by the company (i.e. charging you £100 for overstaying in a free car park). These are the very same regulations used succesfully by many people fighting bank overdraft charges. As with overdraft charges, it doesn't even matter if you're made aware of these fine amounts and agree to them when you park (on the sign) - it's not relevant as far as the law is concerned. The only thing they are legally allowed to do is claim actual damages for breach of contract. (And even then they have to prove who was driving, and you have no obligation whatsoever to tell them as a private company). And since no damages have occurred (you have parked a bit too long in a free car park), there's nothing really they can claim for.
What should you do if you get a letter
My advice, based on extensive research, is just to ignore it. They will send another, maybe 2. You may then get (but not always) a letter from a "credit collection company". This is normally the same company as the private parking one, under a different guise. Ignore this like you have done the previous letters. Nothing will happen. If it does go to court (which it won't), you will win anyway. If you respond, you'll go onto a "potential fuckwit" list and they'll just pester you even more. Fuck them.
An interesting aside is that this also applies to paid car parks, e.g. NCP. They may try to charge you a similar amount for overstaying your paid-for parking ticket, but they can't, due to the same reasons as detailed above. All they can claim for in court is the loss that they have incurred, which would be how much it would have cost you to buy a ticket to cover the overstayed time.