Guidance on private car parks
Private parking companies
Private landowners are perfectly entitled to control their land and charge drivers
who wish to park their cars on that land. Many use a barrier where you pay on entry
or exit; some use a ‘pay and display’ system; while others may choose to control
the site using ANPR – “automatic number plate recognition”. ANPR involves the use
of CCTV cameras to record the car’s time of entry and exit.
The legal justification for imposing a Parking Charge Notice (PCN) is based on the
contract entered by drivers who park on the land. The terms and conditions upon
which the contract is based must be clearly displayed and this is usually done through
the use of adequate and prominent signs on the land – particularly at the entrance
to the site and in other key areas.
Parking Charge Notice (PCN)
A PCN is either placed on a vehicle windscreen or sent through the post to the registered
keeper. The PCN is used to indicate that a driver has breached the contract for
parking. That may be because the operator believes the driver has not paid the requested
fee, not paid enough, stayed longer than the time allotted - or parked in other
ways which break the contractual rules of the site.
A PCN used by private companies is called a ‘Parking’ Charge Notice.
Perhaps confusingly - where parking is controlled by a public authority the method
of enforcement is by what is known as a ‘Penalty’ Charge Notice. This has a statutory
basis under the Road Traffic Act 1991. For Penalty Charge Notices issued under Road
Traffic Act the registered keeper of the vehicle is liable. This however does not
extend to situations where vehicles are parked on private land. The onus is on the
person demanding payment, under the contract, to show that the party to it has agreed
to the terms & conditions. If the keeper was not using the vehicle at the time they
cannot be held liable.
Release of keeper information by DVLA
To obtain information allowing the issue of a PCN, private parking companies who
can show ‘reasonable cause’ under the Road Vehicles (Registration & Licensing) Regulations
2002 can request the registered keeper details from DVLA. The DVLA will not release
information electronically unless the company is in the British Parking Association
and adheres to the Code of Practice under its Approved Operator Scheme. Private
Parking Company operators should refer to the Code as best practice in this area.
This does not however stop requests being made for the information by non member
firms so long as the company or individual making the request has shown ‘reasonable
cause’. If a company is misusing data or operating with practices which are unacceptable
the DVLA will stop providing information and may pass the complaint to Information
The BPA has advised its member firms to ensure that PCN’s and correspondence makes
it clear that the contractual liability lies with the driver who parked inappropriately.
The Amount Charged as a Parking Charge Notice
The basis for the fee being charged is purely contractual. Parking when not authorised
on a site with clear signage and an indication of agreed fees will lead to a legitimate
PCN. Many parking companies do stipulate the charges (over and above the parking
tariffs) which will be charged on their PCN’s. Such fees must be reasonable and
a genuine pre-estimate of the likely loss to be suffered when the parking contract
is breached. A very high parking charge which does not reflect the true losses is
seen as a ‘penalty’ and cannot be recovered in Court. It is also possible that such
penalty charges are challengeable as unfair under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract
Action in the Courts
As a contractual dispute any action would be through the Sheriff Court. The matter
would be a small claims action with the according limitation on costs. In the absence
of any regulatory framework for Private Car Parking Companies, using Parking Charge
Notices, individuals with disputes should:
- Consider whether or not they had agreed to the fee being levied by the existence
of clear unambiguous notices.
- Consider whether the factual circumstances are correct.
- Use the companies complaint procedure where available and without cost.
- Be aware that only the user at the time can be held responsible for the inappropriate
- Be aware that the onus is on the car parking company proving who parked inappropriately.
- Be aware that the fee charge should reflect the loss incurred, it should not be
- Be aware that the fee can only be enforced through the Sheriff Court.
- If demands are made which are unfounded or where information has been obtained,
or is being used, from DVLA outside what is reasonable, a complaint should be made
to Trading Standards or the Information Commissioner.
This guide is produced in good faith. It should not be taken as definitive or comprehensive.
Ultimately only the Courts can determine the validity and application of the law
or the enforceability of contractual conditions or arrangements made.
If you require advice on any private parking issue, contact Trading Standards on
01292 616060 or visit the Consumer and Business Advice Centre at 5-7 River Terrace
Ayr, KA8 0BJ.