Northern Ireland drivers have successfully appealed more than 4,000 Parking Charge Notices (PCNs) issued at privately owned car parks in the last three years.
The value of the PCNs totalled £369,759 figures reveal.
These fines were successfully appealed following intervention from the Consumer Council. One MLA has warned unsuspecting drivers are being issued PCNs without even realising they have been in contravention of the rules.
Parking tickets issued in Northern Ireland by authorities such as the Department for Infrastructure or local councils are called ‘Penalty Charge Notices’ or ‘Excess Charge Notices’. Those issued by the PSNI are known as ‘Fixed Penalty Notices’.
However, there are scores of private companies who are sub-contracted to handle car parks by landowners, shopping centres and other places. Technically, parking fines issued on private land are not actually ‘fines’, as private parking companies have no right to fine people, however they can issue ‘Parking Charge Notices’, which are invoices for breaches of their parking contract.
Since the 2018/19 financial year, 4,482 PCNs with a monetary value of £369,759 have been successfully appealed.
Noleen Charnley, head of insight and investigation at the Consumer Council, advised costumers what to do if they receive a PCN.
“There are a number of grounds for appeal, and if you receive one of the notices, we can help you work through these. For example, the law in Northern Ireland states that it is the driver of the car, not the registered keeper, whom is liable, and the onus is on the private parking company to prove that the registered keeper of the vehicle was driving the vehicle at the time.,” she said.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said changes in private car park rules are catching out thousands of unsuspecting local drivers and this is particularly the case when new automated number plate recognition systems are installed.
“Fortunately there is a difference between the NI regulation and those in GB where smart parking systems operate. In NI bills must be passed to the driver whereas in GB the bill legally can be issue to the driver or the keeper of the vehicle,” he said.
“I would advise drivers who receive a private car parking bill reliant on number plate recognition to immediately work with the NI Consumer Council.”
SDLP finance spokesperson Matthew O’Toole added: ““These companies have an onus to make sure that people know exactly what the rules are around parking and what the potential penalties for breaking these are prior to them using the car park. Sending a letter in the post demanding money isn’t good enough.
“I think in light of the huge number of successful appeals we need to look more closely to ensure that they are acting appropriately and fairly and not unjustly targeting people with bills they should not have to pay.”
The Department for the Economy said, under trading regulations traders are prohibited from misleading consumers by act or omission or engaging in aggressive commercial practices.
“Traders must also adhere to the general duty to trade fairly and operate in a manner that is consistent with honest market practice and good faith in that sector,” it said.
“The Trading Standards Service is charged with enforcing these regulations in Northern Ireland and we can investigate any alleged breaches of the regulations that come to our attention and take the appropriate enforcement action, where necessary. Furthermore, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires that standard contract terms used by traders in transactions with consumers are fair.”
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