Parking Penalty Notices are the thing of nightmares for many motorists and with 32.8 million vehicles licensed in Great Britain, parking is becoming a lucrative system of making money from a simple plot of land. Whilst Local Authority parking sites are regulated under the 2004 Traffic Management Act, private companies are not, they are free to charge unsuspecting motorists whatever they see fit. Usually, the Rules are set out on a microscopic ticket or scarce and barely readable signage, and customers who break those rules can be fined from £20 to £100, depending on the company. The public are often not aware of the difference between a ticket from a local authority and one from a private car park. It is worth noting that a ticket issued by a local authority is a Fine, which must be paid by law, while private tickets are not legally binding and simply an invoice for failure to abide by sign rules.
According to the British Car Parking Association there is no clear evidence of financial turnover figures for private parking companies but the local authority parking sector is estimated at £1.5Bn per annum. It would be safe to say that the parking “industry” is a sure and easy way of making obscene amounts of money from what is basically a brief rental of a patch of tarmac.
Many car users have found themselves landed with a notice whilst shopping, attending events or just going to about their day to day business, however, how does it feel when you are landed with tickets whilst simply trying to go to work? How does it feel when you have paid for the privilege to park at your workplace but still emerge to find the ominous plastic bag attached to your windscreen?
Staff at Lincoln County hospital and other hospitals across the country, are facing this very issue. Despite paying for a parking permit directly from their wages, to the tune of £15 a month, they are being issued tickets for minor infringements of signposted rules or in some cases for no valid reason at all. Hospital Staff have reported feeling stressed and being left mentally drained after fighting to have these notices overturned, after all Care Workers are hardly the best paid of employees in the first place. It also appears, on deeper inspection, that the private parking sector is full of inconsistencies within the rules and guidelines and more shockingly, often has a blatant disregard for legal contracts.
NHS workers at LCH have decided they have simply had enough and joined forces to fight back. The stories that have emerged make for quite a surprising read. The car park in question was initially run by parking giant Total Parking Solutions (TPS). Originally there was a swipe card system that allowed staff to enter designated parking bays, suggesting correct and rightful parking, but staff were still being issued penalty notices for not displaying their permits. In some cases the permit had fallen into the foot-well, but a £60 penalty notice was still issued. One staff member who had forgotten their permit made a makeshift sign apologising along with their NHS ID but was still issued with a notice. Why were TPS staff even checking cars within the designated areas, when the car park was only accessible to authorised workers? It can only be concluded that TPS carried out these checks in order to penalise drivers under the “Permits should be displayed” and drive up the profits of TPS and no other reason. One staff member appealed under the reasoning that the signposting was substandard but still incurred costs of £200 when her claim was rejected.
The very fact that affected workers who appealed their penalty notice, and supplied evidence of rightful parking, yet were still denied appeal simply proves the fact that this is a ploy by TPS to increase their profits. It is worth noting only a few months ago new laws were passed to stop rogue companies from charging excessive parking penalties and that tickets should be issued when there are reasonable grounds.
The contract between LCH and Total Parking Solutions (TPS) has highlighted serious issues, the most obvious one being that there are simply too few parking spaces for staff. In order to rectify this, the trust provided information stating that if designated parking areas for staff were taken, people could park within the non-designated car parks and that TPS would “monitor the flow of traffic and use common sense”, when staff followed this guideline.
This sounds like a perfectly reasonable solution, but it was also stated that in such cases, displaying a staff permit was not allowed. So without a staff permit, the only way to avoid a Fine was to “Pay and Display”. Staff were thus paying twice for the use of a small space of ground, for the privilege of going to work to tend to sick patients. The principle cause of this “Taxation” on staff salaries? Neither their employer nor the parking specialists, TPS, were able to supply sufficient parking space to fulfil demand.
Staff are now receiving letters dating back to 2015 with demands for charges (Plus added legal fees from debt collection companies). Some individuals report having received one letter and then only receiving a reminder three years later on. Some have never received a letter. Some have moved house, others have married and changed their names and are now having to prove why they have different name. ALL are now being hounded with letters to pay up with added charges. Of course there is also a time limit to appeal these charges which has made it doubly difficult for people to challenge a 3 year old penalty within the time frame. The net result is that many are having their issue dealt with by debt collection agencies and in some cases even CCJ’s being made against them.
NHS workers, now being faced with the task of appealing a penalty, on some occasions a 3 year old penalty, are contacting the TPS asking for a Subject Access Request (SAR) which entitles them, under the Freedom of Information Act, to receive all information held with regard to their tickets. It is also reported that in some cases TPS are either not complying with SAR requirements, failing to provide full details or not offering any evidence of their claim. It seems that TPS have failed to gather evidence or taken photographs to support their claims and as a result, failed to prove a failure to display evidence. Some staff have been told, upon requesting their SAR, that no files are held in their name and have subsequently had the penalty dropped.
When engaging with TPS employees, NHS staff have also received some questionable replies. One email read “I have cancelled this notice issued to you as a gesture of goodwill. I feel my time is spent on non-parking queries related matters”. The author of this email later threatened one NHS staff member with legal action for damaging his business, interestingly he also shares the same surname as TPS company director Tiziano Ponzetta. Another reply had an amazing solution for the problem and suggested that the best thing would be for LCH to limit the number of permits issued, then there would be no issues with staff parking as some would just not get a permit. NHS members were quick to point out that this does not address the most obvious issue of Staff getting to work. Without viable public transport, or the infrastructure of a Park and Ride system in place, many staff members have no option other than using a car. Public transport would also be unlikely to address the concerns of people required to work around the clock, 7 days a week 365 days a year.
TPS seems to lack even the basic administrative duties required to keep accurate and up to date records, and it is no surprise that staff are still being hounded by debt collection companies to make up for their failures. This is just one more headache for NHS staff, who it is worth mentioning, work hard for our right to free healthcare.
Even without the required evidence that NHS have breached the parking contract, TPS have still managed to employ a number of collection and legal companies to chase these debts. Debt Recovery Plus, Premier Solutions, IE Legal, BW Legal and the cynically named Wright Payne Solicitors (Wright Hassall also exists) all have links to TPS debt recovery.
On further examination the reputations and tactics employed by some of these companies exacerbates the idea that private parking is simply a cesspit for the accumulation of wealth at the expense of the working classes. Wright Hassall have reportedly splashed out £7.000 whilst trying to recoup penalties to the value of £20 issued to NHS staff in Wales, they also use misleading wording within letters that failure to pay immediately will incur a CCJ. (Note, this is not the case, a CCJ is only issued if the case is lost in court and still unpaid). A simple glance at the customer reviews regarding BW Legal shows that customers gave a meagre 1 star review and that the company is viewed as “bad”. For NHS staff to be faced with threats of court from companies with questionable ethics is just more salt to the wounds inflicted on people who simply want to work.
At this point we have to ask what LCH are doing to support their staff and help resolve this issue. As already noted the idea that staff can use no designated parking spaces has not rectified the issue. When asked for a statement from a local online news page it would seem that LCH have sided with TPS. They advise that staff should contact TPS directly and that they are working with TPS to ensure that they are only contacting staff who have not paid.
TPS stands by the idea that they have acted within NHS parking guidelines, however, it would seem that LCH have not been working within perimeters of the law when gaining the TPS contract. TPS require a contract with the owner of the land. One staff member was able to evidence through the Freedom of Information Act that the land is not owned by LCH but by St Barnabas Hospital, and only the landowner can enter into a contract with a third party like TPS. This could also be grounds enough to eliminate any tickets issued, we shall see.
To conclude it would seem that Lincoln Hospital staff are wedged between two parties that are simply passing the buck. By deflecting the issue back and forth means that staff are left with nowhere else to turn. They are being ripped off by having to pay penalties, when they have already paid for parking rights, sometimes even twice. These penalties often incur legal costs adding a large financial burden on top of the need to use a car to access the work place for a group of dedicated people who are mostly underpaid in the first place
All of this is created by the failings of TPS, to either administer the contract properly, or to evidence their claims of “Wrongdoing” or in some cases, choosing to chase people for money up to 5 years after the event, using the dubious tactics of the Debt Recovery Industry.