Peers have voiced their frustration at the conduct of the private parking industry and urged the Government to swiftly act to implement regulatory reforms and protect motorists.
Labour peer Lord Lipsey shed light on his experience with a parking company, painting a grim picture of the challenges faced by motorists when dealing with certain industry players.
Fellow Labour peer Lord Sahota echoed Lord Lipsey’s claims, insisting the car parking industry is a “cash cow” and concerns about job losses if a statutory code of practice is implemented do not hold water.
The Private Parking Code of Practice, which aimed to regulate the operation and management of private parking facilities in England, Scotland and Wales, was initially published by the Government in February 2022.
But it was withdrawn four months later due to a series of legal challenges, initiated by several parking firms, primarily centred around capping the level of parking charges and a ban on additional fees.
Leading a debate on the reintroduction of the code in the upper chamber, Lord Lipsey told peers his experience began when he tried to extend his parking stay at Abergavenny station, Wales, after a strike disrupted his plans.
He said: “I did ring a number given by the ticket office to extend my stay by a fortnight. A phone message confirmed it had been extended, but when I returned to the car, it had been ticketed by Apcoa, the operator.”
This, he said, led to a series of notices demanding payment, appeals and, ultimately, debt enforcement involvement.
Expressing concern over unclear signage and inaccessible payment methods at the car park site, he said: “I looked round the same car park the other day.
“Yes, there was a notice by the spot I parked in. It was solely in Welsh. Yes, there was a machine to pay at. However, it was covered in polythene saying it wasn’t in use anymore. Yes, it said I could pay at the ticket office. Except that wasn’t open and it may soon be permanently closed.”
He continued: “These companies have one object and one object only and that is to maximise their revenue from charges – so they either make it difficult or impossible to pay.”
On the new consultation issued by the Government in July, he said: “I hope that the minister, when she rises, will confirm that the Government really is determined… to act, that the parking industry which actually has started to realise that it can’t win this one at the end of the day…
“I hope they will realise that the game is up and that ripped-off motorists throughout the country will come to realise they are not powerless against their abusers, not while this Parliament exist to stand up for them.”
Lord Sahota said: “The car parking industry said to the Government last year that if it had introduced a new code of practice, the industry would lose thousands of jobs. I disagree with that. Car parking business is a cash cow. Compared to other businesses, it has a far fewer workers and yet is far more profitable. So the industry’s threat of losing jobs if Government introduced a statutory code does not stack up.”
The Labour peer added: “I don’t know any other industry that is so big and yet is not properly regulated. The Government should introduce a statutory code of practice as soon as possible.”
Labour frontbencher Baroness Taylor of Stevenage said: “I suppose the key question here is just when do we expect to be able to reintroduce this important code of practice?
“Nicholas Lyes, the RAC’s head of roads policy, said when the code was withdrawn the fact that parking companies take issue with the capping of charge notices, and the debt recovery phase, shows precisely why both the cap and the code are needed.”
Responding for the Government, Tory whip Baroness Swinburne said ministers remain “totally committed to delivering this code of practice”.
She said shortly after the introduction of the code a number of private parking operators and debt recovery agencies “initiated a judicial review proceeding into the Government’s decision to introduce within the code, new levels of private parking charges and two ban debt recovery fees”.
Lady Swinburne said: “It was accepted that the original processes unfortunately were not adequate with respect to the impact assessment conducted prior to the introduction of the code.
“The Government therefore decided to concede those challenges and temporarily withdraw the code to ensure that its impacts are rigorously examined.
“Failing to do so would open us up to further challenge and could ultimately set us back further. I recognise that the setback is frustrating, but as we know a further judicial review is possible and we cannot therefore cut corners.
“I hope Lords will recognise the need for this and we remain totally committed to delivering this code of practice.”
The peer said the Government’s call for evidence to gather input on regulating the private parking sector will close on October 8 2023, with a further consultation planned on the options for parking charges and debt recovery fees.
An Apcoa spokesperson said anyone issued with a penalty notice had the right to appeal and that if someone exhausted that appeal process, it was possible to have an independent appeal heard at POPLA (Parking on Private Land Appeals).
The spokesperson added: “For GDPR reasons, unfortunately we are unable to comment on Lord Lipsey’s individual case. The signage in all Apcoa car parks in Wales is provided in both Welsh and English languages.
“Apcoa is contracted to manage that car park for an agreed management fee; we do not receive any revenue from parking enforcement there.
“Apcoa supports the introduction of a new Parking Code of Practice for the industry and has been actively involved in its development.
“It is disappointing that a member of the House of Lords feels it appropriate to use abusive and unacceptable language about our company and its executive management.”