You know what I was going to find on my return. Yes, a ticket. Despite the fact that people had parked in these spots for years on end with no recriminations, and there was nothing on the barrier or road to say 'don't park here'. The closest sign was across the area; a small notice, with verbose, poorly written text which I didn't spot when running for the train like a madman that morning, and that I actually had to stand and squint to read the following morning since it was halfway up a lamppost.
I was in a pretty sour mood, not least because this reminded me of a ticket I was issued in Cambridge a few years back. Staying at a B+B, they had a system set up with the council for visitors: I paid the owner a quid per day and I could get a parking permit to park outside. But on my second day, she had run out of permit cards, and so scribbled out the old date on the card from day one and put the new date on. I hesitantly paid my quid for the day but was assured it would be fine, and headed to the film festival.
Guess what. A £50 fine was waiting for me when I returned. Not knowing any better, I spent some premium rate phone time explaining the situation to a council representative who listened patiently and then chanted the mantra 'you still have to pay the fine'. Through gritted teeth I wrote the cheque.
But this time, I had recalled some stuff Martin Lewis was saying on the subject on his web site (always a good place to go if you want to save some cash). My car was parked on private land, so the ticket is not issued by the council or the police, but by a private company. Thus it's part of the largely unregulated private parking industry. That means they are free to pretty much do what they want, but it also means that we as the public can do the same too. Thus there is an awful lot of room to refute any charge you happen to find in a sticky envelope later that day.
Martin Lewis has got a page dedicated to this wholly inexact science of parking fines. I read up about my rights and what I should do, and downloaded his template letter to use as a basis for my case. I had several points in my favour:
- My car was not blocking access. Since the ticket said I was, it is immediately null and void as it's incorrectly issued.
- It was not parked in a spot where it said I couldn't park. No signs, no markings.
- The notices were inadequate, poorly written, hard to spot and could be interpreted a number of ways.
- The catch-all: Parking is free, and one of the few rules set out to these firms is that the fine must reimburse the landowner for the trouble caused. £50 was way over the top, as the landowner lost nothing, and I didn't cause any trouble.
Just as I was hoping that it had disappeared I got a letter. A very patient woman had took the time to write back addressing some of the points I'd raised and seemed to concede at least that I had a point about the severity of the fine. She cut the fine in half, to £25. I should pay promptly.
One half of my brain said: 'Victory! Pay and have done with it'. The other half said stick to your guns. To pay would be an admission of wrongdoing, which I am adamant that I have not. I had not parked illegally, I was not blocking others or causing a hazard. Thanks to the dime bar who wrote the notices, I could easily argue that I had not broke any rules as laid out in their verbose signage. Finally, since this department rep had only answered some of the points in my letter, and inadequately countered some of the others in my opinion, I decided to call their bluff and ignored the request, suppressing the urge to send another letter telling them what was deficient with their response.
Which brings us to the present day. About a month went by, and now I have in front of me a 'Final Demand' notice. It's one of those template things with my details filled in. However, it is a carbon copy of the one that this guy received after going through a similar kerfuffle. He is about a month ahead of me in the chain and sticking to his principles, so I have chosen once more to ignore the 14-day notice, on the reasoning of the other responders to that thread.
To be honest, I'm bricking it a bit. They mention court proceedings and byway notices and fines with a few zeroes on the end, but it stands to reason that these people are calling my bluff and I need to keep calling theirs. A court proceeding will result in more then £50 on their end, especially as I intend not to lose, and they're doing an awful lot of 'considering legal action' given that I had to cough up the cash ages ago. To lose such a court case wouldn't look good for them either, I'm betting they would much rather calmly drop it.
Most people who receive these penalties will choose to cough up either straight away or after the first round of explanations when scary key words like 'court' and 'bylaw' start to crop up. That is where the revenue comes from, and the private company tasked with netting all this cash will act as threatening as they can get away with on their correspondence to ensure they get their pay. However, they are not the law and do not represent it and this is easy to forget. The worst they can claim is in the small claims court, and they need to have a good case to win it. And that's expensive.
Ergo, I have reasoned that I should not pay.
They have about 3 months left to take action or they lose by default. I will keep you posted.