National Parking Enforcement LTD – Fraud, Lies & Deception
What is a PCN?
This can be a bit confusing as the term PCN is used for both a Penalty Charge Notice and a Parking Charge Notice. A Penalty Charge Notice PCN is issued to a motorist found to be in contravention of parking restrictions, waiting restrictions and some moving traffic offences that are treated as civil, not criminal, offences. PCNs are usually issued by local authorities – either by a yellow notice affixed to your car or, if you’re caught on camera, through the post – although in certain areas the police have responsibility for enforcing parking restrictions. Penalty Charge Notices are backed by law and can be legally enforced.
It seems no accident to me that the private parking companies invoice has the same PCN initials as the Penalty Charge Notice backed by law.
A Parking Charge Notice, also called a PCN – the one issued by private companies – is not backed up by law. Instead, it is an invoice that has been issued for what it alleges is a breach of contract. If the car park operator wants to force you to pay, they will need to take you to the civil court, which is costly and time-consuming. They will need to demonstrate that they made it made it clear to you that you had entered into a contract when you contravened whatever restrictions were in place. This is more often than not through signage. It seems no accident to me that the private parking companies invoice has the same PCN initials as the Penalty Charge Notice backed by law.
The Saga Begins
Some time ago, my wife and I were heading off on holiday from our home in Swansea. As we quite often do when in the holiday mood, we decided to treat ourselves to a McDonald’s. We pulled into the restaurant on Fabien Way, Swansea, got our food and looked for somewhere to park. Unfortunately, McDonald’s car park was full so we we drove into the adjacent car park of the Fabien Way Starbucks restaurant, sat in the car and ate our food. After 15 mins or so I got out of the car, put our rubbish in the bin and we drove on our merry way.
Several weeks later, after we returned from holiday, a company called National Parking Enforcement Ltd sent me a Parking Charge Notice, or private PCN, for parking in the Starbucks car park. Their claim was that parking was for patrons of Starbucks only and that I had been parked there for 15 minutes and was not in fact a patron of Starbucks.
At the car park it was clear there was no sign at what was obviously the entrance to the car park. The first sign that could possibly be construed as a parking restriction sign was 60 feet into the car park.
It’s true I wasn’t a customer of Starbucks (Can’t stand their coffee anyway) but I knew for a fact that, at that time, McDonalds had no parking restrictions in their car park. I also knew that I am pretty attentive when it comes to parking restrictions. I couldn’t understand how I had missed the signage that would be required in Starbucks car park if National Parking Enforcement Ltd felt they had a claim against me. First step then was to go and investigate and record any information regarding restricted parking.
Call that Adequate Signage?
It was immediately clear that there was no sign at what was obviously the entrance to the car park. The first sign that could possibly be construed as a parking restriction sign was 60 feet into the car park. From the image below, you can see that it is actually at a point where you need to do a U turn into the car park so, as a driver, you will be looking where you are going to the right, not out of the left hand side of your car. Also, the only writing on this sign that can be reasonably read while driving are the words ‘Private Land’. Now I think it’s reasonable to assume that you are on private land here but it still doesn’t say anything about parking restrictions or ‘Patrons Only’ in letters large enough to be read from your car.
As well as the name of National Parking Enforcement Ltd, the signs at the car park also bore the logos of the IPC (Independent Parking Committee or International Parking Community? – who knows, even they seem confused about what their name is!) and the BPA (British Parking Association). Both these industry bodies have a Code of Practice which they expect there members to adhere to. There were two main points I picked out of these Codes of Practice. The first is that there should be a clear sign at the entrance to the car park indicating that parking restrictions are in place. The sign should be written and positioned such that it can be reasonably read and understood from a moving car that parking restrictions are in place. The second point, although moot to some extent if there is no adequate entrance sign, is that there should be terms and conditions signs within the car park. Again, these signs should be easy to read in high contrast font.
Let the Show Begin
I wrote to National Parking Enforcement Ltd regarding my concerns about the inadequate signage. The basis of their response was to quote Parking Eye vs Beavis 2015 and the fact that this precedent meant they were legally entitled to their claim. So, they totally ignored my concern about the signs and just waffled on about the legality of charging for unauthorised parking on private land and a precedent that had nothing to do with my concerns. I had no issue with their right to issue PCN’s for unauthorised parking, my issue was that they have to make it clear that you are entering into a contract when you drive onto the land!
This sort of lack of any understanding or ability to take on board anything I was saying went on for nearly 18 months!
This sort of lack of any understanding or ability to take on board anything I was saying went on for nearly 18 months! They also said that they weren’t actually paid up members of the BPA, only the IPC. So, first indication that the signs were not as they should be! After several failed attempts at reasonable discussion I put my case to the Independent Appeals Service, or IAS.
The Independant Appeals Service or IAS
The IAS is a ‘certified Alternative Dispute Resolution entity’, according to their website at least. It turns out that they are not as independent as they crack on to be. I put together my side of the story, arguing that there was no clear indication of ‘Patrons Only’ or ‘Charges Apply’ on an entrance sign.
In fact I also stated that there was indeed nothing that could be construed an entrance sign at all according to the IPC Code of Practice, of which National Parking Enforcement Ltd are fully paid up members. I also raised the issue of the faded and low contrast Terms and Conditions signs.
The closest sign to the entrance was 60ft into the property with nothing on it that could be read from a car indicating patrons ony. The example of suitable entrance signage on the right is taken directly from the IPC Code of Practice. ‘Pay and Display’ is clearly marked in the largest font on the sign. One of these at the entrance with ‘Patrons Only’ and I would have had to accept I was wrong. Although I like to think I’d have seen it.
The IAS – Not So Independent After All
I uploaded my appeal case along with photographs of the signs that I had taken at the property to the Independent Appeals Service platform . It didn’t take long before I had a reply. My appeal was rejected on several grounds. The signs at the property were deemed to be sufficient and met the requirements of the code. The ‘entrance’ sign was at the “first available fixing” (Really?) and I should have seen the T&Cs sign when I got out of the car to dispose of the rubbish. Interestingly at this point it became clear that they weren’t using ANPR but must have had someone actually analysing video footage to see if anyone from the cars in the car park entered the Starbucks retail outlet. The “first available fixing” argument was nonsense, I could see there was plenty of space and, in fact, some months later the adjacent McDonald’s restaurant imposed parking restrictions and managed to put a very clear sign up right at the entrance, see photo further down.
It’s very hard to see how the entrance sign can be interpreted as indicating parking is for ‘Patrons Only’.
The photos below are of the signs that were present at the time of my alleged offence. I have tried to show them in a way that indicates there readability, driving past in the case of the entrance sign and standing next to it for the T&C’s. It’s very hard to see how the entrance sign can be interpreted as indicating parking is for “Patrons Only”. The IPC Code of Practice says signs should be “high contrast” for readability. As you can see, the T&C’s sign is white lettering on faded lilac. Not sure whose definition of high contrast that is. These signs remained for at least 12 months after I received the PCN. I haven’t checked recently as I have had no cause to visit Starbucks, nor will I have in the future.
National Parking Enforcement LTD, Fraud, Lies & Deception
This is where it really got interesting. On the Independent Appeals Service platform you can upload your supporting files such as pictures etc. You also have access to the files submitted by the other side. I was somewhat surprised when I looked at what National Parking Enforcement Ltd had uploaded in their defence. They had uploaded a plan of the site indicating where the signs were, differentiating with colour coding the entrance sign (60 feet from the entrance remember) and the several T&Cs signs around the car park. This was more or less accurate. However, National Parking Enforcement Ltd’s pictures of the signage were a totally different matter. Neither remotely resembled the signs at the property, in fact they were images of signs exactly as they should be according to the IPC Code of Practice as far as my now increasing knowledge could tell.
So, National Parking Enforcement Ltd uploaded false evidence to the IAS and lied to them about possible locations of the entrance sign. It just shows how independent the Independent Appeals Service is, or not. They didn’t question National Parking Enforcement Ltd’s version of events or question why the photos I had uploaded were totally different from theirs.
They Are All on the Same Side!
At this point I wrote to the IAS to let them know that National Parking Enforcement Ltd had supplied false evidence. Their response was simply that the decision was final and had been reviewed by their supposedly independent legal bod, with no acknowledgement or understanding of what I was trying to say. I tried to contact National Parking Enforcement Ltd directly and was generally met with nothing short of abuse, total unwillingness to accept they had done anything wrong and even having them put the phone down on me. I also wrote to the IPC, again they seemed incapable of understanding my point and weren’t remotely interested, stating “The operator has also provided us with proof of the images in situ around the car park and they have denied any deception having took(sic) place. I can confirm that I have reviewed the signage and am satisfied that the signage was in situ at the relevant time. Due to the above, I am unable to locate a breach of our Code of Practice, and am therefore unable to uphold your complaint.” So, I send them actual images at the site, National Parking Enforcement Ltd send their false pictures and again they are believed!
So, National Parking Enforcement Ltd fraudulently uploaded false evidence to the IAS and lied to them about possible locations of the entrance sign.
I wrote to Starbucks Fabien Way and Starbucks Head Office. Again, no effort to understand and even distanced themselves by saying they weren’t the landowner so had no responsibility for the parking! Obviously very concerned about how their car park is managed – by cowboys, and not very good ones at that that. They did offer me some vouchers though! I always find that quite amusing when the best a company can do to salve your grievance about the way you’ve been treated by them is to offer compensation that involves you going back! I find it astounding that Starbucks are not remotely interested in the fact that the company managing a car park that is in place solely for their customers is not at all concerned that the car park operator will happily lie, cheat and bully its way to getting money off people.
Spammed by Debt Collectors
For the next 18 months or so I was spammed by numerous debt collectors; Credit Investigation Services, Zenith Collections, Debt Recovery Plus Ltd, Gladstones Solicitors and National Parking Enforcement themselves. All the normal stuff, we’ll take your stuff away, damage your credit rating, court proceedings and other threats. Each time they claimed they had the right to add more to the fine and would include costs. It got to the point where I was writing back and actually pleading with them to take me to court! I was just desperate to see the face of their representative and the magistrate when I showed the evidence that had been supplied by National Parking Enforcement Ltd. Round and round it went for months, with a threatening letter form them every couple of weeks.
After well over a year of countless letters, I received a ‘Letter Before Claim’, a legal requirement if they really are going to take you to court. At last I thought, we can go to court! Legally, you have 30 days to respond to a Letter Before Claim, 30 days that is from the date of the letter. They hadn’t even dated the letter! I wrote back asking them when the 30 day period started and stating that I was looking forward to seeing them in court. Unfortunately, that was the last I heard from them and is now nearly a year ago. It’s a shame, after all that effort I didn’t get the satisfaction of proving my case.
Despite not getting my day in court I do get the satisfaction of putting the facts of the matter here. I did also unearth a few interesting facts about the various companies mentioned here. The debt recovery services are probably all the same company, certainly Debt Recovery Plus is just National Parking Enforcement Ltd by another name.
Gladstones Solicitors, who were just one of the outfits who threatened me, are a law firm based in Knutsford, Cheshire. They are owned by John Davies and William ‘Will’ Hurley. Gladstones have a significant involvement in the parking industry in that it offers debt recovery and legal services in relation to unpaid private parking charges or PCNs. The links, however, are even closer than that since John Davies and Will Hurley also own the International Parking Community (IPC) – the trade association who National Parking Enforcement Ltd are fully paid up members of. According to their website ‘We insist on the highest professional standards and are an Accredited Operator of The International Parking Community’. Insist, highest possible standards? Don’t make me laugh.
In other words, it’s all an incestuous money making circle over which they have tried to put a veneer of decency with a Code of Practice. You will get no recourse from the IPC because they will not question why your version of events is totally different from the operator.
Anyway, if there is a moral to this story it’s don’t give up. If you think you are right don’t let these halfwits get to you. Fight them, just don’t expect to have a rational converstion with any of them, they are not capable of it.