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Shock £160 Belfast parking fine for being 15 minutes late

By Claire McNeilly

A Northern Ireland man has hit out at private car park operators after he was fined a staggering £160 for returning to his vehicle 15 minutes late.

Glyn Roberts parked at North Street in Belfast city centre and used a machine to pay £2 for a ticket he believed would cover a short business and shopping trip.

The Ballyhackamore man ended up exceeding the time limit, but he claims the first and only indication that he had done so came via the post when he received what he described as an "aggressive" demand for money.

The letter, sent by a debt collection agency for "overstayed paid time", informed Mr Roberts that he needed to settle the £160 fine by tomorrow if he wanted to avoid going to court.

It began: "Most people pay their parking charges straightaway, but a small number of people don't. We're writing to you because you've not yet paid our client, and they've now asked us to collect payment."

A furious Mr Roberts, who is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said he was concerned that "outrageously punitive" fines would put people off coming to Belfast.

"I accept that I outstayed the time I'd paid for and I have no problem with paying an appropriate fine, but £160 is just preposterous," he said. "I'm annoyed that I wasn't given an earlier opportunity to pay - initially you're supposed to get fined £100, which drops to £60 if you settle within 14 days, although that's still far too much.

"But the thing is that I honestly didn't realise I hadn't paid enough to cover parking that day until I opened this letter demanding money a couple of days ago."

He added: "I'm sure there aren't many parents, pensioners, working families or consumers in general who can afford such an astronomical amount of money after making a simple mistake.

"It's difficult not to see this as blatant profiteering, and it's hard to see how it wouldn't put people off coming into the city."

Smart Parking, the firm that runs the North Street car park, said there were 17 signs there "that clearly highlight the terms and conditions of use".

"Mr Roberts accepts that he overstayed, and so correctly received a parking charge," it said.

"We wrote to Mr Roberts twice asking him to pay his charge but he did not respond. At this point we reasonably passed the matter on to a debt recovery service. Mr Roberts then chose to engage with the Press, ignoring the fact that we operate a fully audited appeals process."

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