'Fury' over parking charges defeat
A chip shop owner says he is "absolutely furious" after losing his landmark legal bid to sweep away "rip-off" parking charges.
Barry Beavis, 48, from Chelmsford, Essex, took on private car park operators that heavily penalise motorists who overstay their allotted time in parking spaces.
He asked Court of Appeal judges in London to rule an £85 charge legally "unenforceable".
But the three judges unanimously dismissed his challenge, saying the amount he was charged "is not extravagant or unconscionable".
Later Mr Beavis, who is considering taking his case to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, said: "I am absolutely furious that they (the judges) have not upheld the law as it stands but have created new law".
Mr Beavis said: "This isn't over. We will be going to the Supreme Court.
"I have lost the case, but on law that doesn't exist. The Court of Appeal does not have the legal right to make laws here."
He said: "I am utterly, utterly furious and will continue the fight."
Mr Beavis had said previously that he hoped he would win the case "for motorists everywhere".
He said: "What makes me angry is that these companies currently extort money by threatening and bullying people into paying up.
"A fine of £85 is not proportionate to overstaying by 56 minutes."
The ruling was a disappointment for motorists' organisations, including the AA, which said it hoped the appeal would "bring some clarity" to private parking enforcement and end "rip-off" charges - or the Government itself would impose a fairer regulatory system.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "For something that plays such a small part in drivers' lives, parking on private land generates a huge amount of anger and frustration.
"It is absurd something like this has had to come to the Court of Appeal.
"It is deeply frustrating that the case has gone against Mr Beavis, but we believe the days of sky-high charges and business models that incentivise firms to issue tickets like confetti no matter how minor the misdemeanour are numbered.
"The outgoing coalition Government took action on making parking on public land fairer and last month launched a consultation on how to do the same on private land.
"Ministers must take a grip of this essentially unregulated area. It should not be up to the industry to self-regulate and there needs to be a fair and reasonable code of practice set up by government."
The £85 charge was imposed on Mr Beavis by management company ParkingEye after he overstayed a two-hour limit at Riverside Retail Park car park in Chelmsford in April 2013.
ParkingEye argued at a hearing before Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Lord Justice Patten and Sir Timothy Lloyd that the charges were "a commercially justified deterrent" for a city centre car park close to a station and a court complex where it was necessary to discourage overstayers.
The appeal judges accepted submission from Jonathan Kirk QC, representing the company, that the level of charges was neither extortionate nor unconscionable but within the bounds of reasonableness.
When he refused to pay, Mr Beavis was sent a court summons to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court and informed the fine had been increased to £150.
His appeal was against a decision of Judge Moloney QC at Cambridge County Court in May last year. He ruled the £85 charge was lawful and did not breach the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.
Sa'ad Hossain QC, representing Mr Beavis, argued that Judge Moloney had taken a wrong approach to the law and the charge amounted to "a penalty clause" not binding on Mr Beavis.
To be lawful, charges should be set at levels meant only to compensate for any loss in achieving the aim of deterring overstayers and not to make large profits, said Mr Hossain.
The losses to ParkingEye were very small administrative costs, and its charges were so excessive as to be unenforceable.
Consumer watchdog Which? expressed dismay over today's ruling.
Executive director Richard Lloyd said: "We are concerned this decision waters down the law on penalty charges and may encourage excessive default charges across a wide range of consumer markets.
"Given the possible ramifications of this case for all consumers, we will be looking to intervene again in the Supreme Court hearing."
Guy Anker, managing editor of MoneySavingExpert.com said: "A parking firm may have won this case but it should not put off victims of unfair parking charges disputing their ticket.
"We constantly hear from motorists slapped with ridiculous charges where signage wasn't clear, where they had indeed paid for parking or where the warden just made a mistake.
"This judgment may stop people from reclaiming fines where they do overstay, but the amount levied is disproportionate to the 'offence'.
"But if the ticket is unfair in the first place, whether on private or public land, they should challenge it so they shouldn't have to pay a penny.
"About half who take their appeal to an independent arbitrator win, so there's a good chance of success."
Lord Justice Moore-Bick said in the lead judgment that Mr Beavis was charged after overstaying the two-hour permitted period of free parking.
He had parked in the Riverside Retail Park car park on the terms displayed on about 20 reasonably large and prominent signs that there was a two-hour maximum stay, and failure to comply would result in an £85 parking charge.
As a result, Mr Beavis had "entered into a contract" with ParkingEye and agreed to abide by the rules of the car park.
The appeal judge ruled Judge Moloney QC, who heard the case at Cambridge County Court, was entitled to find the £85 charge was not unfair under the statutory regulations.
The size of the charge "was similar to those levied by local authorities and very clear notice was given to consumers when they entered the car park", he said.
The conditions on which motorists were allowed to use the car park "were prominently displayed and contained no concealed pitfalls or traps".
"Nor did ParkingEye take advantage of any weaknesses on the part of those using the car park," he said.
The judge said: "The suggestion by the Consumers' Association that ParkingEye, in making a profit out of parking charges in general, acted in breach of good faith is one that I cannot accept.
"No doubt from time to time motorists misjudge the time and incur charges as a result, but that is a routine aspect of life for those who use on-street parking meters and car parks operated by local authorities.
"It is true that the full charge was incurred however brief the period of overstaying, but that is also a familiar characteristic of municipal car parks."
The judge said: "The real question is whether the imposition of a charge of £85 - or £50 for prompt payment - in order to promote a regular turnover of vehicles for the benefit of the community as a whole creates a significant imbalance in the relationship of a kind which renders the term unfair, given that the motorist is made aware of the term when he enters the car park.
"In the end I am satisfied that in this case the amount payable by the appellant is not extravagant or unconscionable and that the court should therefore not decline to enforce the contract.
"I would therefore dismiss the appeal."
A ParkingEye spokeswoman said: "We are very pleased with the outcome of this landmark Court of Appeal case which further confirms that our parking charges are fair, reasonable and legally enforceable.
"The judgment gives much needed clarity to motorists and the parking industry as a whole."
The British Parking Association (BPA) also welcomed the ruling and said it provided clarity on the use of contract law for parking on private land and the use of the charge as an effective deterrent against overstayers.
The BPA said in a statement: "Whilst the judgment does not appear to mention an upper limit, we would not expect our members to increase their charges as a result of this decision.
"The judgment at least confirms that their current charging is lawful and reasonable. Motorists parking on private land must comply with the advertised terms and conditions."
BPA's chief executive Patrick Troy said: "Clarity is good, but what would be better is a single standard setting body with an independent scrutiny board, which will deliver a single code of practice and a single independent appeals service for consumers.
"The BPA supports competition but not at the expense of standards, which encourages a race to the bottom, or in confusing the motorist by offering different appeals services of varying quality.
"We are calling on Government to act now and do the right thing for motorists and the entire parking sector. Continuing with multiple codes of practice, multiple appeal services, and variable auditing and sanctions regimes is unfair and confusing for motorists and businesses alike."