'Millions in parking fines owed'
Millions of pounds worth of unpaid parking fines have to be written off each year by councils unable to trace drivers of foreign vehicles, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).
Some councils have had to rip up thousands of parking tickets with one local authority - Brighton & Hove Council - being owed more than £750,000.
The LGA said the EU allows European vehicles to drive on UK roads for six months before having to register with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) but the Government does not keep a record of the estimated three million entering the UK each year.
The LGA added that currently, the DVLA only records information about non-UK-registered vehicles when they are notified through offence reports provided by the police or from tip-offs from the public. This means foreign vehicles are able to disappear within the system by going unregistered.
It added that this left town hall parking bosses facing an impossible task to chase down drivers for payments while laws in other countries mean British drivers parking illegally abroad can be tracked and chased for payments.
The LGA said:
:: Oxfordshire, Southampton and Portsmouth councils have collectively been forced to rip up more than 10,000 tickets issued in the past five years to foreign-registered vehicles valued at more than £500,000;
:: 2% of all parking tickets issued in Brighton & Hove are given to vehicles registered outside the UK, at a value of around £2,000 a month. The council is owed more than £750,000 in unpaid fines;
:: In the past 12 months, Bournemouth Council has been forced to write off £57,000 worth of parking fines to foreign-registered vehicles while Maidstone Council in Kent has written off £28,455 worth of tickets;.
:: Leicester City Council has written off £20,000 in tickets in the past year. Torbay Council in Devon is owed £15,810, Milton Keynes Council in Buckinghamshire £13,365 and Doncaster Council in Yorkshire has had to rip up £12,000 worth of tickets.
LGA economy and transport board chairman Peter Box said: "Drivers of foreign-registered vehicles need to realise they are not above the law in this country.
"Reckless and inconsiderate parking by non-UK registered vehicles puts other drivers and pedestrians at risk. The millions of pounds worth of fines written off could also be spent filling potholes, providing bus services and tackling the £12 billion repair backlog to bring our roads up to scratch."
He added that "introducing a central database would allow the Government to get tougher on people failing to register their vehicle".
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: "Councils are making more than £600 million in parking profits each year. The rules clearly state that fines should not be used to generate profit. Parking is not a town hall tax or cash cow.
"That is why this Government is banning CCTV spy cars, introducing 10-minute grace periods for on-street parking and reigning in over-zealous enforcement that undermines the high street, pushes up the cost of living and costs local authorities more in the long term."
He went on: "Where people have clearly committed an offence they should pay their fine, but too often people don't contest a ticket because they will lose the immediate payment discount, which is why we will be trialling a 25% discount for motorists who lose an appeal."
RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: "This is the latest blow for motorists in the saga of the unknown number of foreign vehicles which enter the country and are then unaccounted for whether or not they leave or remain in the UK.
"The millions of pounds being lost through unpaid parking fines is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg when compared to the car tax that should be paid once a vehicle has been in the UK for more than six months."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We are aware of the issue of foreign vehicles failing to register if they have been in the UK for longer than six months.
"Discussions are currently ongoing across government to identify ways of improving the flow of information between agencies in order to tackle this problem and we hope to announce firm plans shortly.
"Drivers from EU member states are allowed to drive here for up to six months in an 12-month period before registering with the DVLA, just as British drivers can abroad."
AA president Edmund King said: "This problem of unpaid fines is exacerbated by criminals cloning or stealing foreign number plates so that they can stay outside the law.
"Certain UK criminals use foreign plates to avoid paying parking or speeding fines as well as congestion charges. It is misleading to suggest that the unpaid fines are purely down to tourists."