Rogue clampers pocket £55m a year
Cowboy clampers take up to £55 million from drivers every year, the Home Office has said.
The figures, released as the Government takes steps to make wheel-clamping on private land a criminal offence from next year, back concerns that rogue operators were extorting millions of pounds from unsuspecting motorists.
But some critics, including the British Parking Association (BPA), criticised the Government for creating "a charter for the selfish parker", giving drivers the freedom to park wherever they want.
Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone said: "For too long motorists have fallen victim to extortion and abuse from rogue clamping companies. I have been outraged by cases of drivers being frog-marched to cash points late at night or left stranded by rogue operators who have towed their vehicle away. Clearly this is unacceptable.
"By criminalising clamping and towing on private land this Government is committing rogue clampers to history and putting an end to intimidation and excessive charges once and for all."
Evidence from England and Wales showed around 500,000 clampings take place annually on private land with an average release fee of £112 and 98% of fees being paid as drivers want to get their vehicles back, the Home Office said.
Previous efforts to curb unscrupulous clampers have failed and England and Wales are behind Scotland which introduced a ban nearly two decades ago.
The new measures will be introduced later this week in the Government's Protection of Freedoms Bill. Once in force, the new law will mean only police or councils will be allowed to immobilise or remove a car in exceptional circumstances, such as a car blocking a road.
But motoring organisations have also warned about the rise of private operators issuing penalty tickets as they turn away from clamping.
Commenting on the forthcoming legislation, AA president Edmund King said: "This Bill is the first nail in the coffin of the cowboy clampers. These cowboys are soon to be outlawed criminals. We have always argued that motorists should not park where they like but believe that, in the 21st century, there are more humane ways to regulate parking."