Question I have received a private parking ticket for £100 (£60 for early payment) at a retail park for parking and ‘leaving the site’. I’ve done a bit of Internet research and I’ve decided to ignore it on the grounds that:
- I won’t confirm I was the driver – they will have to prove it;
- I won’t confirm I left the site – again they will have to prove it;
- £100 is an excessive amount for damages for the retail park’s loss and I understand that this could be classed as an unfair contract term.
Am I safe in taking this approach?
Answer You are essentially on the right track and there might be grounds for not responding to the ‘ticket’ and this advice goes to the legality, rather than the morality, of your position. This is not a criminal case, it is a matter of civil law based on contract. Before even the issue of whether a payment is due arises, you have to have entered into a contract to pay the sum in the circumstances alleged. This could be established if there was a notice clearly displayed on your way in making clear the terms of parking.
You are right in that the company making the demand has to prove that you were the driver and that you left the site. The standard of proof required is not as high as in criminal cases (beyond reasonable doubt). They have to prove their case on ‘the balance of probabilities’ (i.e. is it more likely than not that you were the driver and that you left the site), so if for example they have CCTV footage of someone who looks like you leaving the car and the site, this may be enough.
The Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 could help you. There are a lot of technical requirements to satisfy the defence that the Act could give you, and it would take a lot more space than we have here to go through them in detail, but you have a chance of arguing that the charge is unreasonable and that you were in a disadvantageous bargaining position and that the contractual term requiring payment of this sum should be excluded from the contract. This is not your strongest tactic and, for the reasons given below, you may well not need to take this line.
In order to prove their case, the company would have to sue you in the County Court and if you put in a defence they would have to prove their case. You could, however, be required to do more than just refuse to admit that you were the person concerned and put the company to proof – the court could actually demand that you say whether or not you were that person.
It may well be that in the face of your silent response to the notice the company would not bother to sue you, although if they have high volumes of these cases, they may go to that stage and hope that you don’t put in a defence so that after 14 days, they can get judgment in default. If you put in a defence simply not admitting anything then possibly the chances are they would give up at that point.
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