Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Why Parking Charge Ltd lost their attempt to impose an unjust charge on me

As if there is not enough stress and aggravation in life, yesterday I had to attend Clerkenwell County Court, to settle a parking dispute between myself and Parking Charge Ltd, the company which operates a car park near the cinema in Swiss Cottage. The charge dated from the 15th October 2017. I'd taken the family to see a film at the cinema, paid six pounds for three hours with my debit card and then returned to my car. I realised that I'd gone a few minutes over the three hours, mainly due to needing to use the loo when the film finished and due to the length of the film, having to wait. I went to the machine to see what to do, there were no instructions. I went to see if there was an attendent. No one was around. I read the signage. It was totally unclear as to what to do. The implication was that if you stayed longer than three hours you had to pay a tenner, but there was no obvious option pay an extra four pounds to top up. I felt that paying another ten pounds for ten minutes parking was unfair. There was no mention of any "grace period" for overstaying. There was nothing helpful at all. After about five minutes of mulling over what to do, I thought, this is ridiculous and left.

Three weeks later, I got the following letter through the post.

Click for a readable version

I was gobsmacked. They wanted £60 for a fifteen minute overstay, of which five minutes were down to trying to figure out their bad signage. Not only that, they refused to acknowledge I'd paid a bean. A little lesson for anyone using such a service. Don't pay cash. If you pay on card, you will have an audit trail and proof. You can lose a ticket. A bank statement can be retreived.

I consulted Barnet's parking guru, Mr Mustard. He said "it's clearly wrong, ignore it". So I did. Letter after letter followed, each one was ignored, each demanded more money, it soon rose to over £200. Mr Mustard pointed me to a website that suggested they never took court action. On top of this, the charge letter was factually incorrect.

Eventually, last October, I got a cout summons. Contrary to Mr Mustards advice, they were taking me to court. I submitted my defence. I stated that I had paid for three hours, that the signage was deficient, and that the reason for my short overstay  was due to my prostate cancer condition requiring a visit to the lavatory, where there was a large queue.

The solicitors firm for Parking Charge Ltd wrote demanding proof of my medical condition. They stated that they would share this with third parties. I sent them a link to my cancer blog. That is what I am prepared to share with the world. I am not prepared to share medical records. They wrote back stating that if they required records. I stated that I would bring them to court. That was the sum and end of correspondence.

Yesterday was the big day. I arrived promptly at ten AM. I checked in. I was advisd that Parking charge had a lawyer in attendance. I had my file. Shortly after ten AM, we were ushered in before the Judge. He invited Mr Parking Charge to submit his evidence. He read out what was on the the letter above. He added that I'd made no attempt to contact them. I was then invited to submit my defence. I stated that the charge was completely defective. I had paid for three hours and had a bank statement to prove it. The solicitor for the Parking Charge Ltd claimed that this was the first they had heard of this. Given that they had a payment, this was clearly incorrect. They had also read the defence I had submitted. The Judge asked why I had not responded to their correspondence before th court papers were issued. I advised that my sister is a Barrister and that she'd  advised that as the letter was clearly defective and incorrect and I could prove that, there was no point bothering to answer it as they were clearly trying it on.

The judge then pointed out "but you admit that you were late?". I explained why. I said that the signage made no mentuon of any grace period. He asked what grace period Parking Charge Ltd operated. Their solicitor stated that "in line with insudtry practice, it is ten minutes". He stated that there were nine signs clearly detailing what needed to be done. The judge asked me about these. I said I had only seen one. I asked what the date of the pictures that had been supplied were. He then checked and they were taken nearly six months later and he noted that the signage looked brand new. The solicitor checked. He then said "well the first one was taken at the time". The judge concurred with me that the signage had not been in place at the time.

The solicitor, realising his options were running out stated I'd ignored all correspondence from his company. I asked if he had copies of the emails I'd exchanged regarding the Prostate Cancer condition. He said "Yes". I then said "You had my defence, you had ample opportunity to ask any other relevant questions. I said I'd paid, I was surprised you didn't ask for proof".

At this, the Judge, who was clearly irritated with the evidence supplied by Parking Charge Ltd, said "I've heard enough. I am going to give judgement. Mr Tichborne paid, he was most probably back to his car within the grace period, the signage was clearly not appropriate at the time. The case is dismissed". And that was that.

The solicitor for the parking company looked rather upset and wouldn't make eye contact with me. I thought I'd summarise the lessons I learned. If you overstay a ticket, you have a grace period. If you are a couple of minutes late then note this and leave immediately. Take pictures if you can to prove this.

Pay by card. If you are over the ten minutes, check all signage. If there is no instructions for top ups, this will be useful evidence. Photograph all simes, recording how long you have spent photographing the signs. if you get a charge letter, ask for details of grace period and evidence of signage explaining it. A valid defence is that you knew there was a grace period, but this was not specified, so you assumed you were in it. Offer to pay the top up fee. For a short overstay, this will be reasonable. If the overstay was longer. Offer to pay the full day rate, plus a couple of pounds for their trouble. If they reject this, they will have to justify why. The letter above is computer generated. It would cost no more than a couple of pounds to produce. State that you want details and proof of any loss suffered.

The Judge stated that by entering the car park, I had entered into a contract with them. As I had a cast iron case and he dismissed the case, it didn't matter, but I believe his summary was incorrect. You cannot enter a contract without understanding that you are. Take pictures of the outside of the car park. If there is nothing stating that by entering the car park, you are entering a contract, then you should state this and evidence it. Check the signage and check your ticket. If this does not state that this is evidence of contract, then you should state this. It is a valid argument to say that the signage was unclear as to this. If it doesn't say in big letters "read this sign, you are entering into a contract with us and these are the terms", it is far more difficult for them to make the case stick.

Had I really thought it through, I'd have made a far better job of my defence, put in my defence that the claim was baseless and I'd be asking for costs incurred. As it was I just wanted to win the case. Everyone advised me I'd win, so I didn't really think about the fact it was a huge inconvenience and cost me a pretty penny getting studio cover. I was only when I had a quick run through with Helen Michael on Monday evening, who is a solicitor as well as a cafe owner, that it even occurred to me. 

Oh and for future parkinbg queries, Mr Mustard is Barnets Parking Expert. If you have further queries, please contact him. I have a book to write about rock and roll. 

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