Private parking in the UK; what are your legal rights?

Parking on public land and parking on private land are areas that are governed by different sets of rules and enforcement processes.

For the most part, parking on public land is governed by rules set down by local councils and enforced by traffic wardens and/or the police.

Parking on private land, by contrast, is governed by the rules of the contract between the driver and the landowner. It is enforced by the landowner and/or agents working on their behalf.


The first rule of parking law is – know the category of land on which you are parked

In principle, it should be obvious whether you are parked on public land or private land. In practice, it is not necessarily at all clear. For example, you might think that a hospital car park should be public land because hospitals are (mostly) run by the NHS, which is a government body.

In practice, these days many hospital car parks are contracted out to private operators and hence operate under the rules for parking on private land.

Given that, in the real world, few people have the time to read the fine print of parking contracts, there is a distinct possibility that you will only find out whether you were parked on public or private lands if you are sanctioned for breaking the rules.

If you are parked on public land, you will receive a Penalty Charge Notice whereas if you are parked on private land you will receive a Parking Charge Notice.


The basics of Parking Charge Notices

There are two ways a Parking Charge Notice can be served. One is as a “ticket” on the car and the other is by post to the registered owner’s address.

As a rule of thumb, if you are served with a ticket it is well worth checking out whether or not the issuing car park is a member of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA). If they are, they will be able to get your contact details from the DVLA, which they can then use to pursue further legal action in the event of non-response.  

If, however, they are not, then the DVLA will not assist and they would have to try to find this information by other means – unless of course, you gave it to them voluntarily for example by writing to them to complain about receiving the ticket.

For the sake of completeness, please note that if you are trespassing on a private road (not a car park), then the landowner can obtain your details from the DVLA without needing to be a member of an Accredited Trade Association (ATA).


Responding to Parking Charge Notices

If you were breaking the rules, then the most sensible and ethical course of action is just to pay up as quickly as you can. ATA members have to offer a discount for early payment. If, however, you think you are being unfairly penalized, then you can write to the operator and request the notice be revoked.  

Generally, you will need to demonstrate one (or both) of two points, either you did not break the rules (they made a mistake) or the rules were unenforceable, for example, they were not clearly displayed so you could not reasonably be expected to be aware of them.

If the operator refuses to revoke the notice you can then proceed to formal appeal if you wish.

Adrian Rickersey