How to deal with parking fines / clamped cars (part 2)
As a followup to part 1 of our recent post on how to deal with private parking tickets, we shall discuss cars that have been unfortunate enough to have been clamped or towed.
If this misfortune ever happens to you, the first thing is to never try removing the clamp yourself. Yes, it's your car, but you are parked on private property, and tampering with the clamp is actually illegal and could escalate to a criminal charge.
The only real options with clamped cars boil down unfortunately to either using your ninja skills to negotiate your way out of it, or paying the fine up front to get the clamp removed then trying to reclaim the money. The latter is the more likely scenario, and this is obviously more complex than parking tickets, since you're trying to recover both your car and any unjustly imposed fees. However, there are certain things you should definitely consider doing before just handing your credit/debit card over to the bastards:
1. Check their credentials. Clampers/towers must be registered with the Security Industry Authority (SIA). A friend of mine recently paid a hefty fine of £130 only to realise in hindsight that the 'security' company was never registered. This means that they actually broke the law to clamp his car. Landowners who use unlicensed clampers/towers are breaking the law, too. Therefore, when the clamp remover arrives, or you get to the impound lot, ask to see the SIA license. If they do not show you the 16-digit SIA license number they are committing an offence, and ask them to remove the clamp immediately. You can check the validity of the number on the SIA website or you can call 0151 243 3701. If they do not have an SIA license, you are within your rights to demand that they release your vehicle without charge right then. If they do not comply, call the police and report it.
2. Jot down key evidence. Take photos of your car with the clamp, signs, and stickers on the windshield. Take pics of the road leading you to the parking spot. Signs are required to not only be visible, but clearly shown en-route to parking. If you paid them, make sure to get a receipt of some kind that contains: the location of the alleged infraction; the person's printed name and signature; the SIA number; the date. (and just to piss them off, you might as well take a pic of the clamper. In fact, I might start a website where car clampers across the UK get their pics posted on the internet).
3. Negotiate. If they have a license, you can try to negotiate. However, it is unlikely that they will budge. If they are licensed and have clamped your car, they will simply have your car towed to be crushed if you don't pay.
4. Pay under protest. If you take away any point in this guide, take this one; on anything you sign, include a note saying that you are paying "under protest". That way there is at least some record of your disputing the validity of the charge. Otherwise, your signature in court would probably mean that you admit guilt.
Disputing the charges once you've paid to get your car out of impound or un-clamped would be more likely to be successful if you feel any of the following apply to your case:
-The signage was inadequate or unclear. Parking restrictions have to be visible from every parking spot or there is no contract between you and the parking company. Signs only at the entrance are not sufficient. Again, if you can get photographic evidence, do so.
-The offence simply didn't happen. For example, if you were clearly not blocking an entrance, or taking up two spaces, or whatever. If your car is clamped and this is obvious, take pictures with your camera or phone as evidence.
-You weren't actually on private land when you were ticketed. Photos of your car and the surrounding area can prove helpful here, too.
-You have legitimate mitigating circumstances. Check this list against your circumstances.
-Clamping/towing was too harsh a penalty. You can try to bargain with the landowner instead of the clamper by sending a letter, saying you made an honest mistake. Suggesting that you could have this published in newspapers could also increase the likelihood in them looking to resolve it with you. No harm in trying.
-The release fee is unreasonably high. There's no real definition here of "reasonable," but if it's over £150 you may have some standing. Again, it can't hurt to try. Put it in writing. Address your protest to the address on the release form or the ticket itself, and do it as soon as you can. Enclose copies of whatever evidence you have. Some people suggest sending registered mail, and it's something you might consider if it looks like they want to play hardball.
If they don't budge, you have to make the decision whether it's worth the time and expense to take them to court. If you take them to court and win, they'll have to pay the filing fees, which can run £25 to £100.
Finally, if only to make yourself feel vindicated, you should read this excerpt from the RAC Foundation press release from July 9 as a way of girding yourself with righteousness when faced with a car clamped by a private parking company.
Have you had any experiences with clampers or tows? Please share them with us in the comments below. We would also love to know any tips or tricks you have used to successfully claim your money back!