It’s the end of the month. You’re looking like you’ll just about scrape through to your next payday with all your bills paid on time, just so long as nothing unexpected comes up. Thanks to the cruel way the universe works this is invariably the exact time that you’ll find yourself picking up a parking ticket. So, if the fickle gods of traffic penalties refuse to smile on you, what exactly can you do about it?

Unfortunately, if you’ve simply suffered a lapse of judgement and broken the rules then there’s not much you can do other than suck it up, pay the fine and try to be more careful in future. However, not all parking fines are legitimate. Whether it’s a simple case of human error, something gone wrong somewhere in the administrative chain, or a matter of the relevant signage being in some way obscured from view, if you have a good excuse, you could be let off. Here we look at what to do if you weren’t at fault.

Establish Who You Are Dealing With

There are two types of tickets – private and public. Telling the difference can be tricky, which is largely down to the fact that private companies will try to make their tickets look as similar to those issued by public bodies such as the police and local councils. However hard they try to confuse things, the one thing these private tickets can’t do is categorically mislead you. If it doesn’t name the local council in question and doesn’t name the police force in question, then it’s private. This changes the way you go about fighting it.

Private Tickets

If it’s private you can take a much more aggressive stance in refusing to pay. This is because, unlike a ticket from a public body, the private companies can’t really enforce their tickets without taking the fairly drastic step of court action. They can’t, for instance, threaten your credit score or send the bailiffs round to your house.

With this in mind, if you get a ticket on private land that’s been unfairly given or is clearly exorbitant then you can simply write to them explaining why you won’t pay, or why you will only pay part of the total asked for (a reasonable measure might be to offer to pay only what you would have been charged had the incident occurred on a public road.)

If things can’t be resolved this way it will be helpful to you to be backed up by any available evidence, so you need to photograph anything that might be useful to you whilst at the scene, for example, the signs and their wording, the meter or anything else that led you to dispute the ticket.

(Though we are using the word ‘ticket’ to talk about both private and public tickets, only public ones should be thought of as fines. Private tickets are simply an invoice. These companies don’t have the right to issue fines.)

If this doesn’t work, you can appeal. You don’t need to pay before you appeal, and it’s always hard to reclaim money back once it’s gone, so don’t pay until you have to. If the ticket comes from a company that is approved by the BPA you can appeal through the independent body, POPLA. This process is free, but can only be resorted to once you’ve already gone through the appeals process of the individual operator. You will find details of how to do this on the back of your ticket.

Hopefully, you will be successful first time around. If they accept your argument, fail to reply or respond saying that they won’t pursue things further then you don’t need to take any further action. If they do continue to demand you pay them, then it’s time to turn to POPLA.

As far as they are concerned you only have a case if you weren’t responsible for the vehicle at the time (i.e. it had been sold on or stolen), you are being asked for an amount that exceeds that relevant to your offence, or if you simply did not commit the offence in question. Bear that in mind if you are hoping extenuating circumstances will get you off the hook.

If you are successful the operator has to stop chasing you. However, if you are unsuccessful, that doesn’t mean it’s all over. You’re basically just back where you started. Given that POPLA aren’t enforcers, you aren’t actually beholden to pay just because they didn’t find in your favour. Therefore, you can just hold out and wait to see if the operator will actually bother to take you to the small claims court. Even if they do and you lose, it’s not a criminal matter and the worse that can happen is that you will be forced to pay up.

If you want to be more extreme, you can head straight for this impasse stage by simply saying you won’t pay, and will not get involved in any further correspondence from the get go. Don’t even use the word ‘appeal’ (this implies there’s some sort of legitimacy to their ticket). Either they’ll attempt to go through court or, as you’d hope (and as is quite likely), they won’t bother to follow up on it.

If the company is not BPA approved then you can write to them and explain why the ticket is unfair and why you won’t be paying it, or you can just ignore them and wait as described above. As these companies aren’t bound by POPLA , don’t mention the word ‘appeal’ when writing to them. That will make it sound like you want to be dealt with through their in-house appeals process, which you don’t.

Finally, bear in mind that in many cases the operator will be independent of the property owner, who will have hired them in to run their car park. Whilst the operator won’t, the landowner will most likely have a brand they’d like to protect and public relations they’d like to maintain. If you write to them and complain of scandalous treatment, they may intervene on your behalf.

Public Tickets

Things are different when you’re dealing with a ticket from a public body. The first thing to remember is that, if you think the ticket is unfair, you shouldn’t pay it. This will amount to an admission of liability and take away your right to appeal. Unless the car has been clamped or towed, you should wait until you’ve appealed before you even consider paying. You’ll want to move quickly as, even if your appeal is unsuccessful, the fine is usually half price if paid within two weeks.

You should begin building your case at the scene of the incident, where you’ll need to gather any evidence you can to support your case. Again, photos should be taken if they’ll prove your case (for example, incorrect unclear markings, signs, the position of your car, or the metre).

Keep all correspondence regarding the incident, as it could be important. Other mitigating factors can also come into play, so if there are other issues that you believe should be taken into account put together some evidence relating to them.

Once you have the evidence of the mitigating circumstances or the error that was made, you can make an appeal. The first stage is usually informal and you have nothing to lose no matter what the outcome. The fine is put on hold during this time too, so once things are under way, you don’t need to worry about the price doubling after 14 days.

How exactly this appeal will work depends on who issued the ticket. If it was a council the ticket will be a PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) which uses a ‘civil’ appeal system (more on which later). The exception to this is an Excess Charge Notice. These tickets are ‘criminal’ (don’t worry, that doesn’t reflect on you, and it won’t lead to you getting a record. It simply means the appeals process is different).

An FPN (Fixed Penalty Notice) issued by the police is also criminal. If you live in London you could also get a ticket from TFL. These are PCNs and are civil.

If you’re looking at a civil case then there are eight grounds that you can win on;

  • There wasn’t a contravention. This covers cases where the ticket was given incorrectly, or where the relevant signage and markings were not visible.
  • You were overcharged.
  • There was an admin error. For example, if they didn’t include all necessary information on the ticket or took too long to reply to correspondence.
  • You were no longer the owner of the car at the time.
  • You’re a hire firm (which we can ignore, seeing as you aren’t).
  • The car was stolen.
  • You already paid.

As you can see the first point is really the one that applies in most cases. Mitigating circumstances that might apply aren’t really covered in these points, but discretion has to be shown when you appeal, so you can include them as part of your case. These might typically include;

  • You’d broken down.
  • You were involved in an emergency.
  • You’d fallen ill after parking.
  • The parking became suspended whilst you were away.
  • You were at a funeral.
  • You bought a ticket, or permit, but for some reason it was not visible to the warden.

In some cases councils will let you off if you were within 3 minutes of your valid stay time, so this can also be used as grounds to ask for the fine to be waived.

The first stage is to make an informal appeal by writing to the relevant body including all your evidence. If this doesn’t work (and it has been suggested that initial appeals are rejected out of hand) then the second stage is to make a formal appeal.

When you get your Notice to Owner (the response if your first appeal fails) this also serves as the form to make a formal appeal. (If your ticket is posted to you, the form will come in the post with it). You then simply recycle the information from your first appeal into the form. You can also include a letter detailing your exact grounds for appeal, and any mitigating circumstances that need to be included.

If this doesn’t work you will receive a Notice of Appeal along with your rejection. With this you can appeal to the independent Traffic Penalty Tribunal. They will make a final decision. You can either have the case assessed by writing to them, with all the information from your first two appeals, or it can take place as a hearing over the phone or in person.

If a council ticket is ‘criminal’ then the process is largely the same, expect that if the informal and formal appeals don’t work then all you can do is appeal to the local government ombudsman.

In the case of notices from the police you will have to check with the prosecuting force how you can appeal. You may be able to write to the central ticket office or the force itself. If this doesn’t work your last recourse would be to take things to a hearing, but this could see you become liable for legal costs, will be hard to win and, as such, is probably a disproportionate risk.