A Parking Fine for the Wrong Registration Number
What is the loss?
With technology constantly changing the norms, parking meters are increasingly requiring you to enter your registration details in order for you to purchase a ticket.
This therefore prevents the exchange of tickets when leaving car park where there is still time left on the ticket, leaving the parking company out of pocket of a second fee. It also allows for cameras to be placed at car parks to read registration numbers and thereby to eliminate the need for the parking company to employee someone to check tickets, thereby eliminating the chance of you slipping through the net of the ticket inspector.
In addition to parking meters, technology has allowed car park users to pay using various apps such as RingGo. The app is much the same as a meter in that the registration number is entered and allows you to choose the duration of the stay. The benefits of the app (although charging you for the service) is that the app will message to warn you that the parking ticket is due to expire and invite you to increase the session should you require more time. This means that you are less likely to overstay and you do not have to return to the car park to purchase another ticket.
Whilst the main aim of adding the registration requirement was to prevent the exchange of tickets and to introduce cameras, private parking companies are increasingly relying on the entering of an incorrect registration as a breach of contract in order to issue a parking fine. This is a pure contractual claim in a privately owned car park and can be contrasted to a council owned car park which are regulated by the Traffic Management Act 2004.
We probably have all been stood in front of a parking meter in a dark and dingy car park trying to rack our brains as to what our car registration actually is. You may have also experienced the difficulty with actually entering the registration due to the buttons on the machine being stiff leaving you with half a registration.
The terms and conditions of the car parks usually will state that it is the responsibility of the driver to enter their registration number into the machine correctly and go on to state that if the driver fails to enter their registration correctly then this is a breach of the advertised terms and conditions and a parking fine will be issued. The breach could therefore be minimal in that registration WG14 0UT could be entered rather than WG14 OUT and a fine could be issued for breach of contract even though the registration looks the same and a nought has been used instead of a zero.
Therefore, even though a payment has been made and where there is no overstay, a parking fine of many hundreds of pounds is still issued. This practice is common place. The issue that arises from this is that whilst on a strict interpretation there is a technical breach of contract (by the entering of an incorrect or incomplete registration) what is the loss flowing from the breach? The requisite fee has been paid for the use of a space which is vacated within the allocated time, allowing for another to pay for the use of the space.
Parking companies are however still pursuing individuals for payment of parking fines for this breach of contract. However, in Parking Eye Limited v Heggie Judge Obhi held that as the claimant could not demonstrate they had a direct loss from the breach of contract due to the incorrect entering of registration details (in fact in this case the registration was completely incorrect in that it was for the Defendant’s other vehicle).
This can be contrasted to the case of Parking Eye Limited v Beavis where a loss could be proven where there was an overstay. Where a charge of £85 was levied on Mr Beavis due to him overstaying in a car park owned by Parking Eye Limited. In that case Mr Beavis argued that the parking charge was far too high to be a genuine pre-estimate of the loss that Parking Eye Limited suffered and therefore was a penalty clause rather than a liquidated damages clause.
The general rule is that a liquidated clause is enforceable as there is an agreement between the parties that a specified sum is to be payable on breach of contract provided that it is a genuine pre-estimate of loss. If this is not the case then the clause constitutes a penalty and it will only be enforceable to the extent of the actual loss suffered.
The Court found that whilst the £85 may not be a genuine pre-estimate of loss Parking Eye Limited had a legitimate interest in enforcing the fine where motorists overstay to properly managing the car park and deterring motorist from occupying spaces beyond the time paid for to ensure further income by allowing other motorists to occupy the space. The Court concluded that the £85.00 charge was not out of proportion to the legitimate interest and therefore the clause was not a penalty clause.
Therefore whilst the parking companies can demonstrate a loss where there is an overstay, in that the space cannot be used by anyone else, there is no loss where registration details have been entered wrongly but the requisite fee has been paid.
Whether the legal position stops the car parking companies in pursuing customers who wrongly input their car registration is another matter altogether. A number of companies have taken a rather aggressive stance on the matter. We will have to see if this continues.