On 14 September 2023, the House of Lords is due to consider a question for short debate tabled by Lord Lipsey (Labour), to ask the government what plans it has to reintroduce the private parking code of practice for private parking operators.

1. What was the private parking code of practice?

The private parking code of practice contained guidance on the operation and management of private parking facilities in England, Scotland and Wales.

First published by the government on 7 February 2022 but later withdrawn on 7 June 2022, it set requirements for private parking operators to follow when enforcing parking restrictions on private land. The code covered several matters, including:

  • signage and surface markings
  • ticketing and payment of tariffs
  • recovery of unpaid parking charges
  • complaints handling and professional standards

An aim of the code was to improve drivers’ experience of private parking facilities. The code would have capped the level of parking charges that private operators could issue to mirror the local authority system for public parking more closely. It would have increased the discount from 40% to 50% for paying a parking charge within 14 days. Additionally, it would have prevented parking operators from adding additional fees to the original parking charge or parking tariff (if this is higher than the parking charge to be paid).

The code was scheduled to come into full effect by the end of 2023. It would have applied to public-use car parks, private-use car parks, short-stay areas and prohibited parking areas in England, Wales and Scotland. It would not have applied to on-street parking on public highways, nor would it have overruled byelaws applicable to parking. The code was developed in consultation with industry experts and consumers, according to the government’s explanatory document.

2. Why was the code introduced?

Private parking operators are not subject to a statutory regulator. However, there are two accredited trade associations (ATAs) that represent members from the parking industry: the British Parking Association and the International Parking Community. ATAs enforce their own code of practice amongst their membership.

The Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019 required the government to introduce a statutory code of practice for private parking. The act was initially introduced as a private member’s bill by Greg Knight (Conservative MP for East Yorkshire) in response to concerns about “inconsistent practices and unfair treatment” of motorists.

Introducing the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill’s second reading debate in the House of Commons, Mr Knight spoke of various issues faced by motorists who use private car parks. This included “poor signage, unreasonable terms, exorbitant fines, aggressive demands for payment and an opaque appeals process”. He said the introduction of a code would reassure drivers that private car park operators would treat them in a “fair and proportionate” manner. The bill received royal assent and became the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019. Background information on the act can be found in the House of Lords Library briefing ‘Parking (Code of Practice) Bill: Briefing for Lords stages’ (20 December 2018).

3. What would have happened to operators that failed to comply with the code?

Any operator who failed to meet the code’s requirements by the end of 2023 could have been prevented from sending out parking charges for alleged infringements.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 allows private parking operators in England and Wales to claim unpaid parking charges from vehicle keepers and hirers. Operators can purchase vehicle keeper details from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if they are a member of an ATA. This is at a charge of £2.50 per request. After obtaining vehicle keeper details, operators can send out parking fines for alleged infringements.

4. Why was the code withdrawn and does the government plan to reintroduce it?

The government “temporarily” withdrew the code on 7 June 2022 pending a review of the levels of private parking charges and ban on additional fees provisions in the code. This announcement followed two legal challenges launched by several parking firms against the government’s decision to introduce these changes.

In a letter from the government to the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee on 17 April 2023, the government described how it had conceded the legal challenges and temporarily withdrawn the code to assess the impact of such changes on private operators. It noted an intention to publish a draft impact assessment and launch a consultation to seek views on the appropriate levels of parking charges and additional fees. It said this would be done before the summer 2023 parliamentary recess. Following this, the government would publish the impact assessment and re-introduce the code.

The government launched a 10-week private parking code of practice call for evidence on 30 July 2023, alongside a draft impact assessment. The call for evidence is scheduled to close on 8 October 2023. The government has said it will issue a further consultation on the options for parking charges and debt recovery fees once the call for evidence is complete.

5. What was the reaction to the code?

Concerns were raised about whether the government had adequately assessed the impact of the code on operators of private parking facilities. The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) raised concerns about the government’s preparation and publication of the code, specifically the lack of an accompanying impact assessment.

The SLSC’s report contained evidence from various parking organisations on the potential impact the code could have on the industry. For example, parking technology company Euro Car Parks Limited argued the cap on parking charges and increase of the early repayment discount could cause a 40% reduction in car parking operators’ revenue. It warned this could result in job losses, business failures and a reduction in managed car parks, amongst several other impacts. Car park management company Parkingeye argued there were “practical and technical issues” for implementing and adhering to the code. It also raised concerns about the level of government engagement with relevant industry stakeholders when producing the code.

The SLSC report also referred to estimates made by the British Parking Association that said the code could result in the loss of around 3,000 jobs and cause “46% of parking operators [to become] insolvent within a year of the change”. A separate article by the British Parking Association referred to other unintended consequences of the code on motorists, landowners and the sector. It said a reduction of the maximum parking charges could reduce the effectiveness of parking enforcement and “see more people take the risk of ignoring the parking rules”.

However, the code was welcomed by some in the industry. RAC Head of Roads Policy Nicholas Lyes described the temporary withdrawal of the code as “deeply disappointing”. Referring to the legal challenges, Mr Lyes said “the fact that [some] parking companies take issue with the capping of charge notices and debt recovery fees shows precisely why both the code and the cap are needed”. In a BBC article about the cap, both the RAC and the AA said the code would increase standards for private parking operators and improve drivers’ experiences of private parking. The International Parking Community also said the implementation of the code would help the sector to “address the doubt and scepticism that has plagued the industry’s public perception for far too long”.

6. How many parking fines have been issued recently?

Reports have shown that private parking operators have bought a record number of vehicle keeper details from the DVLA in recent years. DVLA data on requests for vehicle keeper details have been used by some in the industry as a proxy for estimating the number of penalty tickets issued by parking operators.

A recent investigation by Carwow—an online platform for buying and selling cars—reported that requests to the DVLA for driver details had reached “record levels”. It said private parking operators had made 8.57 million requests to the DVLA for driver details in 2021/22, an increase compared to the 5.7 million requests made in 2017/18. This was expected to increase further in 2022/23 to an estimated 10.7 million requests (based on data from the first quarter).

Carwow also reported that drivers had paid “huge amounts” in fines during these periods. It stated drivers had received an estimated total of £2.62bn of parking and traffic fines during 2021/22 from private parking operators, local authorities and toll-road operators. This had increased from an estimated £1.63bn in 2017/18.

Steve Gooding, director of the motoring research organisation RAC Foundation, said in March 2023 that the private parking industry was set to become a “billion pound-a-year business”. He argued that the figures showed that action to establish a regulatory framework for the industry was “needed now”.

7. Read more

Cover image by Michael Fousert on Unsplash.