The motorists driven to desperation by private parking contractors


Peter Holden’s* nightmare began when he bought a car in 2015. Notices in the car park of his housing association block in Cardiff required residents to display a permit and Holden was issued with a temporary permit by the concierge while he waited for his application to be processed. The temporary permit did not pass muster with Premier Park, the company that managed the car park, and he was issued with three parking charge notices (PCNs).

Over the next three years he was harassed by letters and phone calls demanding escalating sums, culminating in a court summons in October 2018. On the night before the hearing he was called by Premier Park’s legal representatives and urged to pay the £691 “debt” there and then or face an additional £1,000 in legal fees. The case was dismissed by the judge, who ruled that the terms of his lease granting him the right to park on the land overrode any rules imposed by Premier Park.

That, it seemed, was it. But only briefly. Last April a letter arrived from BW Legal, a debt recovery firm acting for Premier Park. It threatened Holden with court action unless he paid the PCNs that had been dismissed in court seven months previously. In July he was informed that he was being taken to court.

Holden’s ordeal exposes the aggressive tactics employed by the private parking industry, which demands sums of £100 or more for minor or, in some cases, non-existent parking breaches. Nearly 7 million PCNs were issued by parking management firms in the last financial year, a 20% increase on the previous 12 months. Until 2012 drivers could safely ignore these because private parking firms had no way of getting drivers’ details, and if the driver denied liability, nothing could be done. But since the introduction of the Protection of Freedoms Act, parking firms can buy the details of the “registered keeper” – ie the owner who is held responsible – from the DVLA at £2.50 each and companies have become increasingly litigious.

Holden, who survives on benefits, claims he was driven from his home by Premier Park’s conduct. He had to spend £200 to move and is issuing a counterclaim for damages from Premier Park and BW Legal.

Alarmingly, his experience is not unique. In Southampton, Charlene Thompson had been pursued by Premier Park and its representatives over the same period. She had been issued with four PCNs for parking outside her flat without a permit in 2015. Since she paid a service charge for parking and her tenancy agreement did not require a permit to be displayed, she ignored them.

She says part of the reason she moved home was to escape Premier Park’s operative, which is why she didn’t receive the court claim issued by the company in 2017 and missed the chance to file a defence. A default judgment was issued, which she only discovered when she noticed her credit score had plummeted. She settled the £812 within the deadline, but two years later, in July, received notice from BW Legal, acting on behalf of Premier Park, that she was once again being taken to court over two of the paid PCNs as well as three more incurred at her old address.

“Premier Park is taking over my life,” she says. “I was a single mum with a baby when all this started and it was either move home or get rid of the car. The stress of having to find a new home and the money to move was the worst and now I’m faced with a mountain of paperwork for charges I paid two years ago.”

The court claims against Holden and Thompson were withdrawn in July when the pair pointed out that they had already been heard. Premier Park insists it had no idea the claims had previously been to court, blaming its former lawyers for the error.

It told the Observer: “The motorists in question had received multiple parking charges for residential parking areas, which remained unpaid. The solicitors, acting on these cases, failed to notify Premier Park that these two accounts had previously been to court. We have now changed legal provider, and these cases were included with a number of other outstanding cases as part of their hand-over. As soon as our new legal provider [BW Legal] and ourselves were made aware of this, the duplicate cases were cancelled and we apologise for any inconvenience this has caused. A full review of all cases with our previous provider is under way.”

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