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Clamping down on the Cowboy Clampers

Wheel clampers will be outlawed from clamping vehicles on private land following the introduction of new legislation.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (which came into effect on the 1 October) makes it a criminal offence to clamp on private land in England and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland. Clamping and towing away on private land has been banned in Scotland since 1992. A survey by the Institute of Advanced Motorists found that 91% of drivers know nothing about these new changes.

According to government statistics, around half a million clampings take place annually on private land resulting in motorists paying over £55 million in charges. Lord Taylor of Holbeach, the Home Office Minister responsible for changes to the vehicle clamping law has said that the new law will “finally penalise the real criminals – the corrupt [clamping] firms themselves”.

It will now be an offence to clamp, tow, block in or immobilise a vehicle without lawful authority on private land. These changes will end abuses by rogue clamping firms who prey on motorists by charging excessive release fees. If clampers break the law they could be liable to an unlimited fine in the Crown Court or up to £5,000 in the Magistrates Court.

The ban will not change existing lawful authority, such as traffic enforcement by Local Authorities and Police on highways, but will effectively ban clamping on private land. The ban also applies to towing away and blocking in. Anyone who clamps a vehicle or tows it away on private land without specific lawful authority to do so may face criminal proceedings. Lawful authority to clamp or tow vehicles will remain for various organisations and public bodies. For example, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) will retain the legal authority to clamp or tow away vehicles in combating evasion of Vehicle Excise Duty.  The Vehicle Operator Services Authority (VOSA) has similar powers to prevent the use of unworthy vehicles on the road.

The ban applies only on private land and even then, there are further exceptions where by-laws give landowners rights to manage the parking in any way they choose. These include car parks, railway stations, airports and port authorities. Both the AA and the British Parking Association (BPA) have said that the new measures do not go far enough to combat rogue parking operators. A spokesman for the BPA said the existence of little known by-laws would still give land owners the right to manage their parking in any way they choose and the AA was concerned that rogue operators may turn to issuing bogus parking tickets on private land.

The other changes to the law introduced by the Act are more favourable to landowners.  Unpaid parking charges can now be claimed from the keeper of a vehicle if the driver is not known and the keeper refuses to say who the driver is.

The new law also extends Police powers to remove vehicles parked on private land.  This will ensure landowners have a means to keep their land clear from obstructive or dangerously parked cars.

The new Act also introduces a new appeal service.  Car parking operators who are members of the BPA will be required to offer motorists a new independent appeals service called “Parking on Private Land Appeals”. This service will be provided free to motorists and its decision will be binding on parking operators who are members of the BPA but not on motorists. The independent Appeals Service will be able to consider whether car park operators are providing motorists with adequate signs, which clearly lay out the terms and conditions of parking. They will also consider whether parking charges are reasonable under relevant contract and consumer protection legislation.

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Luke Patel

Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution
Commercial Dispute Resolution
LPatel@LawBlacks.com
0113 227 9316
@LukeLawBlacks
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Luke Patel Blacks Solicitors LLP