Page last updated at 11:55 GMT, Saturday, 21 March 2009

Tighter clamping rules called for

Generic car clamp
The fines charged for removing a clamp can often be more than 100

The government has called for tighter rules on private clamping companies.

The firms already have to be licensed which means their clampers must be properly trained and undergo a criminal records check.

But motorists still complain of unfair fines so ministers have asked the Security Industry Authority (SIA) to strengthen current rules on clampers.

Ministers are also considering a cap on fines and forcing private clampers to offer a proper appeals service.

Edmund King, president of the AA, told the BBC change is urgently needed.

Made up charges

He said: "If someone wants to wheel clamp they have to get a clamping licence, their criminal record is checked, but the problem is that once they've got the licence they can go out and operate on any bit of land.

"There are no rules or regulations about the signs, there are no rules or regulations about maximum fees, so what you find, someone will clamp a car, tow it away, and they make up their charges - so it might be 200 to clamp, 150 to tow away.

"You can try and take the clampers to the small claims court, you can try and go to Trading Standards, but for most individuals, they shouldn't have to go through that rigmarole."

Motorists have complained of underhand tactics by clamping firms, such as concealing the signs that inform people they are in a clamping zone.

Seconds to pay

The fines charged for removing clamps are often more than 100.

In May 2008, a boss of a car-clamping company which operated throughout Staffordshire and Worcestershire was jailed for four years for taking thousands of pounds unlawfully from motorists.

Rebecca Meakin, 27, was blackmailing drivers by giving them minutes - or even seconds - to pay up to have a clamp removed before their vehicles were towed away.

Clamping is illegal in Scotland, where the definition of theft includes anyone who immobilises a vehicle.

However, in England the clamping or towing away of vehicles is only seen as a temporary measure and so it remains legal.

Tricked

It is also not an offence for firms to demand to be paid in cash only.

The government's Home Affairs Committee has asked all local councils for their experiences of clamping before deciding on what action to take.

The licensing requirements for clampers are regulated by the SIA, but it is powerless to determine several important factors, including how much can be charged to release vehicles, the minimum length of time before which a vehicle can be towed away and what warning signs should be displayed.

The BBC's Tom Symonds said there was also a problem with motorists being conned into paying fines.

He said ex-criminals are unable to pass the checks required to work in the regulated clamping industry, but note down car number plates, check them against the DVLA database and send out fines for parking transgressions. Some owners are tricked into paying up.

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SEE ALSO
Car clamping unfair say students
26 Nov 08 |  Bristol
Call to clamp down on the car-clampers
26 Sep 08 |  West Midlands

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