Page last updated at 03:41 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 04:41 UK

Licences plan for clamping firms

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

Wheel clamping companies will have to conform to tough new licensing regulations in order to operate, under new Home Office proposals.

Under current regulations only individual clampers must be licensed, and motorists complain of unfair fines.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the plans would tackle problems such as "unclear signage and excessive fees".

A consultation will look at the lack of an appeals process, unreasonably quick towing and excessive penalties.

'Unacceptable'

Ms Smith said: "The licensing of individual wheel clampers has gone a long way to reducing criminality and improving standards in the industry, but it has become clear that the existing licensing scheme does not address all the concerns the public have.

"There are clearly a minority of clamping companies indulging in unacceptable behaviour including unclear signage and excessive fees.

"That is why we intend to look carefully at how we can introduce a scheme for compulsory licensing of clamping companies and will publish proposals shortly."

PROPOSED INDUSTRY STANDARDS
Signage, including size and visibility
Maximum penalties and payment methods
Minimum time between immobilisation and removal
Providing evidence wrongful parking has taken place
Security and location of pound where vehicles are held
Complaints and appeals policy

The Security Industry Authority (SIA), which regulates the private security industry in Britain, was asked to assess the feasibility the various options for the regulation of wheel clamping companies, including a company registration scheme.

SIA chief executive, Bernard Herdan, said: "Vehicle immobilisation is a sector that faces criticism due to the nature of the work it does and the behaviour of some operatives in the industry.

"In response to concerns over practices in the sector we have set out how wheel clampers could be more tightly regulated through a new company licensing scheme.

"We expect all legitimate firms will welcome this new approach and will be ready to work with us to make this a success."

Costas Constantino from Flash Park Wheel Clampers agreed licensing would help get rid of cowboys from the industry.

He said: "There's going to be set limits on how much a clamp release fee's going to be and how much a towaway fee's going to be.

Underhand tactics

"At the moment we have situations where people are going around and they're charging both fees, so a motorist can be left, for example, up to four hundred pounds out of pocket."

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

Pieter Smit had to pay £80 to get a clamp released in Peterborough despite being parked correctly, and never got his money back.

He said: "It was just very annoying that a person could be so bombastic and rude.

"It was a very bad experience."

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.



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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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