Page last updated at 23:29 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 00:29 UK

Call for private car-clampers ban

Private wheelclamp on a car
The AA says private parking enforcement is "out of control"

The practice of clamping cars parked on private land should be made illegal in England and Wales, according to the AA.

The motoring group claims one in 10 drivers has been clamped or fined by private enforcers, with no independent arbitration process.

It argued government proposals for greater self-regulation would not work.

Trade body the British Parking Association said the AA had not come up with a "credible" alternative but it would welcome working with the group.

The government has said it accepts that tougher rules are needed and new legislation will be introduced in 2010.

Wheel clamping is already banned altogether in Scotland, while in Northern Ireland only unlicensed vehicles can be clamped.

'Money-raking'

The AA said the prevalence of "bad and immoral practices" among private parking firms in England and Wales was "shocking and unacceptable", with some people being charged more than £500 to retrieve a towed car.

It cited the case of one woman who it said had pulled up in her car for just a few seconds only for it to be clamped while she sat in it with the engine still running.

It is so easy for private enforcers to use the DVLA's vehicle database to obtain a car owner's name and address that "anyone can now set themselves up and start to cash in", the organisation said.

The public have absolutely no protection if a private parking firm acts unfairly
Paul Watters, the AA

"The lure of uncontrolled money-raking is so great that some companies offer DIY packs, with signs that can be printed off the internet."

Increasingly the punishment meted out to drivers was "frightening and often borders on criminality", the AA said.

Paul Watters, the AA's head of public affairs, said: "Private parking enforcement is big business generating millions of pounds and no-one notices and acts when the rules are broken.

"The public have absolutely no protection if a private parking firm acts unfairly - it is a civil matter and no-one is interested in helping."

Mr Watters said one of the most serious problems was the lack of an independent arbitration process for people who believed they had been clamped or fined unfairly.

Code of practice

The AA said there were few rules governing the industry and new proposals put forward by the government would not work.

Under a suggested new government system - one of a series of proposals put out to consultation - all wheel-clamping businesses would be forced to register with an approved trade association (ATA) and be bound by a code of practice.

Only then would they be granted a licence to clamp and remove vehicles.

Our scheme is not perfect and we would welcome working with the AA further on the concerns they raise
Patrick Troy
British Parking Association

However, the AA said the only ATA, the British Parking Association, was not truly independent and did not have the powers to regulate an "out of control" industry.

Patrick Troy, chief executive of the BPA, said its code of practice for member companies was "a good first step to improving standards", but conceded more government action was needed.

"Our scheme is not perfect and we would welcome working with the AA further on the concerns they raise in their consultation response as we are sure positive solutions can be found by working together," he said.

But he added: "We have invited them to join our board which oversees the scheme but they have resolutely refused to do so.

"The AA has not produced a credible plan to address these issues."

The government has suggested other measures to regulate wheel clamping, including setting a maximum amount that companies can charge and a minimum amount of time before a clamped car can be towed away.

A Home Office spokesman said: "That consultation has now ended and we are considering the responses. We will publish the findings later in the year."



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SEE ALSO
'Periscope' parking fines quashed
04 Aug 09 |  Merseyside
Driver in city clamping stand-off
05 Mar 09 |  Humber
Parking mad
03 Aug 06 |  Business

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