When undercover reporter Nkem Ifejika applied for a job as a parking attendant, he had no idea what he was letting himself in for. Expecting the odd dodgy ticket, what he found was theft, bribery and illegal ticketing.
Nkem Ifejika was warned for not issuing 10 tickets a day
This investigation was instigated by a whistleblower inside the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in London, who came forward with reports about corruption and criminality. What we found out went further than we anticipated.
I became a parking attendant (PA) working for APCOA in Kensington and Chelsea.
A substantial part of our training was on how to deal with abuse from the public and there are three assaults a day on parking attendants in London alone. It's quite scary walking around giving tickets as people can be quite abusive.
I was lucky and didn't have anything serious happen to me, but some of my colleagues had what are known as "code reds", which is a threat of serious assault.
The recommended living wage in London is £5.80 per hour, but PAs start off on £5.44 per hour for three months until they pass probation. It's a thankless job, with PAs walking about 15 miles a day come rain or shine, enduring abuse from the public and pressure from management to get tickets.
If you were bringing back few tickets, like me, you were made to feel bad for letting the team down
Right from the classroom, the importance of PAs bringing in high numbers of tickets was stressed. For the new trainees to pass probation, their ticket issuing levels had to be at 1.65 per hour, which is about 10 every day.
I never reached that level and so failed my probation and got a verbal warning. Within the base there were "leader boards" which listed all the tickets that each PA was getting.
We were divided into teams so if you were bringing back few tickets, like me, you were made to feel bad for letting the team down. Each ticket was £100, so a lot of money is being made by people parking illegally.
Within days of starting, other PAs were telling me how to up my ticket quota by issuing tickets to abandoned vehicles and by breaking the rules. For most offences in Kensington and Chelsea, an illegally parked vehicle has five minutes from the start of the ticketing process to move, or to park properly.
If a motorist arrives at their vehicle within the five minutes they can drive away without incurring any fine. I witnessed one particular PA break this rule on three occasions by making people wait for their tickets to print.
What's worse is this PA was promoted and given a pay rise for bringing back so many tickets.
There were also claims of theft. One motorbike was categorised by the council as abandoned after being parked illegally for a few days. A PA I was working with spotted it on his patch. He spent the next week attempting to steal it by moving it, putting his own lock on and covering it over in order to hide it from the owner.
Some tickets were cancelled for cash
He was talking about this very openly back at the base and asking advice from other PAs. I was told two other PAs had also taken abandoned bikes and that he personally had been waiting for 10 months to find the right bike. He then asked a removal truck driver to help him move the bike to his house but the owner had recovered it first.
Over in Westminster, my BBC colleague who was posing as a minicab driver heard rumours about parking attendants who were willing to write off motorists' parking tickets for cash.
He made contact with one PA working for NCP who accepted cash (half the price of the fine) to cancel parking fines.
This PA could clear fines from any borough and cleared five parking tickets and one clamp for the driver, all for cash. The driver asked 12 PAs from different boroughs if they could do this and three said yes.
The number of parking tickets issued has increased every year since illegal parking was decriminalised in 1991.
Tickets have doubled in seven years and last year motorists paid nearly £1billion in parking fines. I'm not convinced that the public have become wilful illegal parkers.
In my experience parking attendants are being pushed to ticket any minor infringement because of the pressure to meet quotas.
In response to the allegations, APCOA's managing director, Paul Bird, said: "We are deeply concerned about the allegations you've made, we are a very responsible company. We take our duties very seriously. We have many 100s of PAs who are excellent, hardworking, honest individuals and it leads me to believe that the incidents you have captured on footage are very largely isolated incidents."
The vast majority of tickets are issued accurately, he added, but there would be an investigation.
In a statement, NCP said: "Any allegations of fraud against an employee will always be fully investigated by a dedicated in-house team. If the allegations were substantiated the employee would be dismissed and the matter referred to the police."
Whistleblower is on Wednesday 1 June, at 2100BST on BBC One.
Add your comments to this story using the form below:
What I want to know is how he couldn't manage to issue 10 tickets in a day in London! Was he walking around with his eyes closed?!
A few weeks ago my husband and I stopped outside an hotel for which we had a reservation. My husband went into the hotel to enquire about parking whilst I sat in the drivers seat and kept the engine running. Immediately I was surrounded by three PA and then a clamping truck turned up. I explained the situation and was told to make it 'snappy'. My husband immediately returned and had to drop our luggage whilst they milled around. We felt very intimidated by the whole experience although we had taken only a few minutes in total.
Janet Godridge, UK
Parking Attendants are there to provide a service to keep roads clear of e.g. illegally parked cars, they should not have a pre-conceived idea as to the number of tickets they need to issue. Do surgeons have to operate on a certain number of patients before they are paid? If so, I will keep keeping a wide berth when walking past the local hospital.
Why is there any surprise or shock in this? It stands to reason that if you contract out this kind of service you are going to encourage abuse of it.
PAs mostly work for private companies now and they have the power to go out and print money. Companies are run for profit, which means they want as much money as they can get their hands on. It's not rocket science, people.
Chris Jones, UK
It's scandalous if the PAs are really this dishonest. Of course, it's also scandalous if the Whistleblower producers are focusing on isolated incidents and thereby casting a shadow across all PAs. Who can tell for sure ? We can't judge based on these tiny snapshots.
Tony Brooks, Cambridge, UK
The problem with setting targets in any business (public or private) is that it becomes open to abuse to meet those target week in and week out. With the threat of losing your job for not meeting targets, how many people would not bent the rules?
Allan Jones, Hampshire
If drivers were provided with proper parking facilities in town and city centres to start with we would not need parking attendants to start with.
Wayne Pfeiffer, England
It's a shame this happens. A lot of people don't know the 5 min wait before a ticket is issued. There SHOULD be a web site with all this information for the public to be more informed. I agree parking fines should be paid if you are illegally parked but abuse of this by PA who represent a council, who serve the good public, is worse.
Antony Parsons, UK
In our town the parking scheme costs £1 million a year to run but only takes half a million in parking tickets, so the other half million has to be met by issuing fines and my expanding the parking zone year by year - this is done by manipulating the parking issues at the edge of the zone to create a demand for the zone.
When did a Traffic Warden become a Parking Attendant - do they park my car for me?
These private parking companies are a law unto themselves - the public has no way to defend itself against their trigger-happy employees because their bosses have no real governing body - as a result they rob us blind.
Lisa , Middlesex, UK
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