In another blow for the private parking civil recovery industry, a Manchester County Court judge refused to award £240 claimed by the Parking Eye car park management company in respect of two alleged private parking contraventions.
Awarding a mere £15 the judge apparently found that the rest of Parking Eye’s claim amounted to an unenforceable penalty as it exceeded any actual losses suffered by the car park owners as a result of the parking infraction.
Parking Eye was also awarded £95 costs – presumably calculated on the cost of a claim valued at £15 plus the reasonable costs of travel for a single representative. Unfortunately for Parking Eye, it seems that they decided to use this claim as some kind of showcase instructing a large Manchester law firm (Pannone solicitors) who – it has been reported – turned up with no less than four lawyers presumably confident of glory. On the basis of their technical victory, Pannone asked for the costs of travel for their entire team. Luckily they didn’t have far to come – and no doubt they all shared the same vehicle home.
The judge refused to award these and agreed with the defendant that he couldn’t understand why so many lawyers were needed for a claim worth a paltry £15. This result may have come as a surprise for Parking Eye and their extensive legal team but the Manchester judge has come up with precisely the reasoning which has been argued on many consumer forums on the Internet. The civil recovery industry is based upon the extraction of unenforceable penalties from ordinary members of the public who very often have made some human mistake in the way that so many of us do.
It is a sad fact that civil recovery has become an increasingly common feature of our society over recent years.
Civil recovery companies operate as a kind of modern day ‘bounty hunters’. Unfortunately it seems to be a growth area in the fields of retail store security, file-sharing and car park management. A novel development over the last couple of years has been the use by the TravelLodge hotel chain to pursue their guests for alleged violations of their ‘no smoking’ policy.
No one doubts that there is a legitimate interest to be served in controlling the use of private car parks or apprehending shoplifters etc, but surely no one can question the principle that explanations should be given, that sanctions should be proportionate and that their should be an element of humanity and understanding in all cases.
However, these desirable characteristics appear to be missing in most of the civil recovery cases which I have seen. The fact is that the civil recovery industry has an extremely poor reputation – to the point of being thought disreputable by some.
It is a puzzle as to why companies with household names and decent reputations for quality and customer service should choose to be associated with this ‘bounty hunting’ industry. Even Bob Diamond, chief exec of Barclays very recently spoke about the need for his bank to start practising citizenship. There seems to be very little hint of this sentiment within the civil recovery industry. One wonders whether civil recovery clients really know what is going on.
Of course, Parking Eye has the option to bring an appeal if they want to – but is this a risk that they are prepared to take?
At the moment they run their legitimate business in a legitimate way. Even though a county court judge has found against the legitimacy of their charges, this decision is not binding on other courts. In theory there would be no particular impropriety if parking management companies generally continued to try and get the biggest chunk of lucre they could, for themselves and for their clients. However if the matter were to be decided against them in, say, the High Court then serious issues would be raised if the industry continued its practices unchanged.
It may be time for the parking industry and for the civil recovery industry as a whole to start asking itself some serious questions.
You can visit the Consumer Action Group Transport here.
Marc Gander is a co-founder of Consumer Action Group, a free-to-use UK pressure group initially set up to advise consumers on their rights in relation to bank overdraft charges but which now covers all matters relating to consumer rights. The Consumer Action Group has a membership of almost 300,000 and receives approximately 750,000 unique visitors per month.