We need zero tolerance of this parking scandal
I was intrigued by the case of the reader MR who lost his appeal against a parking infringement charge because he mistook a zero for the letter O when entering his car number plate.
I had an almost identical experience when I received a £60 ticket for typing an “O” for a “0” into a carpark machine, even though I had paid the correct amount.
I took my case to the independent appeals tribunal, POPLA, admitting the error, but suggesting that justice required leniency in my case.
Amazingly, it upheld my appeal. But its comments to MR’s case suggest inconsistencies in its logic!
JH, Keynsham, Somerset You are right. POPLA handles appeals against charges issued on private land, and the fortunes of motorists seem to depend on which adjudicator assesses the paperwork.
In the case of MR, POPLA told the Observer that because he confused the zero and the O his payment was invalidated. “The fact that he did make a payment, alone, is not enough to cancel the charge,” it said.
In your case, however, the same appeals service decided that your identical error was “so trifling that the ‘de minimis’ principle would apply and such a mistake would not constitute a breach of the terms and conditions”.
Another reader, DG of Newcastle upon Tyne, reports that he too won his appeal after he was charged £60 for the same error. This time POPLA ruled that since the 0 and O were identical on the ticket machine keypad the charge was unjustified.
POPLA’s explanation further muddies the waters. “We recognise that motorists may well have made a valid payment, albeit using a vehicle registration slightly different to their own. While POPLA is unable to allow an appeal based purely on mitigating circumstances, we are able to refer the circumstances back to the operator to ask it to decide if it wishes to continue pursuing the motorist. If they decide to continue, we will need to determine whether the parking charge is valid based on the other aspects of the appeal.”
The fact is, confused Os and 0s should always be deemed a mitigating circumstance as they are indistinguishable on UK number plates and only drivers with knowledge of how registration plates are formulated can tell the difference.
It’s a problem readily solved if the DVLA were to amend its typefaces. It, however, has no plans to do so.
“The font has been in use since 1935 and hasn’t caused problems,” it says, ignoring the fact that ticket machine key pads and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras were not around for most of the last century.
The cases expose the scandal of private parking enforcement which levies expensive charges on drivers who can show that they paid in good faith. The charges are supposed to deter motorists from misusing car parks. In truth, advances in ANPR technology have turned them into a lucrative source of income.
Emma Lewis, senior associate in the commercial litigation team at Hill Dickinson, points out that a court order is required before a company can enforce a parking charge. “If proceedings are issued, a motorist can defend the claim by relying on the wider principles of contract law,” she says.
“Consideration can be given to the reasonableness of the term, the seriousness of the breach and, importantly, whether any loss is caused to the parking company.
“So far, at least, two such cases have been successfully defended and it is likely the court accepted that an incorrect registration is not a breach which warrants a penalty.
“It was also demonstrated that the motorists paid so there was no loss.”
Is the promised 50% discount all talk?
I was a Talkmobile customer and, as it’s being taken over by Vodafone, I went to a Vodafone store to upgrade my phone. I was told I had to call Talkmobile for a PAC code to transfer my number and when I did, the operative said that if I upgraded over the phone, I’d get 50% off my £24 monthly bill for the entirety of my two-year contract.
Vodafone, however, says this is incorrect, and that when my contract is taken over, the 50% deal would cease to apply.
Somebody is wrong here. Who? JT, Oxford
Vodafone explains that while it owns Talkmobile, the brand operates its own price plans and processes, and existing customers can continue their Talkmobile contracts.
The company can no longer offer new deals or upgrades, however. Instead, it can grant customers who require either of those things a discount to transfer to a Vodafone price plan for the remaining length of their contract, but this can only be implemented over the phone by Talkmobile, not in a Vodafone store. Because of the confusion, Vodafone has agreed to honour the 50% discount for the remainder of your original agreement.
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