18 September 2013
Wheels of justice: B P Collins just the ticket for UKPC
Full-service law firm, B P Collins LLP, helping private parking enforcement companies – and their customers – remain on the right side of the road in parking disputes.
Protecting owners and occupiers of private land from abusive parking in the UK has always been an emotive and contentious issue. Historically, a perceived combination of ‘officious’ traffic wardens and the sometimes dubious tactics of clamping companies has led to an increase in the number of disputes and litigation involving consumers who question the legitimacy of their parking charges.
But landlords and tenants have the right to reserve parking facilities for legitimate users – whether residents, staff or customers – and to charge people who unfairly take advantage of those facilities.
Changing legal landscape
New legislation governing parking on private land in the UK was introduced last October. Whilst the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 abolished wheel clamping, it gives statutory authority to parking enforcement companies to obtain a payment charge from the registered keepers of vehicles where there has been a breach of a car park’s terms and conditions.
But, with motorists retaining the right to an independent appeal against parking charges imposed by British Parking Association (BPA) members, challenges are sometimes made against parking enforcement companies.
As such, the need for private parking companies to secure appropriate legal support is critical – not only in response to motorists’ challenges, as and when they arise, but equally, to help them work proactively to mitigate the risk of consumer disputes and prevent litigation before it arises.
UK Parking Control Ltd (UKPC) is one of the largest private parking management companies in the UK. Established in 2004, it currently provides parking enforcement services at more than 1400 UK sites for companies in both the public and private sector, employing over 185 staff.
UKPC provides a range of parking control services, from warden patrol and self-ticketing, to innovative automatic number plate recognition systems, camera parking controls and real-time mobile smartphone ticketing solutions.
Although its front-line personnel are trained in conflict management and able to defuse difficult situations, the business – naturally encounters high numbers of disputes from disgruntled motorists.
Sourcing legal assistance
To counter this, UKPC sought advice in 2006, from litigation partner Matthew Brandis at B P Collins LLP, a full-service law firm, to advise and guide them through the complex legal landscape surrounding parking on private land.
“The nature of our business means that we tend to get challenged a lot on what we are doing – so finding a good legal firm is absolutely essential,” says Rupert Williams, Managing Director at UKPC.
“We originally engaged B P Collins LLP to help us when we were involved in a TV programme about unscrupulous wheel clamping companies. UKPC has never been involved in wheel clamping and were, in fact, one of the first UK parking companies to introduce camera control – so we wanted to ensure that, for damage limitation, we were appropriately represented. B P Collins LLP certainly helped us achieve that – and we’ve worked with them ever since.”
Private parking in the UK is heavily regulated and is subject to a huge amount of legislation. This legislation is not only evolving, but it is also frequently amended in line with case law as trends and technologies progress.
For parking management companies faced with daily local challenges to their practices, failure to comply with national legislation can be highly expensive – not only in terms of financial costs, but also its long-term impact on brand reputation. The importance of robust legal support in such a specialist and highly scrutinised area is therefore significant. The price of failure is severe.
Crown Court case
In 2011, B P Collins LLP successfully represented UKPC in a high profile Crown Court case against East Riding of Yorkshire Council where (in the Court of Appeal), a single conviction under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations was over-turned.
B P Collins LLP argued that UKPC had not breached these regulations and was entitled to rely on the BPA’s code of practice and its membership of the BPA-approved operator scheme. The complex case, which was based upon regulations that had only recently been brought into force, lasted more than two years in total – but UKPC was found not guilty of all charges.
“B P Collins LLP has, without doubt, saved us a huge amount of money,” says Rupert Williams. “The business ramifications had we lost the Crown Court case alone would have been significant. But beyond that, B P Collins LLP has provided enormous value in helping us overcome all sorts of accusations that are common in parking control.
More than that, the company has become an integral part of UKPC, helping us determine the direction in which we go and advising us on strategy so that we are able to develop the business in ways that allow us to avoid legal pitfalls and mitigate likely risks.
“We speak to B P Collins LLP almost every day – whether that is to handle contracts and agreements, to support our liaison with the BPA or help us with the independent POPLA appeals process. The company is a genuine partner to our business. The trusted relationship we have with B P Collins LLP has been, and continues to be, invaluable to UKPC.”