Last July, I wrote an article entitled Smells Like Double Dip, outlining the depths that unscrupulous businesses will plumb in order to snare the unsuspecting. It was well received, and I had emails from others with similar stories. That particular scam was derived from the premise that the prospect of financial gain often suspends common sense.
This piece concerns a somewhat different human Achilles’ heel: ignorance of the law.
Five weeks ago, I spent a relaxing evening with a large group of friends at a smart riverside restaurant in central England. A popular place, car parking can be difficult. My car ended up in a solitary remaining space on a short approach road. Yesterday, I received a rather nasty, bullying letter from some outfit called Vehicle Control Services Ltd. It bore my name, address, car registration number, along with a demand for £100 (€126 or US$157) (Figure 79.1). I had – apparently – breached the ‘terms and conditions in the Privately Operated Car Park at Private Road (my italics)’. There was no mention of the main road, postcode or even the city itself. Also absent were the ‘terms and conditions’, any documentary evidence and the consequences of refusal to pay.
Figure 79.1: At first glance, this resembles a legitimate penalty notice. It is nothing of the kind, and hence fit only for the compost bin.
I was puzzled momentarily. Since when, I wondered, did parking on a public road with no yellow lines constitute an infringement on private property? I spent a few minutes reading the remainder of the communication. Aside from the spelling and grammatical errors, and clumsy ruses seemingly designed to mislead, it was clear that the company had no lawful right to demand payment. In England, it must be remembered, only a Court of Law, police enforcement unit or local government authority has any such power.
So, why are such notices legal? I suppose the company could, if pressed, argue that the notice is in fact an invoice – not an actual demand – for a charge emanating from a breach of contract on the driver’s part. Had the vehicle been intentionally parked on clearly-marked private property, and, in so doing, caused the landowner significant impediment or financial loss, then civil action for damages might conceivably result. It would not, however, warrant criminal proceedings, despite the company’s use of the words ‘Parking Charge Notice’ being a blatant imitation of the phrase ‘Penalty Charge Notice’ which is used by local councils. Furthermore, no contract was made between driver and company.
A minor point of amusement was the creeping request to know who had been driving my car. Well, even if I know full well, I am under no legal obligation to disclose the individual’s identity.
Of course, if the matter did, incredibly, go to trial, then I expect the judge would split his sides laughing at the plantiff’s ineptitude.
Most people, I think, would understand that this is just another tedious variation of the hit-and-hope business model. There were numerous cars parked along that approach road. The cost of posting a letter is but a small fraction of a £100 ‘fine’, so if only a tiny proportion of recipients were sufficiently frightened into paying up, the company would still profit.
I hereby urge the British public to be aware of this type of insidious, money-grubbing scheme, which, for whatever reason, is not technically illegal. I shall, sensibly, ignore this and any subsequent threat-o-grams and would recommend all readers, if similarly affected, to act likewise, in the safe knowledge that there could be no justifiable grounds for litigation. Doubtless, though, I shall receive a stark ‘letter before action’ in due course, followed by heaven-knows-what-else.
My advice to – remember the name – Vehicle Control Services Ltd: go ahead, punks, and sue me. Let me enjoy my day in Court. I would wipe the floor with you – and counterclaim for costs.
Copyright © 2014 Paul Spradbery