The Private Parking Code of Practice contains guidance on good practice for private parking facilities, including caps to penalty charges and appeals and complaints procedures. It is intended to improve the system for motorists.

The code was laid before Parliament on 7 February 2022 and is subject to the negative procedure. This means that it will become law unless either House of Parliament rejects the instrument within 40 sitting days of it being laid.

The House of Lords is due to debate a ‘regret motion’, tabled by Lord Lucas (Conservative), in relation to the code on 28 March 2022. The wording of the motion is:

That this House regrets the Code of Practice for Private Parking, laid before the House on 7 February, because Her Majesty’s Government have not made adequate provision for swiftly improving the legislation if problems emerge.

However, a regret motion is a ‘non-fatal motion’ that puts the House’s concerns on record. If the motion is approved it will not stop the code becoming law.

What is the purpose of the code?

The Government is obliged to introduce a code of practice for private parking under the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019. The act was initially introduced as a private member’s bill by Greg Knight (Conservative MP for East Yorkshire) in response to concerns about “inconsistent practices and unfair treatment of British motorists”. Mr Knight hoped the code of practice would ensure that the “terms under which private parking is provided, including the rights and obligations of each party, are fair, clear and unambiguous”.

The act specifies that the code must contain guidance for private parking facilities covering good practice for their operation and management and appeals against parking charges. The act also states that the secretary of state must consult relevant people and groups before preparing the code (including both the operators and users of private parking facilities) and that the code must be kept under review.

The code was published by the Government on 7 February 2022, along with an explanatory document.

The code consists of 16 sections and seven annexes, covering matters including:

  • signage and surface marking;
  • ticketing and payment of tariffs;
  • pursuit of unpaid charges; and
  • complaints handling and professional standards.

For example, the code caps the amounts that should be charged for various parking charges.

The code applies to public use car parks, private use car parks, short stay areas, and prohibited parking areas. It does not cover on-street parking on public highways and does not overrule provisions of byelaws that apply to parking.

Introducing the code, Neil O’Brien, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Levelling Up, the Union and Constitution, stated:

Produced in close consultation with private parking experts, including consumer and industry groups, this code sets out straight-forward rules for private parking companies to follow. It includes things such as clear signage, surface markings and compulsory grace periods so that people parking legitimately at the supermarket to do their weekly shop can no longer be hit with a heavy-handed fine for running a couple of minutes late. The code also bans the use of aggressive and pseudo-legal language that we’ve all seen on those yellow parking slips doctored to look like official penalty charge notices.

Importantly, this new code also allows drivers to challenge unfair fines through a new independent appeals service.

And there will be no wriggle-room for rogue companies who continue to flout the rules. If they fail to follow this code, they will effectively be banned from issuing parking charges indefinitely.

The Government said that operators would be given time to align with the requirements of the code before it comes into effect, with full adherence expected by the end of 2023. It also stated it would then review the code within two years of that point.

What has been the reaction to the code?

The new code has been welcomed by the RAC and the AA, who believe it will improve drivers’ experiences of private parking. For example, the RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, said:

The RAC has campaigned for years to end the sharp practices in the private parking sector, so we welcome the new national code that will usher in higher standards. Alongside this, drivers can expect a lower cap on penalty charge notices, an independent appeals system and an end to rip-off debt collection fees.

This will undoubtedly improve the experiences for drivers and create a much more level playing field, reducing hassle and stress while at the same time forcing rogue operators to clean up their acts.

Although it welcomed the purpose of the code, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised concerns about its preparation and publication, specifically the lack of an accompanying impact assessment. It drew the code to the special attention of the House of Lords on the basis it is “politically or legally important and gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House”.

The committee highlighted concerns raised by three private parking operators (Euro Car Parks Limited, Parkingeye and the Parking Group) about the potential impact on income and jobs due to the code. They said this is due to the caps and increased discounts set out in the code relating to charges. Quoting estimates from the British Parking Association, the operators believed this could result in the loss of around 3,000 jobs and would also have a “considerable impact” on the retail and hospitality sectors due to some sites becoming unviable. They criticised the Government for not publishing an impact assessment detailing the predicted effect of the code on the industry.

In response to these points, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told the committee that they had consulted industry on the proposals and had considered these views before finalising the code. It said it had included a summary of the Government’s assessment of the potential impact of the changes in the explanatory document it had published but would also undertake an impact assessment when the single appeals process had been designed. In addition, the department believed some of the industry assessment may “overstate” the impact when viewed alongside the benefits to drivers and high streets. However, it said it did recognise the concerns, and highlighted the time being provided for operators to adapt to the new requirements.

The committee itself was highly critical of the lack of an impact assessment, stating that information on the financial impact of the code was essential for effective scrutiny:

Given these differing views, we regret that the department is yet to complete and publish its impact assessment. We are not convinced by the department’s approach to conduct an impact assessment only once the single appeals service has been designed; it should have been possible to conduct a robust impact assessment on the basis of reasonable assumptions and modelling, which is standard practice in the production of impact assessments.

Information on the expected financial impact of regulatory changes is essential for effective parliamentary scrutiny, and the failure to provide an impact assessment at the time of laying secondary legislation before Parliament is an issue we have raised previously with a number of departments.

Cover image by Michael Fousert on Unsplash.