Caught out: Danni Crawford, who is dyslexic, faces fines of £640 for number errors
Getting the letter ‘O’ mixed up with number ‘0’ is an easy mistake to make.
But get it wrong when using a car parking machine and it can end up costing you hundreds of pounds in fines.
Personal trainer Danni Crawford faces such a demand from debt collectors after failing to key in correctly her car registration number on four separate occasions – tapping in a zero rather than the letter O.
She says the first she learned about the errors was when details of the fines, now totalling £640, arrived in the post.
Experts say that motorists that make such honest mistakes in a private car park should not be required to pay any fine.
For 20-year-old Danni, who suffers from dyslexia, her problems began last year when new machines were installed in the gym car park she uses for work in Altrincham, Cheshire.
Although parking remained free for the first two hours, the changes meant it was necessary to tap in her car number at a machine and then display a ticket in her car.
Although she did this, the use of number 0, rather than the letter O, meant she had generated an invalid ticket, leaving her open to a fine. Although she did this four times she insists the mistakes were genuine.
Failing to take heed of the initial £60 fine meant the charge per invalid ticket escalated to £100 after a month – and then £160 when debt collectors were called in after six weeks. The extra costs were justified on grounds of extra work required to recover the overdue money.
Danni took her case to the independent Parking on Private Land Appeals scheme. But her appeal was rejected because there was clear signage explaining free parking was only available provided a motorist punched in the correct registration number.
By getting her letter O and number 0 mixed up, Danni had been deemed to have failed to abide by the terms and conditions of the car park.
By getting her letter O and number 0 mixed up, she had been deemed to have failed to abide by the terms and conditions of the car park.
When Danni ignored the scheme’s decision, car park operator Smart Parking handed over the debt to collector Debt Recovery Plus.
Danni’s father Philip says: ‘While it is true my daughter should have taken heed of these fines earlier rather than let them escalate, the reason for the fines is wrong. Danni has been hounded by these debt collectors who have sent threatening letters and she has often been too frightened to open them.’
Keep calm and press on: Tactics to help you win
STAND STRONG: It often pays to challenge a fine. Some 40 per cent of motorists who appeal win their case. But less than one in four drivers dare appeal.
GET EVIDENCE: Keep a camera in the car or use your smartphone to capture any key details if you are issued with a parking ticket. Take photos of the car, signs, parking bay markings and meters. You are looking for anything that may be unclear or misleading.
EXPLAIN THE CIRCUMSTANCES: A vehicle breakdown, sudden illness or dropping off or picking up someone in genuine need of help are all worth mentioning if challenging the validity of a fine. If possible take witness statements to provide further proof.
SEEK FAIRNESS: Cowboy clampers are outlawed while parking fines must be both fair and reasonable. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you can challenge any terms in parking contracts that you deem ‘disproportionate’ or ‘hidden’.
Earlier this month, Debt Recovery Plus gave notice of court proceedings if she fails to pay up.
She was given a July 2 deadline to pay. In a thinly veiled threat it gave an example of a Scottish motorist ordered to pay £24,500 by a Supreme Court ruling this year.
Parking campaigner Barrie Segal, who runs website AppealNow, believes Debt Recovery Plus is not acting fairly. He says: ‘If a motorist is dyslexic under the Equality Act 2010 this condition must be taken into account when issuing a ticket and subsequent fine. It also appears Danni’s breach of contract is trivial as there was no charge to pay for the limited time her car was parked and no trespassing was involved. So in court it should be thrown out.’
He adds: ‘My advice to Danni is that she should sit tight and let the firm take the case further. It is employing underhand scare tactics.’
The Mail on Sunday was unable to get a response from Debt Recovery Plus despite numerous phone calls.
Private car park firm Smart Parking also failed to respond to our request for a comment.
A spokesman for Parking on Private Land Appeals says: ‘We treat each appeal on an individual basis and in some circumstances we recognise a motorist may have put in an incorrect vehicle registration number.
‘We are able to refer these circumstances back to the operator to ask if it wishes to continue to pursue the motorist and whether the charge should stand.’
The two types of ticket – and how to fight back if you believe you have been wrongly charged
Target: Parking penalties can be successfully challenged
PARKING CHARGE NOTICE
THIS is the ticket you get when parking on private land. Contact the car park company if you believe the fine is unfair. If unsuccessful and it is a member of the British Parking Association you can then take your case to the Independent Parking on Private Land Appeals scheme. Alternatively if the firm is a member of the International Parking Community you can take your case to its independent appeals service.
If a private company is not signed up to either of the two trade associations it will find it hard to continue with any demand for payment. If a fine is not settled after an independent ruling against you – as in Danni Crawford’s case – it may rise if the firm decides to employ debt collectors to retrieve your money. A firm may say it is taking you to court but most car park firms are unwilling to risk this – it is used as a frightener to persuade you to pay up.
PENALTY CHARGE NOTICE
This is the penalty you receive if parked without a valid ticket on council-owned land. Motorists have 14-days in which to appeal.
If your appeal is unsuccessful the council must then issue a ‘notice to owner’ where you are usually given a further 14 days to argue your case.Lose again and it can demand the full penalty fee – often a penalty is halved from a usual £120 to £60 if you pay early.
At this point your can continue the fight using an independent adjudicator. This step can be taken once the council sends a final ‘appeal notice’ with a rejection explaining how you go to a ‘traffic penalty tribunal’ in England or Wales.
For London it is the ‘parking and traffic appeals service’. In Scotland it is the ‘Scottish parking appeals service’ and Northern Ireland an ‘adjudicator’. You have 28 days to argue your case. Lose and it is perhaps time to pay up.