Although it has been illegal in Scotland for several years, wheel clamping has continued to be a standard way of dealing with unauthorised parking on private land in England and Wales. That is now at an end.
Private wheel-clamping became a criminal offence with effect from 1st October 2012 when sections 54 and 55 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 came into force. Section 54 of the Act makes it a criminal offence to immobilise, move or restrict the movement of a vehicle on private land without “lawful authority”. Clamping and towing is therefore outlawed except when undertaken by public bodies such as the police, local authorities, government agencies and, in certain circumstances, bailiffs. Section 55 of the Act paves the way for regulations to be made under section 99 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 which can extend the powers of the police to remove vehicles from all areas of private land and not only roads where they are illegally or dangerously parked. No regulations are in force yet, but it is envisaged that they might be made, for instance, where access for emergency vehicles might be blocked.
The deterrent effect of clamping and towing of cars has allowed many privately owned estates to control successfully the often significant problems caused by unauthorised parking - for instance private housing complexes located near to public transport used as an overflow station car park. Unfortunately, rather than electing to tighten up the regulation and sanctions on rogue wheel clampers, the Government has chosen to criminalise all private clamping.
It is still possible to prevent access to such roads and estates by the use of barriers, however, in many cases this is an impractical and expensive solution. In addition, section 56 of the Act allows for parking charges to be levied against the keeper of the vehicle where the identity of the driver is unknown. As with clamping, clear warning signs are required before this sort of parking penalty can be enforced; however, it is hoped that unlawful parking can be dealt with by way of ticketing enforcement rather than clamping and towing. Let us see.