With effect from 1 October 2012 it will be a criminal offence in England and Wales to clamp, tow or immobilise a vehicle without “lawful authority”.

The offence is introduced by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. The Act does not define “lawful authority”. However, the explanatory notes for the Act suggest that only organisations which have a statutory power to remove vehicles will have lawful authority.

This includes:

  • The police, who have powers to remove abandoned vehicles from land or vehicles which are illegally or dangerously parked
  • Local authorities when managing car parks or enforcing against traffic contraventions
  • DVLA in respect of cars where the owner has not paid the road tax
  • Bailiffs, who have a mix of statutory and common law powers to immobilise and tow away vehicles to enforce debts (including those arising out of unpaid taxes and court fines)

The Act provides that the owner’s consent to clamping is not lawful authority. Therefore, parking notices warning of clamping which might otherwise be construed as the owner’s deemed consent to clamping will be ineffective.

Until this date, anyone undertaking vehicle immobilisation must ensure that they are properly licensed to do so (holding a licence from the Security Industry Authority).