The Supreme Court decision in ParkingEye v Beavis has attracted much attention, not least because it was all about a £85 parking fine. In the modern world of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), it begs – and, I suggest, answers - the question: are the courts the most appropriate way to fight over a trivial sum?
Ordinarily, such trivial disputes do not even reach the lowest courts as the costs are prohibitive and the process daunting for consumers. Successive governments and the courts have tried to address this by championing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) wherever possible and other 'access to justice' measures.
In addition, the recent EU ADR Directive has encouraged alternative resolution methods - and is applicable to the parking sector. So could Mr Beavis have used an alternative method to the courts? Or would he be able to now if he finds himself in a similar position again?
The procedure for contesting parking fines is complicated to say the least. The system differs depending on whether it is a council or privately owned car park, and differs still depending on which parking association the company is a member of (if any). As a member of the British Parking Association (BPA), any appeals against ParkingEye fines must follow the BPA appeals procedure. In practice, this means a driver must first contest the charge via the company's internal appeals procedure, and then, if unhappy with the decision, take their case to the Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA) service set up by the BPA.
In Mr Beavis' case he refused to pay the fine and ignored both these stages. ParkingEye's next logical step was to issue debt recovery proceedings at a local County Court. The rest is, as they say, (legal) history.
In the past POPLA has been criticised for a lack of independence (it is funded by the private parking companies). However, presumably because of the ADR Directive, since 1 October 2015, the private company Ombudsman Services (an 'omni-ombudsman' service which also provides independent dispute resolution in the energy and communications sectors) has taken over the decision making in POPLA. Ombudsman Services provides an independent redress service, and any POPLA decisions will be legally binding on parking companies.
It's possible Mr Beavis could still try his luck at Ombudsman Services – assuming ParkingEye doesn't have any time limits on internal complaints, he would have to appeal to them and then appeal to the Ombudsman within 28 days of ParkingEye's decision. However, unlike the Financial Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services must decide cases in accordance with the law and so – rather disappointingly for the purposes of this blog - he would likely get the same adverse result as that from seven of the country's top judges. But even if he doesn't succeed, he may get some satisfaction from knowing that it cost ParkingEye £27 to have the complaint resolved!
Co-authored by Gabby Ives.