Wheel-clamping of cars who park on private land will soon be outlawed. The government has decided to end the activities of clamping firms who earn an estimated £1 billion a year.
At present they target up to 4000 drivers a day who park without permission on private land, clamping their cars before charging up to £500 a time for removal. Clamping firms are unregulated and there are no limits on the penalties they demand, while drivers they catch have no right of independent appeal.
The last government passed laws to license all clampers and make them subject to a code of conduct. But these measures have yet to be implemented and will now be replaced by these new, tougher measures.
In changes expected to take effect next year, clamping or towing away by private contractors will be banned. Only the police or councils will be allowed to do this and only on the roads or from council-owned car parks: if a vehicle is obstructing traffic or if its driver is a known repeat offender.
Currently there are over 2000 firms licensed to clamp on private land but more operate outside the law. Next year, it is expected that all clamping licenses will be revoked. Anyone who continues to clamp on private land will then face a fine of up to £5000 or even a jail sentence.
Land owners will be able to charge for parking and impose penalties on drivers who overstay or park illegally. But the maximum standard charge will be set at £75. If drivers dispute the charge they can put a case before an independent panel. But non-payers who have no valid excuse can be taken to the small claims court.
The changes will form part of the new Freedom Bill, due to go before Parliament during November. They will mean that the rules in England and Wales will be the same as for Scotland, where clamping on private land is already banned. At present, police have no powers to tow away abandoned, derelict or dangerous cars from private land but this will be changed. Land owners who wish to prevent cars parking will be expected to erect barriers or fences.
Private car parks will continue to charge for parking as before. But fees for overstaying will have to be reasonable and the operators must sign up to a code of conduct agreed by the British Parking Association. Crucially, signs will have to explain charges in detail and must be prominently displayed.