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Australian consumer advocates slam private parking operators’ misleading fines

They look like a good and every year thousands of Australians receive them in private car parks – but is it really a ‘fine’?

Turn over the Violation Tickets, or “Violation Notices” as they are called, and in the fine print you will find this disclaimer: “This is not a fine. The operator is claiming the amount owed as that wound up damaged as a result of you violating the parking conditions.”

In simple terms, the car park the company threatens to sue you and demands silver for his loss.

A “notice of breach” issued in a car park. (A current affair)

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“Any implication that a law enforcement official is issuing these fines is misleading,” said Consumer Action Law Center CEO Gerard Brody. A topical matter.

“These are private companies – they don’t have the power to enforce the law like a police force or council does.”

One of the major players, Parking Enforcement Services, owned by Wilson Parking, is demanding $65 from motorists or $80 if not paid within a month.

Consumer Action Law Center CEO Gerard Brody. (A current affair)

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But consumer advocates said that was misleading.

“People need to be aware that companies can’t get your personal data, so they can’t take any other action to try to enforce their rights against you,” Brody said.

The governments of New South Wales and Victoria have barred private operators from accessing registration records.

The entrance to the car parks indicates the terms and conditions at the entrance. (A current affair)

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Before the practice was banned in Victoria in 2015, 50,000 applications were made to the courts each year for people’s private details.

Stuart Norman, CEO of Parking Australia, which represents parking operators, denied that issuing notices of infringement was ‘misleading’ or amounted to ‘intimidation’.

“Yes (the violation notices) may look the same (like a fine) but in some ways it’s the same process, it’s just a different way of applying it,” he said.

Stuart Norman is the CEO of Parking Australia. (A current affair)

Asked about the inability of private companies to obtain drivers’ personal details to pursue their “debts”, Mr Norman declined to comment.

Mr Brody criticized the amount claimed in damages by the parking companies, saying it did not reflect the actual loss suffered by the operator.

“While some people may think the violation notification fee is exorbitant, compared to local government fines, it is nowhere near that level,” Norman said.

The terms and conditions are indicated on panels at the entrance to the car parks. (A current affair)

He said the terms and conditions posted on signs at the entrances to the car parks allowed them to sue.

“It’s hard to read all of these terms and conditions when people drive in, but in the majority of cases these terms and conditions are posted elsewhere in the parking lot,” he said.

During the filming of this story, A topical matter caught different parking enforcement officers writing notices of violation using the same badge number and signature.

consumer advocates have criticized the amount claimed in damages by the parking companies. (A current affair)

While declining to respond on camera, and after initially refusing to provide an official response, Wilson Parking said in a statement, “When Parking Enforcement Services (PES) officers are in training, they typically accompany an officer superior and use the same badge code as the officer training them”.

“We believe that one day in June this year, a fully trained new officer used the ID given to him during his training exercise, rather than his own ID.

“It’s not standard procedure and it was an isolated case.

“We have investigated the violation notifications and can confirm that they are valid due to vehicles in violation of the parking contract.

“However, to avoid duplication of codes in the future, we have adjusted our procedures so that trainees use unique identifiers from the first day of training.”

John Smith

The author John Smith