Putting the fun back into Parking
The Parking Prankster
A letter before action (sometimes called letter before county court claim) is the last stage before filing a court claim, so if you get one of these it is likely the parking company intend taking you to court. At this staqe the parking company are hoping you will panic at the arrival of a claim form, and will immediately pay up. If you defend the claim, then it will cost the parking company far more than the parking charge even if they win. However, it will also be many hours of work for you, so in one sense it will be a pyrrhic victory for whoever comes out the eventual winner. Your task at this stage is therefore to convince the parking company you will not be a pushover in the hope they will see sense and desist.
Before taking court action the parking company should have sent you a letter explaining that their dispute resolution has ended. If they don't they are breaking the law and can be reported to their trade association (BPA or IPC) and Trading Standards. Details on the legislation are here. The Act came into force on 9th July. The relevant section is 19(2)
19(2) Where a trader has exhausted its internal complaint handling procedure when considering a complaint from a consumer relating to a sales contract or a service contract, the trader must inform the consumer, on a durable medium— (a) that the trader cannot settle the complaint with the consumer; (b) of the name and website address of an ADR entity which would be competent to deal with the complaint, should the consumer wish to use alternative dispute resolution; and (c) whether the trader is obliged, or prepared, to submit to an alternative dispute resolution procedure operated by that ADR entity.
You should also engage the parking company using the Practice Direction for Pre-action conduct. These changed in April 2015 but many parking companies and solicitors are unaware of the change and are still following the old directions.
You should therefore write a series of letters exchanging information with the parking company until such time as you both have all the information you need, and the parking company either decide to drop the case or to carry on.
You should also propose using dispute resolution in the form of POPLA or the IAS to settle the case. This will be much cheaper than the courts and if the parking company refuse you can ask that costs be pegged at the level of POPLA/IAS, namely £27/£15. You might even be awarded your own costs.
One resource to help with pre-court protocol and replies to letters before action is this thread on the MoneySavingExpert site, although this may still be referring to the 'old rules'.
You cannot go on a 'fishing trip' or be overly obstructive, but in general the things every motorist has a right to know because this will affect the case are:
What are the terms of the contract (eg a copy of the sign)
What exactly was the charge for (just 'breaking the terms of the contract' or 'underpaying' is not enough)
How was the contract offered and accepted (eg a signage map)
Is the charge for (a) trespass, (b) breach or a (c) contractual charge.
If (a) or (b) a breakdown is needed. If (c) a VAT invoice
Is keeper liability under the Protection Of Freedoms Act 2012, sch 4 being invoke or are they pursuing you as the driver?
Are they pursuing you as (a) agent of the landowner, or as (b) principal?
If (a) then authority from the landowner,(such as a redacted contract) is needed
There may be other things specific to your case, but in general this would be the minimum needed.
Some companies, such as DEAL or MIL are buying debts off parking companies and in those cases as well as the above you would need documentary evidence that the debt really has been sold. In many cases, these claims appear to be bogus. DEAL has only acquired 87.5% of the debt. MIL appeal to have bought the debt from the wrong company.