Many consumers harassed to pay ‘fake’ parking fines will soon have greater legal protections, but can also take matters into their own hands.
On Wednesday, the Victorian government introduced a new law to parliament aimed at cracking down on private car park companies.
In private lots across the nation, companies issue penalty notices to the owners of vehicles who park too long or without a visible ticket – often for sums of money many times the cost of the original ticket.
This is common at parking lots that do not charge an upfront fee via a boom gate.
Currently, if drivers ignore the initial notice placed on their windscreen, companies in Victoria often obtain the name and address of the vehicle’s registered owner from the state road authority – something the Labor state government has sworn to outlaw.
Once companies get these details, they use “threatening demands” to scare consumers into paying up, said an advocate who has campaigned on this issue for many years.
“Many consumers unwittingly pay the demands, which can escalate to hundreds of dollars when debt collection lawyers get involved,” Consumer Action Law Centre CEO Gerard Brody said in a statement.
Victoria’s Labor government has sworn to stop this ‘intimidation’ by preventing VicRoads from releasing the information.
“For too long people have been intimidated into paying fake fines. This legislation stops this practice in its tracks,” Victorian consumer affairs minister Jane Garrett said in a statement.
“These private car park operators have been clogging our courts, wasting tax payer’s money and ripping people off.”
Here is what you can do if the private parking cops come after you.
1. Rip it up
The law will only prevent parking companies from tracking down your home address, and only applies in Victoria. New South Wales already has a similar law.
For all Australians, whether you get one of these ‘fake’ fines on your windshield or in the mail, your response can be the same, an expert told The New Daily.
“My advice has always been that they should ignore it,” said traffic law expert Sean Hardy, a Melbourne-based barrister.
“They are hoping the person will feel liable and pay.”
2. Exercise your right to silence
If you ignore the windshield notice, the letters and the debt collector calls, the probability of further action is low.
In the unlikely event your case proceeds to court, the parking company will find it difficult to prove that it was in fact you who parked the car, unless you admit to being the driver.
“There have been occasions when people have been taken to court. I’ve appeared in several of those cases – half a dozen – and it’s always been a difficult task for the car park company to succeed,” Mr Hardy said.
“I’ve had to resolve a few cases because the drivers put their hand up and said they had been the driver.
“On other occasions, a significant amount of detective work was required by the car park company in order to raise a reasonable inference on the balance of probabilities that that particular person was probably driving or at least in control of the vehicle at the time.”