Code of Practice for Private Parking

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 28th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, the Private Parking Code of Practice has been introduced in an effort to regulate the industry and respond to the evolving threat of rogue operators. This is an objective that I am sure the whole House will support, and I am pleased that steps such as these are being introduced to this end. I am concerned that the Government are, unfortunately, not going far enough. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is right to raise his concerns in today’s debate.

The Minister will be aware that the Government have been obligated to introduce the code as a result of the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019. There is certainly some merit in the code that the Government have brought forward. I am particularly pleased that the code caps the amounts that should be charged for various parking charges. In practice, this will cut most fines at £50 and others at £100. However, it is unclear whether there are loopholes that could be exploited by this limit. There have been recent press reports of individuals receiving multiple separate fines in one day, resulting in a total fine of many thousands of pounds. Can the Minister assure the House that this would not be possible under the new code?

I am also pleased that a new process will be developed that will allow drivers to appeal fines. Although I appreciate that this service will be independent, what mechanisms will Parliament have to evaluate its operation? The code is right to bring forward the possibility of banning rogue companies that act outside the rules. Will the Minister commit to transparency over this? Will he arrange for the department to publicise those who have been banned?

On the issue of clear signage and markings, while this is also welcome, I would appreciate it if the Minister would explain what steps have been taken to ensure that they are accessible for people with disabilities.

Ministers have previously stated that the code was developed in close consultation with private parking experts including consumer and industry groups. Can the Minister elaborate on the findings of that consultation, and whether this will feed into further regulations?

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about the complexities of this area. I thought he talked well about indicators and, in particular, the volume of CCJs and statistical analysis of what has been happening. We welcome the opportunity to debate the code today. I hope the Minister will be able to provide assurances on the issues raised by this House. Regulations to confront rogue parking operators are long overdue, but the Government must go further to hold them to account.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his interest in the Private Parking Code of Practice and for securing this important, valuable and informative debate. I hope noble Lords will agree that the code of practice is a significant step towards creating a fair system for motorists, ending the poor practices and behaviour that have been widespread within the private parking industry for far too long, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Khan. It will bring greater consistency and improve standards across Britain, boosting our high streets and town centres by making it easier for people to park without receiving unwarranted charges.

Noble Lords may be aware that the code is part of a wider regulatory framework that we are also putting into place to ensure a fair system for motorists. This includes a certification scheme, to which parking trade associations must adhere if their members wish to request access to DVLA data. It also includes the establishment of a scrutiny and oversight board to monitor the new system and the creation of a single, independent appeals service for motorists to turn to if they are unhappy with the handling of an appeal by an operator.

The certification scheme, based on the code, will outline how the requirements of the code should be measured, tested and assessed. It will provide an opportunity to clarify anything that proves to be unclear or confusing in the code itself for implementation by parking operators. The Government intend to finalise the scheme this spring. We will also appoint the scrutiny and oversight board this spring to oversee the operation of the new system and monitor its effectiveness. The board will advise the Government on the operation of the code and certification scheme, providing recommendations on whether these need to be updated. We anticipate that the code will be reviewed every two years, once it comes into full force at the end of 2023, and the scheme as required.

The governance of the code will include representatives from the department, the DVLA, industry and consumers. We also expect the new single appeals service to be represented in this governance to improve information and data flows, ensuring that the sector is monitored efficiently. In addition, we are preparing a data strategy and a robust monitoring and evaluation framework for the enforcement of the code. The strategy will provide an outline of relevant data and identify opportunities to maximise the value of that data, reflecting the principles of the National Data Strategy.

My noble friend Lord Lucas has a keen interest in ensuring that we track the data appropriately. I assure him that we will cover the data around the number or volume of parking charges issued by operators. The frequency of that will be determined by the data strategy in due course, but I note my noble friend’s desire to see that on at least a monthly basis. In addition, we will be looking at the number of appeals accepted by operators and the number of appeals brought to the single appeals service. I note that my noble friend also wants us to track the number of county court judgments which come in where appeals are rejected and people are still not paying, which would obviously be much lower.

This will allow us to better understand and manage breaches of the code, identify any issues not adequately covered by it and spot patterns and trends across the sector. At the same time, it will provide motorists and the industry with an insight into how the system is working. The data will be collected by the trade associations and the single appeals service. It will be examined by the scrutiny and oversight board and used to make decisions on the operation of the system and the updates required to the code and the scheme. I hope noble Lords will agree that, altogether, these measures will ensure that the code is effectively implemented and monitored going forward, with the appropriate structures in place for important issues to be identified and resolved without impacting on the service received by motorists.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised the issue of providing an impact assessment for the code, which I think is a question of timing. I hope I can reassure her that we do intend to undertake an impact assessment of the changes introduced by the code once the single appeals service has been designed, to ensure that we have all the necessary information to complete the assessments. It is about getting the impact assessment right at the right time. I hope that reassures the noble Baroness.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Khan, who is quite an expert on private parking practice, I note that the code introduces a 10-minute grace period. It also introduces high requirements for signage. On loopholes—a very important point raised by noble Lord—we are working with the industry, including the two trade associations, to ensure that there are no loopholes. The noble Lord asked about a register for banning rogue operators. These will be monitored through the wider regulatory framework, including the scrutiny and oversight board already mentioned.

So, we know that the involvement of the private parking industry in this process is crucial to the success of the code. We look forward to working alongside the industry—as well as consumer and motorist organisations —as we move towards the full implementation of the code and its regulatory framework at the end of 2023. Finally, with the expertise and knowledge of my noble friend Lord Lucas, I am very keen that he does provide his input around getting the data framework and data frequency right. I thank him very much for securing this very important debate.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and to the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley. I feel thoroughly supported around the House and, indeed, I feel supported by my noble friend the Minister in what he has said, for which I thank him very much. I would really like to take up his invitation to have a look at the data strategy and the other work surrounding that at an appropriate time of his choosing. I, therefore, take pleasure in seeking to withdraw my Motion.