Penalty Charge Notice: how to challenge and beat unfair parking fines

Updated on 16 January 2019

Councils dished out a staggering £1.6 billion in parking fines during the last tax year. If you think you've received an unfair parking fine, we show you how to challenge a Penalty Charge Notice.

Councils rake in record amount from parking fines

Councils are cashing in on motorists more than ever before, with profits from parking fines soaring by 70% in the last seven years alone.

New data from motoring firm RAC has found that councils in England raked in more than £1.6 billion from parking fines.

Once you account for the £793 million they spent on collection and administration, it leaves the 353 authorities sitting on a record surplus of £867 million – an average of almost £2.5 million per council.

We should note that, by law, councils are required to spend any profit they make from Penalty Charge Notices on improving transport infrastructure.

Rise of private parking firms

The findings come just months after it was revealed there's been a staggering 10-fold rise in the number of private parking fines issued over the last decade.

Almost 1.5 million driver DVLA driver records were requested by private parking companies – a prelude to fining – in the first three months of this year.

That's an increase on last year and already twice the number issued over the whole of 2008/2009. 

These private parking companies are issuing fines of up to £100 for infringements in shopping centres, motorway service areas and leisure facilities.

However, there have been complaints by motorists that firms are using unfair tactics to trap drivers into paying higher fines.

So if you face a fine and you don’t think it’s fair, there are still ways to challenge it.

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Challenging an unfair parking fine

To state the obvious, parking tickets should only really be challenged if you think they're unfair.

In the following situations it's a good idea to appeal:

You were parked correctly

Appeal the ticket if you think you were parked correctly (i.e the right place and time) and if you've got photographic evidence, all the better.

The parking signs or road markings were unclear

Your ticket should be cancelled if you can prove that:

  • You couldn't see any road markings or signs;
  • The markings or signs were hard to read such as being covered by a tree;
  • The signs were misleading or confusing or there weren't any signs saying that parking was suspended.

You could also win if there weren't any signs saying CCTV or an automatic number plate recognition system was in use where you parked.

There was no way to pay

If the meter was broken and there was no other way to pay, you should be let off. Send evidence of the broken machine to the person who issued the ticket. However, if there was a sign there telling you not to park if there's no way to pay, your appeal will probably be rejected. 

You were charged too much

Of course, it's right to appeal if you've been charged too much. Penalty Charge Notices work on a higher band and lower band system, so if you've been charged a higher band fine for, say, parking for longer than your ticket allows, it should be cancelled. 

Rules state that you shouldn't be paying any more than £100 unless the parking company can prove your dodgy parking made them lose this much money. If the extra cost is unjustified, appeal. 

You weren't driving when the ticket was issued

You weren't guilty so you shouldn't pay. Use crime reference numbers, car sale receipts, DVLA registration certificates and whatever other evidence you deem useful, depending on who was driving the car.

You couldn't get back to your car

People who find it difficult to walk because they're disabled, are pregnant or have a very young baby can appeal as getting back to their car in time might have been more difficult.

Your car broke down

This one's pretty obvious. Your ticket will be cancelled if you can prove you were waiting for your car to be fixed or towed away when you got it.

You were only just out of time

And this one is the most frustrating. There's a 5-10 minute 'grace period' after your parking runs out. It can be tricky though – some companies will time it from when you parked while others will time your stay from the moment you enter the car park. 

All this said, most parking rules state that you must clearly display a valid ticket inside your vehicle.

If you fail to do this or lose your ticket, then the weight of evidence is against you. Nevertheless, appealing the decision by producing a valid ticket will often win you a pardon.

Take on the challenge

It's free to make a formal appeal by contacting whoever gave you the parking ticket.

You can't be taken to court if you're appealing informally so it won't affect your credit rating. It's only if your appeal is unsuccessful and you don't pay a ticket or appeal to a tribunal that you'll be taken to court. 

Those who want to go down the traditional route can find out how to challenge a parking fine through their local council website. 

There are six different types of Penalty Charge Notice, so make sure you know which one you've got before you go ahead.

An informal challenge

This will be a local council PCN which is received on the spot. 

If you appeal within 14 days of receiving the fine and your challenge is rejected, you may only have to pay 50% of the fine.  

It's usually a case of completing an online challenge form or writing to the address on the reverse of the PCN, being as clear as possible in explaining why you've decided to appeal. 

The formal alternative

As you can imagine, a formal challenge is a little more complex. 

Basically, you have 28 days to formally challenge (known as a 'representation') a Penalty Charge Notice. The process will start with a 'notice to owner' which will explain how to make a formal challenge.

Make sure you go into as much detail as you can about why you're challenging the PCN and provide copies of any evidence or documents to support your challenge.

You won't have to pay a thing if your challenge is accepted but if you receive a 'notice of rejection', you'll have 28 days to cough up the cash.

Then again, standing firm by appealing a penalty often proves successful. Thus, if you've made an honest mistake or been treated unfairly, then your fine stands a good chance of being cancelled on appeal.

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Quicker way to contest parking fines

It doesn't have to take you ages to appeal against a parking fine, either.

With (also known as Lawyer Robot) you can fight back in 'under 30 seconds'. It helps drivers build a case that can be used to contest fine issued by the council and from private firms.

Or to learn how to fight unfair parking fines, check out Citizens Advice.

How to spot a dodgy parking firm

Don't recognise the company name? Check to see if they're an Accredited Trade Association (ATA) member as if they're not, they can't take you to court.

Check through the British Parking Association (BPA) or International Parking Community (IPC). If they're not on there, report it to Action Fraud, because the company might have your details illegally.


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