A couple were slapped with a £60 parking fine despite parking in a free car park because they parked in front of Starbucks but went to McDonald’s instead.
Kate Readman and her husband had just got off a flight and found the first available parking space next to the coffee chain in Southgate retail park near Stansted airport.
The pair had spotted a sign that said they had one free hour of parking, and they walked 30 seconds to buy a McDonald’s meal.
However, a month later they were shocked to discover they had been fined £60 by a firm that manages the car park, named MET Parking Services.
Kate Readman and her husband were fined £60 for parking next to Starbucks so they could buy a McDonald’s
The pair had spotted a sign that said they had one free hour of parking, and they walked 30 seconds to buy a McDonald’s meal
They discovered that the company had recorded the couple’s every move after they had left their car, their website revealed.
Dozens of people on online forums, including MoneySavingExpert, The Consumer Action Group, Legal Beagles, have complained about experiencing the same problem.
Many users online are dubious about the company’s use of CCTV and others complain that it is a cunning way to win the fine from those who decide to pay it rather than dispute it.
Mrs Readman told The Guardian: ‘We left the car and walked the 30 metres or so to the McDonald’s which is next door to the Starbucks, ate and drove off after around 30 minutes – well inside the allotted free hour.’
However, a month later they were shocked to discover they had been fined £60 by a firm that manages the car park, named MET Parking Services
Signs dotted around the car park tell customers they have one hour’s free parking, ‘on site’ but do not specify any particular restaurant
‘I genuinely could not believe it when I got the letter. But when I went online I found plenty of posts from others who had received similar letters.
‘If this model were carried forward to other retail parks you would have to park directly in front of the shop you wished to visit and then move your car each time you wanted to go to another shop. It’s utterly ridiculous.’
Signs dotted around the car park tell customers they have one hour’s free parking, ‘on site’ but do not specify any particular restaurant.
Parking on private land
Always look for signs setting out parking rules.
Read and note the parking rules.
Stick to the rules. For example, don’t park in bays reserved for disabled badge holders.
CCTV cameras may be in use – just because you don’t see enforcement taking place it doesn’t mean it isn’t.
If you have a parking charge notice put on your car, don’t ignore it.
If you feel a parking charge notice is wrong or has been applied unfairly, gather evidence before you leave; take a careful note of signage and take photos if you can.
If your car is wheel-clamped in a car park where no by-law is displayed, call the police.
If heavy-handed ticketers demand money on the spot and that you pay in cash, drive away or consider calling the police.
Other signs say a particular area is reserved for McDonald’s or Starbucks customers only.
But MET had divided the parking unit into two sections even though the car park has one entrance and the the two restaurants are 4 metres apart, which customers say leads to confusion.
MET’s lawyers have defended the policy and said the car parks are ‘clearly distinct and separately signposted’.
But Mrs Readman spoke to staff at McDonald’s and Starbucks and they agreed that the unit could be more clearly signposted to avoid confusion but she was told there was nothing they could do about it.
Luckily Mrs Readman may not have to pay for the fine because advice on the forums is that if MET send its demand more than 14 days after the visit to the site then it can be ignored.
The failure to deliver the ‘notice to keeper’ within 14 days breaches the requirements of schedule 4 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
Parking firms may continue to send threatening letters – and employ debt collectors but unless you actually get a court summons these communications can be ignored.
The Guardian spoke to a partner at JMW Solicitors, which represents MET, who said on on behalf of MET: ‘There is nothing unusual about different businesses having their own car park or reserving free parking for their own customers.’
Neither McDonald’s or Starbucks responded to the Guardian’s request for comment.