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How to contest a parking ticket

  • Find out how the appeals process works
  • 65% of appeals are successful
  • Signage and road markings must be correct

Written by Graham King Published: 6 November 2023 Updated: 6 November 2023

It’s one of the worst, most annoying feelings you can experience as a car driver – finding a parking ticket attached to the windscreen. Also known as a penalty charge notice (PCN), and just like a speeding fine, that folded sheet of paper in the little waterproof bag is going to cost you dear. But don’t just get your card out and pay the fine straight away because you may have grounds for appeal.

As much as 65% of parking fines are successfully appealed – in some parts of the UK, even more are. Millions of fines are issued every year but only a few thousand people choose to lodge an appeal. But since your chances of success are so high, it’s definitely worth pursuing.

There may be issue with the ticket itself such as incorrect details, or the council in question simply doesn’t have the resources to contest your appeal. It’s a relatively straightforward process to go through but can take several weeks, maybe a couple of months. Note that it’s harder to dispute a fine you’ve already paid.

In this guide, we’ll talk you through everything you need to know about appealing a fine, how lodge one, the arguments that work and those that don’t, and we’ll explain the difference between PCNs by councils and private companies.

How much is a parking fine?

The standard rate for PCNs issued by UK councils is £120, though some charge as little as £80 and as much as £130. Pay within 14 days and the charge is usually halved, down to £60 for a standard rate PCN.

Paying for parking - How to contest a parking ticket
Always make sure you pay for the amount of parking you need to make sure you don’t get fined.

Council and private parking fines are different

On-street parking spaces and many car parks throughout the UK are owned and run by the local council. Any PCNs they issue are legally binding. If you don’t pay up, you could face prosecution.

Other car parks are owned by private companies that do not have the legal right to levy fines. If you’re ticketed in a private car park, you’ve essentially received an invoice. That invoice covers the penalty the company charges for breach of contract.

By using a private car park, you’re entering into a contract with the owner. You breach that contract by overstaying the time you paid for, or by parking in a restricted area.

You can easily spot council-issued fines and private parking invoices. A council fine is in a square bag that bears the phrase ‘penalty charge notice enclosed’. A private parking invoice is usually headed ‘parking charge notice’, or something similar. The wording on an invoice may give the impression it’s legally enforceable, but that’s not the case.

How do I lodge an appeal?

If you wish to appeal against a council issued PCN, write a letter to the council in question stating your reasons for challenging it. If your case is valid – or the council doesn’t have the resources to argue – the fine will be withdrawn.

If not, you’ll receive a ‘notice to owner’ form so you can make a formal representation in which you spell out in detail exactly why you’re challenging the fine. You have 14 days to send it back. At that stage, the council can either drop the fine or issue a ‘notice of rejection of representation and appeal’.

If that happens, you’ll then have 28 days to lodge your appeal with the Parking Adjudication Service (or the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service in London). It’s an independent body that will consider your case. If your appeal fails, the fine will increase by 50%.

Car park through window - How to contest a parking ticket
Parking PCNs issued by private companies are different to those issued by councils.

There’s a similar process for appealing a private parking invoice. Any reputable company will be a member of the British Parking Association (BPA) or the International Parking Community (IPC). In the first instance, you should pursue the company’s own appeals process but, if that fails, you can go through the BPA or IPC.

If the parking company isn’t a member of the BPA or IPC, write to them saying you’re not going to pay and explain why you think the invoice is unfair. The company may drop the matter or take you to small claims court.

What are the grounds for appeal?

There are many grounds for appealing a ticket, whether it’s issued by a council or private parking company. Here’s some that are most likely to be successful:

Incorrect/unclear signage or road markings
Regulations state that signage explaining parking restrictions must be clear, easily seen and within a certain distance of the spaces. Single and double yellow lines must be clearly visible and have bars marking their ends. Pay and display, limited stay, motorcycle and permitted parking bays must be marked by a white box that measures 1.8m to 2.7m wide.

Incorrect details
If the car’s registration or the time of the alleged offence is incorrectly recorded on the ticket, you have a strong case for appeal. Minor errors like describing a grey car as silver don’t count. Also make sure that any infringement you’re being accused of is actually a thing. We’re aware of a driver who was ticketed for parking their car facing against the traffic flow, which isn’t an offence.

The council hasn’t complied with the Traffic Management Act 2004 regulations
You will have a good case if the PCN or some other document didn’t contain the required information, the council didn’t respond to an appeal or responded too late.

Pay and display sign - How to contest a parking ticket
Unclear signage is among the most common grounds for appealing a PCN.

The fine/invoice is excessive
An element of the punishment fitting the crime is applied. If the fine is, say, £80 and you only overstayed by a couple of minutes, you may be able to successfully claim that the charge is excessive.

You could also appeal under the following circumstances

  • The PCN wasn’t served.
  • That you weren’t the owner of the vehicle.
  • The vehicle was taken without your consent.
  • The alleged events didn’t happen.
  • The vehicle was entitled to park.
  • The vehicle was being loaded/unloaded.
  • A passenger was getting in or out.
  • A valid disabled person’s badge was displayed.
  • A valid pay-and-display ticket was displayed.
  • The Traffic Regulation Order was invalid or illegal.

Arguments that don’t work

There are some arguments you might be tempted to make in appealing a PCN that won’t hold water. For instance, claiming you weren’t the driver at the time. The fine is tied to the car so, if you lent it to a friend or family member, you’ll have to negotiate with them to pay it.

Claiming your ticket fell off the car’s window often doesn’t work, either. The driver is responsible for making sure the ticket is properly displayed. However, you could still send a copy of the ticket because some councils do exercise discretion and cancel fines issued for this reason.    

Pay here sign - How to contest a parking ticket
Claiming you just didn’t see a clearly marked parking ticket machine won’t wash.

Can I ignore a parking charge notice?

You shouldn’t ignore a PCN, regardless of whether it’s issued by a council or a private company. Ignoring a council-issued fine is a criminal offence and, if you don’t pay up, you could be visited by bailiffs looking to recover the fine and be sanctioned with a county court judgement that would severely affect your credit rating.

There’s less legal jeopardy if you ignore a privately issued PCN, but they could still send the bailiffs round.

What happens if I refuse to pay a parking charge notice?

Tell a council or private parking company that you’re refusing to pay a PCN and why, and you’ll be directed to go through their official appeals process. If you don’t explain why and/or don’t engage with the appeals process, a council may ultimately seek to bring a prosecution against you. A private company will want their money from you somehow and may send in the bailiffs.

Do I legally have to pay private parking fines?

Private parking companies aren’t legally empowered to issue fines. If you receive a PCN from one, treat it as an invoice. As far as the company is concerned, you’ll have breached your contract with them by overstaying your time or parking in a restricted area. Therefore, you’re in a civil dispute, rather than having broken any laws. The parking company doesn’t have the power to bring a prosecution against you.

What happens if you don’t pay a private parking ticket?

If you don’t pay a private PCN, the company will still seek to recover the fine. In the first instance, they’ll likely take you to small claims court. If they succeed, you’ll have to pay the fine plus their costs, which could total over £500. If you still don’t pay up, they’ll probably send bailiffs to your house to recover the full bill in cash or goods.

Car park from above - How to contest a parking ticket
Always make sure you follow the rules of whatever car park you use to avoid a PCN.