Thursday, 19 December 2013

Northumbria NHS stiffs patients for estimated £1 million parking fines a year to save £70,000

Dogged campaigner martmonk has unearthed figures showing that the Northumbria NHS has targeted the sick, the injured, the elderly, new mothers and the disabled (in other words, your typical hospital patients)  for an estimated annual figure of £1 million in parking fines to save the £70,000 it cost them to run a car park barrier system.

The hospital itself does not profit, but passes the money on to car parking company ParkingEye.

The system ParkingEye have installed uses a scattergun approach, issuing charges whether or not they are justified. Well over half the tickets issued have to be subsequently cancelled. In some car parking areas the figure is higher than 80%.

It is likely that most of the other tickets would be cancelled too, but many vulnerable people are scared into paying instead of appealing because the fines increase dramatically after 14 days.

The figures available show that for the three months August to October 3854 tickets were paid. The full fine is £70, reduced to £40 if paid within 14 days. This means the amount paid is somewhere between £154,160 and £269,780. With a further 2307 outstanding tickets, this represents a sum somewhere between £0 (if they are all cancelled) and £161,490

Extrapolating for a whole year of data gives us a minimum of (£154,160 + £0) x 4 and a maximum of (£269,780 + £161,490) x 4. This works out as  between £616,640 and £1,725,080.

The Prankster thinks the likely total sum will be more than £1 million.

The hospital trust chose ParkingEye to replace the previous barrier system which was costing £70,000 to run. ParkingEye promised free car parking management. It is now clear that the car parking management is not free at all, but that the entire cost has been passed on to the patients of the hospital, at a price around 20 times greater than it cost the hospital to run the system.

It is also clear this system is not fit for purpose.

Huge numbers of tickets are being incorrectly issued, and the vulnerable and sick are targeted. It is instructive to note that in the consultants car park 92 tickets were issued in August and all but 2 cancelled. Consultants are obviously well aware that these tickets are bogus and have no hesitation in getting them cancelled. Time after time The Prankster finds it is the more vulnerable members of society who are frightened into paying these tickets.

What do Northumbia NHS think?

It is instructive that the Northumbria NHS view the charges as fines. Parking charges on private land are not allowed to be penalties or fines; this therefore makes them unenforceable.

Rather than setting the charges as a true pre-estimate of loss, they have been set at the same level as council fines (which are legally enforceable)

The legal case the Northumbria NHS quote to justify their charges is extremely ironic.

This case was actually about ParkingEye suing Somerfield for cancelling their car parking contract. Somerfield had to pay ParkingEye £350,000  - something the Northumbria NHS will need to bear in mind.

Somerfield cancelled the contract due to the sharp practices of ParkingEye. Some other quotes from that case from Sir Robin Jacob  (quotes the NHS seem not to have used) are as follows.
6. Under the contract, ParkingEye provided all the equipment and were responsible for its operation. It received no payment from Somerfield for this. Instead it was entitled to retain all the “fines” collected. So of course ParkingEye had an incentive to operate the “fine” system aggressively.
7. This it did – too much so: some of the letters it wrote to motorists contained falsehoods.
9. The third letter was different. This was held to contain serious falsehoods.
11. This semi-literate letter was false in a number of respects:

13. The Judge not only found that the third letter contained falsehoods but that those falsehoods were deliberately made by the relevant ParkingEye executive, albeit without dishonesty. Hence the Judge found ParkingEye was guilty of the tort of deceit on those occasions when the third letter was sent on its behalf. ParkingEye does not challenge this decision.

The Northumbria NHS are apparently not too hot on legal issues. The quote from HHJ Hegarty QC was not relevant to the main issues of the case and therefore does not form a necessary part of the court's decision. The technical term is 'obiter dictum'. It is therefore not binding and not even relevant.

The Northumbria NHS quote several other cases from Combined Parking Solutions, but these are all cases to do with contractual issues, not breaches of contract. These are therefore not relevant in the slightest.

In short, the Northumbria NHS do not seem to have a grasp on the issues.

What should patients do?

ParkingEye's charges have all been found to be legally unenforceable by the industry standard adjudication body, POPLA. To date, over 80 verdicts have upheld this, with none in favour of ParkingEye.

Patients from Hexham General Hospital, North Tyneside General Hospital and Wansbeck General Hospital should therefore appeal first to ParkingEye and when their appeal is rejected, take the case to POPLA, quoting the reason for appealing is that the charge is for breach of contract but is not a genuine pre-estimate of loss and ParkingEye have not provided a breakdown of their charges.

As ParkingEye are raking in £1 million for supplying a few signs and cameras it is obvious they are making vast profits here. POPLA see through them every time, and so far uphold all appeals on this basis.

It is obviously unfair that ParkingEye make patients go through this stress and effort when they know full well their charges are not enforceable, and therefore patients should also reclaim money for their time and effort in fighting the charge. The Prankster suggests adding the following text to appeals:
If you do reject the challenge and insist upon taking the matter further I must inform you that I may claim my expenses from you. The expenses I may claim are not exhaustive but may include the cost of stamps, envelopes, travel expenses, legal fees, etc. By continuing to pursue me you agree to pay these costs when I prevail.
As the landowner Northumbria NHS are equally liable, so the patient should also appeal to the trust, using the same wording.

ParkingEye are breaking the industry code of conduct by charging amounts that are not a true-pre estimate of loss. The code of conduct can be downloaded here and states:
19.5 If the parking charge that the driver is being asked to pay is for a breach of contract or act of trespass, this charge must be based on the genuine pre-estimate of loss that you suffer
Patients should therefore also complain to the British Parking Association Ltd at, and to the DVLA at

Both these organisations take a 'laissez faire' approach to enforcement, relying on consumer complaints to identify problems. They welcome complaints of this nature otherwise they would never find out about problems.

Patients who have already paid the fines should request a refund. As the landowner the Northumbria NHS is jointly responsible, so the patient should contact the Northumbria NHS to get their money back.

Happy Parking

The Parking Prankster


  1. Well done Prankster and martmonk. I've passed a link to your blog-post to my local newspaper and my MP - suggest others from the affected area do the same. This abuse cannot be allowed to go on any longer. Parking is a hot topic in Northumberland at the moment with the Unitary Council playing silly political games - now the NHS trust is up to no good as well...

  2. I think that there may well be a contract the same as with Sunderland NHS that gets the NHS Trust to pay the VAT on the ParkingEye receipts.
    If that's the case then the Trust is paying for parking control (read as highway robbery) so where's the savings?
    As I understand it the NHS Trust can't reclaim VAT so the payments to ParkingEye will be at least the same or close enough to what they paid to divest themselves of the parking expenses in the first place.
    Anyone done a FOI request for a pdf copy of the contract yet?

    1. yes, in the mse thread linked in the first line of the blog post is this;
      and there's a whole raft opf VAT related FOI's also.

  3. There is a special exception to the general rule that VAT cannot be reclaimed by an NHS trust which is when the VAT is payable on a service that has been outsourced. It does however have implications for cash flow as the potential £50K per quarter will only be reclaimed at least 3 months in arrears.

    1. I may well be wrong here Nigel, but the way I see it is that the VAT payment would only be relevant to a full invoice, ie for £x amount plus VAT at 20%.
      A separate payment relating to an amount of VAT paid by one of their own suppliers wouldn't fit that description.

      The VAT is the responsibility of the supplier and any payment in recompense cannot strictly be a VAT payment can it? It has already been paid by the supplier and so is only able to be classed as a general expense on the accounts of the NHS Trust.
      ParkingEye are being exceptionally devious in doing this.
      They should (will) account for the VAT themselves and then offset it against their own VATable expenses, which means of course that they effectively don't pay the VAT at all. It's a write down loss only.
      So they effectively don't pay VAT when all's considered then get an amount representing that sum paid back to them by the NHS. Not bad if you own PE but damned disgraceful that an NHS Trust should fall for this.
      Someone should let them know of this.

    2. I don't think you're correct here. The whole idea of VAT is that businesses don't really have to pay it in the first place, instead it is the end consumers who effectively pay VAT. This is because as a business I offset VAT that my suppliers charge me against the VAT which I charge my customers, and the total sum of this is what I have to pay back to HMRC (if positive) or can claim back from HMRC (if negative). Hence you're correct in that ParkingEye effectively won't pay any VAT - but neither will any other trading business in the UK (and if Nigel is correct neither will the NHS Trust). That's the whole beauty of VAT and explains why businesses do not care about prices which include VAT. They are only concerned about the "true" (pre-VAT) price.