How to get out of paying a parking ticket

Woman notices parking ticket on windsheild of her car.
Photo credit: Getty

There's nothing worse than returning to your car after a long day and seeing a flash of white tucked behind your windscreen wiper.

But you may not actually have to pay your parking ticket - Consumer New Zealand head of research Jessica Wilson says private company-issued notices are a trap many people fall into.

Most private companies have signed the Code of Practice for Parking Enforcement on Private Land - a clear set of guidelines telling them when they can and can't charge your overstay.

So before you reach for your wallet, here are a few questions to ask yourself.

Were you back at your car within 10 minutes of your payment running out?

Under Section 5.8, companies are advised to give drivers "a reasonable grace period, for example 10 minutes" after paid parking has expired.

The Code of Practise explains this gives the driver time to "read terms and conditions signs and decide if they are going to stay or leave without having their vehicle issued with a parking breach notice".

"That would be grounds to contact them and say you're a signatory to this code," Ms Wilson adds.

The code advises 10 minutes only as an example - so this could be up for interpretation.

Did the company charge you a fair and reasonable amount for your overstay?

Private-owned companies are advised to charge for the actual costs they incurred for a car's overstay.

Section 5.6 says a private company cannot "misrepresent authority" by calling a parking ticket a "fine" or an "infringement" - because they have no legal authority to impose this.

As it's not a legal fine, parking notices can only be enforced if the cost is relatively reasonable. For example, a $65 penalty for being 12 minutes late is not fair.

Using the hourly rate of the carpark, calculate the exact cost. Offer a little extra as a courtesy, and call it even.

Does your parking ticket provide evidence?

Check the parking ticket includes all of the following:

- Name and contact details of the organisation issuing the notice

- Notice number

- Notice date and time of breach

- Vehicle registration, make and colour

- Breach details (needs to clearly inform driver of breach)

- Breach dollar value

- Payment due date

- How to appeal

- What happens if payment is not made (including additional charges)

- Where to go for further information

- Issuers ID number or similar details

Under section 5.4, this is the minimum requirement all breach notices must include. Missing details could be used to justify a dispute.

Ms Wilson says this really applies to when "the details provided weren't sufficient".

"If they didn't have good evidence that would be grounds for challenging."

While missing out the colour of your vehicle may not be the strongest ground to lodge a dispute, it certainly could be used to back up another argument - and enough missing information is definitely worth questioning.

Was the signage clear when you parked?

The signage must be "visible, in obvious places as well as on entrance", Ms Wilson says.

"Clear signage is basically what a reasonable consumer would expect to see, so that is an argument you can raise."

Companies are taking advantage of people's ignorance

Ms Wilson says many people pay their fines because they simply don't know any better - and companies take advantage of this.

"We would like to see a much better complaints process when these issues do arrive.

"Because there isn't, operators can rely on people not having the time to chase it up.

"It's not great because unfair practices go unchallenged."

Consumer NZ believes there should be a system, separate to the disputes tribunal, for settling parking claims.

"You have to pay $45 to lodge a claim with the disputes tribunal.

"If you're paying $65 for a ticket already that would put most customers off taking further action."

When it comes to wheel clamps, Consumer NZ would like to see the practice "totally banned".

"That's an area that's totally kind of Wild West."

"We've been calling for a ban on wheel clamping. We don't think it's a reasonable practice at all."