“The action of taking property unlawfully from a person or place by force or threat of force”; the legal definition of robbery.

‘Robbery’ perhaps may be a little harsh, although if you consider the threat of having your car clamped, towed away or just punitive financial charges to be forceful, then it could work. If you’ve ever been caught at a car park without the correct change, only for the machine to tell you that ‘No Change Given’, you’ll have an understanding of the point.

If you’re paying for £1.60 worth of parking with two £1 coins, you’re not getting any extra, you don’t a credit for the next time, you can’t stay any longer (unless that rolls you into the next time slot), you’re just giving the parking operator free money, and they really do view it as free money.

NCPs free money

NCP typically make just under £700,000 per year from overpayments – all of those odd bits of payments that they hang on to when their machines won’t give change; between 2009 – 2012, NCP made an extra £2.44m just from these overpayments alone.

You could argue that the onus is on the driver to ensure that they have the correct money, which is a fair point, but sometimes life doesn’t work out that way, and with technology being as it is, why can’t there be card payments? Or smart parking using your smartphone?

It’s a lucrative little hustle for car park operators, it just happens that NCP are the biggest operator in the UK with over 600 sites managed or owned by them. It has been described as ‘fleecing the motorist’ by an RAC spokesman, and yet that still isn’t the ‘free money’.

Tax avoidance (gone wrong)

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have recently been in court with NCP, with the car park operator as the claimant, after HMRC deemed that the £2.4 million pounds should be subject to payment of the 20% VAT tariff.

It seems as though NCP wanted to recoup the near £490,000 VAT payment to HMRC, and used the legal process of the High Court to try and do just that, after an earlier appeal went against them. The basis of their defence, and their subsequent appeal relied on the argument that this money wasn’t a direct payment for a service, that the parking had already been paid for, so the overpayment was just that. (A bonus?)
Lord Justices Newey, Patten, and Males dismissed NCPs claim, deeming that it was the total sum paid that covered the parking charge, and therefore, entirely valid for the HMRC to claim VAT on the figure.

Pete Williams from the RAC stated: “Everyone who has been unlucky enough to be fleeced in such a way by a car park operator will view this appeal with utter contempt” and Edmund King, AA president had similar views: “Drivers who have wanted to give left-over parking time to another motorist but been prevented by measures to stop tickets being transferred will have a wry smile on their face when they hear this court ruling”.

Have your cake and eat it too

Of course there is a simple solution to the problem; give change, take card payments or implement a system that can be accessed from an App – all three solutions would negate the issue, but at nearly £700,000 a year, the car park operators are unwilling to do that.

Perhaps the most galling part of this, is the ‘wanting your cake and eating it too’ greed of the operators; surely, if they’re making free money (remember, according to them, they’re not offering a service for this money), the least they could do is pay tax on it graciously.

The increase in technology means that we’re moving further toward a cashless society with each month that passes – paying for smaller items is as simple as a swipe of a card, or wave of a smartphone, and payments by card overtook cash payments (by volume) over a year ago, so carrying a pocketful of change isn’t as commonplace as it once was.

On top of that, councils are already making huge profit in parking charges, and it seems that we now have to contend with the operators themselves joining the fray and removing even more money unnecessarily unless you classify greed as a necessity.

It would be great to see the authority owned car parks tackling this problem on our behalf, but unfortunately, that’s just probably wishful thinking.

Should parking operators still be able to get away with such shoddy practice? Perhaps you’d like to see the regulations tightened up? Can you think of one aspect of motoring that isn’t taxed in some way? Let us know in the comments.

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