Appealing a parking ticket: How to fight a PCN

No one likes to see a parking ticket on their windscreen, but don’t pay straight away – we show you how to appeal and protect yourself in future.

  • We explain how to fight a parking ticket
  • Find out if your ticket was unfair
  • Parking tickets on private land explained

More than eight million parking tickets were handed out by private firms alone last year in the UK – equivalent to more than 20,000 a day – so unless you are very careful, there’s a chance you will find one of those annoying plastic envelopes stuck to your windscreen. 

However, receiving a ticket doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay it. Our guide will show you if you can appeal and how to do it.

What is a PCN?

PCN stands for Penalty Charge Notice, the formal name for a parking ticket. The name is important, because other types of ticket that can be issued are an Excess Charge Notice or Fixed Penalty Notice, and because these are criminal rather than civil actions, they require a different appeal process, which we’ll come to later

Matters are further complicated because the type of parking ticket you can receive depends on who it is issued by.

There is a crucial distinction between ‘official’ parking tickets issued by local councils, the police or Transport for London, and tickets that are issued by private companies operating on behalf of a business or land owner.

If you receive a ticket, examine it closely to determine what kind it is, because under the letter of the law a private firm cannot issue you with a parking ticket, only an invoice for an alleged breach of contract. However, private firms usually make these fines look exactly like parking tickets in the hope that you will treat them as such and pay them straight away.

How do I know what kind of parking ticket I have?

Official ‘parking tickets’ will either be called a Penalty Charge Notice, an Excess Charge Notice or a Fixed Penalty Notice, and also must show the name of the issuing authority, whether that is a local council, Transport for London or the police.

If the ticket does not use these exact terms – instead reading something such as ‘Parking Charge Notice’ – and has the name of a company rather than an official body or council, then this is an invoice, and requires a different appeals process.

What should I do if I have a parking ticket?

The most important thing to do if you return to your car and you have a parking ticket is to gather and retain as much evidence at the time as possible. If you bought a ticket to park, keep this safely, retain any banking records that show you have paid for parking, and take pictures of your car at the location, any road markings and parking signs that may support an appeal.

Is a Penalty Charge Notice a criminal conviction?

A Penalty Charge Notice is regarded as a civil offence, so is not considered a criminal conviction even if you decide not to pay, although you can be pursued through the county court system for a failure to pay.

If a council does not have civil parking enforcement in operation, then parking may be enforced by the police or police-employed traffic wardens, and here parking offences as well as some other offences such as parking on red routes or pedestrian crossings will result in a Fixed Penalty Notice, which is a criminal offence.

How do you appeal a Penalty Charge Notice?

If you have received a Penalty Charge Notice, rather than a parking charge (which may look just like a PCN) for parking on private land, then you must appeal to the issuing authority stated on the ticket.

Is my ticket unfair?

If you have knowingly parked on double yellow lines hoping that you would get away with it, then appealing is likely to be a waste of time.

However, if you thought you had parked legally, or there were extenuating circumstances, then it is worth looking in more detail if the ticket could be regarded as unfair.

Specific grounds for appeal with the council or the parking adjudicator include...

The parking signage was incorrect, obscured or illegible

The traffic warden or council operative made a mistake – if you were displaying a valid ticket or a blue badge, for example

The traffic rules were incorrect – changes to parking restrictions must follow the correct procedure, and there is a Traffic Regulation Order library where you can view these here

You were not the owner of the vehicle at the time

Your car was stolen

The ticket has missing or incorrect information

Are there any mitigating circumstances?

Mitigating circumstances which may also be grounds for appeal are less clearly defined, but examples include you were broken down, too ill to move your vehicle, you have recently been bereaved and so on.

Ultimately, it is in the hands of the council or adjudicator to decide. But if you feel the circumstances meant you were unable to abide by the regulations or believed you had done so, then this may be grounds for an appeal.

It is also worth bearing in mind circumstances which you may feel were legitimate, but in the eyes of the authorities are not considered valid, such as you were getting change for the machine, you were only parked for a few minutes or you were blocking the road.

Will I lose the parking fine discount if I appeal?

Most authorities offer a 50% discount if you pay the fine within 14 days, but generally speaking if you make an appeal straight away, even if you lose you will still benefit from the discounted rate.

However, it is important to note that there are two kinds of appeal. An informal appeal is made by sending a letter or email appealing the charge, and the contact details should be listed on the ticket. Some authorities also allow you to submit an appeal via their website.

A formal appeal is required if you chose not to make an informal appeal, if your informal appeal was rejected or you received your ticket by post – this usually occurs because your violation has been caught by CCTV.

Whether you are making an informal or formal appeal, make your case clearly, including any available evidence you have such as photographs, video, witness statements and any mitigating circumstances.

What is the success rate of PCN appeals?

According to the most recent data, PCN appeals have a success rate over 50%. So if you think you have grounds to appeal it is worth taking the time to do so, as in most instances you will still be able to pay the fine at the reduced rate if you are unsuccessful.

If both informal and formal PCN appeals are unsuccessful, you have the option to take it to tribunal, which has a success rate between 50% and 64%, depending on the location.

How do I appeal a PCN rejection?

If you have made an informal appeal that has been rejected, as long as this was made within the 14 days you should still benefit from the discounted rate.

If this is not the case, you may wish to continue with a formal appeal, as the fine will not increase either way.

If you choose to make a formal appeal, include all the evidence you have submitted previously and any new evidence if available. It is also worth taking the time to review the letter you sent previously to ensure your points are made clearly and using suitable language.

Can I take it further?

If both informal and formal appeals are unsuccessful, you have the option to take your case to an independent tribunal.

This is a free service, and you can make your appeal in writing, online or by telephone if you do not wish to appear in person.

As before, include all the evidence previously submitted and review all your information for accuracy.

The tribunal body varies depending on your location, with a separate body for London, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and one covering England and Wales.

How do I appeal a parking ticket on private land?

If you have parked on private land and received a ticket, it should not be labelled as a Penalty Charge Notice – this terminology can only be used by police or local authority-issued tickets.

However, many private parking firms will make their tickets look very similar to actual PCNs in the hope that you will pay up. But the law is clear in these instances – private parking companies do not have the right to fine you, only to issue you with an invoice for an alleged breach of contract, in this instance the terms you informally agreed to by parking in the area they are responsible for.

This is a crucial difference, because it affects both your legal rights and the process of appeal.

Is the driver responsible for a parking ticket?

In these circumstances, even if the driver is responsible for collecting the ticket, ultimately the owner of the vehicle will be held responsible for any charges if they do not know, or cannot determine, who the driver was at the time.

What is the process for appealing a private parking ticket?

As with an official PCN, the most important thing to do is gather evidence at the scene, including any tickets that show you have paid for parking, and pictures of signs, markings or anything else that is relevant to your case.

There are two main methods to appealing a ticket issued by a private firm – you can use the formal appeals process, which is similar to that for a genuine PCN and should be indicated on your ticket. The other, more risky, option is to write to the company stating that you will refuse to pay and give the reasons why.

What kind of appeal should I make?

Many private parking firms are part of a trade body, which means they are supposed to abide by certain codes of practice. This should be indicated on the ticket, but if not you can check with the British Parking Association or the International Parking Community.

If the company is a member of a trade body, the safest option is to use their appeals process, as if this is unsuccessful you have the option to make a further appeal – through Popla for BPA members and the Independent Appeals Service for IPC members.

As with any kind of appeal, make your case clearly in written form and include any available evidence you have, including photographs, video, witness statements and evidence of payments you have made for parking.

You also have the option to make the more risky appeal and write to the company stating you will not pay the fine, giving the reasons why. If you choose this option, the worst case scenario is that the company will take you to court. If you lose, you will have to pay the fine and court costs, which could be as high as £400 or even more if there is a formal hearing.

If you do decide to choose this method, it is important to word your letter carefully to avoid giving any unnecessary information that could hurt your chances, the main one being that you are not legally required to name the driver. Instead, make it clear that you will not name the driver, and you are responding to the fine as the keeper of the vehicle.

Grounds for which you can dispute the fine

Insufficient signage, or signs were obscured

You did not break any rules (for example, you paid for the required parking)

You were not on private land as claimed

There were mitigating circumstances, such as your car breaking down or there was an emergency

How do I appeal if the parking company is not a member of a trade body?

If the company issuing the parking fine is not a member of a trade body, it means that if you appeal using its appeals process you do not have the option to take it to a further appeal through Popla or the IAS if initially unsuccessful.

Assuming the parking company has its own appeals process, by using this you are accepting the validity of the fine. It is therefore a matter of judging the risk for yourself, and instead of appealing you may wish to write a letter as suggested previously and state that you will not be paying the fine and give your reasons why.

What if there is a mistake on my ticket?

As private parking firms can only apply fines to the keeper of the vehicle rather than the driver, you may receive a ‘Notice to keeper’ (NTK) through the post if the initial ticket on the car was not responded to or you were caught on CCTV.

The NTK must follow a set of strict guidelines, and if there is a mistake in this you have the option to write to the company stating that you will not be paying the fine because of an error.

The NTK must include:

The vehicle details, plus the location and timing of the alleged parking offence

A notice to the keeper that a parking charge has been incurred and has not been paid, and the amount outstanding

A statement that the driver’s details are unknown and request to either provide this information or payment of the fine

A statement of who is requesting the payment and how it should be paid

A declaration if a parking ticket was given at the time of the offence

A warning that if payment is not made within 28 days that it has the right to recover the amount from the keeper

Information regarding any discounts for prompt payment and guidance for the resolution of any disputes

A statement of the date on which the NTK was issued