Many car parks are owned and operated by local authorities or other public sector bodies, and they have the power to issue a penalty charge notice (usually around £60; £30 if paid early) for breaches.

Contrast this with privately operated car parks where often a parking charge notice may be issued for infringements. These can be for as much as £160, or more.

When parking in a privately owned car park, a driver is deemed to have entered into a contract with the car park operator, and agreed to the operator’s terms and conditions set out in signs inside the car park. However, there is no formal regulation of private car park operators (although some are members of accredited trade associations), and there are many instances of drivers having negative experiences when using such car parks, so much so that Murdo Fraser MSP has published a consultation which proposes a bill to regulate the provisions of and charging for privately operated car parking in Scotland.

The consultation considers five key issues and offers some solutions, which would form part of the proposed bill: these concern the charges; signage; appearance of invoices; appeals process; and keeper liability.

In particular, in relation to charges, there is often confusion between a parking charge notice issued by a private company and a penalty charge notice issued by local authorities. Drivers often think that the two are similar and that they must comply with a parking charge notice in the same way as a penalty notice. This is often compounded by the fact that the way that the invoice is presented can be deliberately ambiguous to mimic a penalty charge notice, and mislead the consumer into thinking it is notice of a penalty. However a parking charge notice is merely an invoice for payment: it shows the operator’s intention to raise proceedings in civil court, but is not legally binding (although recent cases have decided in favour of the parking companies).

It is proposed that the bill would create a mechanism by which a reasonable sum, or a range of maximum sums, can be charged for breach of parking rules in privately operated car parks, and there should be clear standards to differentiate between private and statutory penalties and to distinguish whether it is a penalty charge notice or an invoice for payment.