Have you ever wondered whether the charges for overstaying the time limit at your local supermarket car park are legal and enforceable? This is just the question the Supreme Court had to consider late last year.

In the case of ParkingEye v Beavis, Mr Beavis parked his car in a free car park in Chelmsford. ParkingEye managed the car park on behalf of the landowner. Prominent notices were displayed in the car park limiting any stay to 2 hours and stating that failure to comply would result in a charge of £85. Mr Beavis overstayed the 2 hour limit by 56 minutes. ParkingEye notified him that the £85 charge was payable. Mr Beavis refused to pay and ParkingEye commenced court proceedings against him. Mr Beavis argued the charge was unenforceable as the landowner hadn’t suffered any financial loss.

When parking on private land such as at the supermarket or at a retail park, a motorist’s relationship with the landowner is governed by contract law. The motorist is accepting the landowner’s terms and conditions as set out on the signs displayed at the car park when they make their decision to park there. In this case the Supreme Court had to consider whether the £85 charge for exceeding 2 hours was an enforceable charge.

The Supreme Court held that although ParkingEye did not suffer any loss as a result of motorists who stayed longer than the maximum free parking period of 2 hours, it had a legitimate interest in charging them a sum which is greater any loss suffered. The legitimate interest included providing a service to the landowner to manage the car park in the interests of retail outlets, their customers and the wider public. ParkingEye were not free to charge whatever they like but £85 was not out of all proportion and therefore it was neither extravagant nor unconscionable, which was the legal test that they had to apply. It was noted that the charge was less than the maximum suggested by the British Parking Association.

The Supreme Court also considered whether the charge was unfair and invalid under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations. The court said that the same considerations applied and therefore it was not unfair under the regulations. Charging motorists who outstayed the 2 hour limit underpinned the business model which enabled free parking for 2 hours. The amount of the charge was no higher than was necessary to achieve that objective.

The case clarifies the law where previously there had been considerable uncertainty. It also provides a salutary reminder to motorists to keep an eye on their watches and not out stay their welcome!

Cavendish Square Holding BV v El Makdessi and ParkingEye Ltd v Beavis [2105] UKSC 67

If you have any queries that arise out of this article or require any advice generally on whether a contract is enforceable,  contact Tracey Ashford on 01562 512484 or tashford@thursfields.co.uk

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