If you ask most motorists what they fear most, then it's likely they'll say: being clamped. While car theft and being in an accident are more devastating, they're also hugely less likely to happen to you than being punitively immobilized.
While you can be clamped by the police and DVLA for unpaid motoring offences, and expired tax, we will look at the far more prevalent problems surrounding private clamping.
So what happens if you return to your car and find it's wearing a yellow metal welly?
On the scene
1. Stay calm, and do not try to remove the clamp by force - damaging it can be a criminal offence, whether you've been clamped illegally or not.
Calling the clampers
1. Clampers must be licensed, so ask the person who shows up to deal with you for their Security Industry Association (SIA) number - it must be 16 digits long.
2. If they can't prove they're licensed do not pay them, but insist they remove the clamp, and if they refuse, call the police - illegal clamping is a criminal offence.
3. If they threaten or intimidate you in any way, including 4 of their 'friends' jumping out of the clamping van with them, again call the police immediately.
Do not say you're in dispute with clampers - the police may not want to get involved - say that you're being physically threatened by group of men in a car park, if that's what's happening.
If any of them even touches you against your will, that can constitute assault.
4. If they show what appears to be a valid SIA licence, check that it corresponds with any warning notices in the area you parked.
5. The notice will say who the landowner is, and who is licensed to enforce parking in the area on their behalf. If it isn't the people you're dealing with, again insist on release and if needed, call the police. It is possible that the clampers may have separate documentation from the landowner showing their right to enforce parking, but check it carefully.
Paying the release fee
1. Assuming you're satisfied they are legit, you'll have to pay them to release your car.
2. If you intend to challenge either the facts of the clamping, or the amount (it should be reasonable - the average is Ã‚Â£240, but previous judgements have tended to indicate that courts consider Ã‚Â£150 to be more reasonable), then try to ensure you pay the fee by card.
3. Make sure you get a receipt and record:
The clamper's contact details and SIA number
The location where the alleged parking incident occurred
The name and signature of the person releasing you
4. On their paperwork write "paid under protest" to ensure they can't claim you accepted liability.
Research your argument
If you're going to try to get your money back, time to check some things:
1. Did you have adequate notice? The signs must be clear, unambiguous and within sight of where you parked, not tucked away, round the corner or hidden behind bushes.
2. Take pictures of the signs if you think they fail this test. The reason for this is that you technically must consent to have your car clamped, and your awareness of the notice is the means by which your consent is given.
3. Was the fee charged exorbitant? If the fee differs from that on the signage, or you feel it was not reasonable, you can sue to recover it - the fee should cover the landowner's expenses and an appropriate element of profit. A court will decide what is reasonable, but that's no reason to be worried - law operates on what "the common man finds reasonable" so it's probably on your side.
4. Were you displaying a disabled badge? If so they shouldn't have touched your vehicle.
If you're appealing a clamping it's most likely going to be on the following grounds:
1. The signage wasn't clear - you'll have the photographs from the steps above
2. The fee wasn't reasonable - again you'll have the paperwork and receipt as above
3. You weren't on private land - this happens, and again take photos of the area to prove it. Public land is a normal road or a council car park. Private land includes superstore car parks and dedicated parking areas outside houses and places of work.
4. There were mitigating circumstances. Reasons that might succeed include:
Being broken down
Tending to an emergency
Being too ill to move your car
Being at a funeral
Your ticket or permit has slipped down (this is your problem, but you might get lucky)
You made an honest mistake and are now fully aware of the restrictions (again, good luck with that one)
To do this, you simply write to the address given on the release forms you were given, presenting all the evidence you have, and explaining your reasoning for the appeal.
If you hear nothing back, or you do, and you strongly believe you've had a valid appeal rejected, then your next step is court action.
Taking it to court
It's going to cost you another Ã‚Â£25 to Ã‚Â£100 to file the claim, but if you win (or the clamper doesn't bother responding to the case) you'll get that back.
1. The Government-run Moneyclaim website https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/web/mcol/welcome, makes small claims like this incredibly straightforward. Just fill in the form, pay the fee, and wait 5 days.
2. If the clamper ignores it or admits you're right, you've won.
3. If you have to fight it in court, they may not show, in which case you've won.
4. Worst case scenario is that you have to fight it in court. This will be a county court, which means: a judge hears it, not a jury; it's far less scary than you'd think, and you don't need a solicitor.
5. Assuming you win, you may have to return to the Moneyclaim site to enforce payment, but they have details on there to quite literally send in the bailiffs.
"My lovely car now sold onto a very happy new owner.
I still love this marque and I will still be around, preferred selling to breaking, as a great runner and performer"