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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Sunday 1 March 2020

Parking Peril At Waitrose

Long suffering followers of this blog will be familiar with my encounters with Waitrose car parks, including the car park at its excellent Havant, Hampshire store. So imagine my horror when I recently discovered that it  had not only stopped pretending to charge for parking by certain lingerers but had brought in Britannia Parking to control parking at the store under a - wait for it - automatic number plate recognition scheme. You gets snapped going in and coming out and if the time lapse is longer than 90 minutes, you gets stung. What self-respecting shopper can  park,  adjust their hat or flies, access the store, view the offers, make their selections, collect their free newspaper and consume their free coffee, sort out their coupons, block an aisle talking to their next door neighbour, queue up, smile at the checkout assistant, bag up their shopping, return to their car and drive off in less than a couple of hours? I ask you! 

The Havant scheme has been running since November 2019 and has been rolled out at a number of other stores as well. Waitrose tell me that the volume of complaints they have received has been minimal. This is how the scheme works at Havant. You drive in and hopefully will observe a series of signs like this.

For full details, then, you need to go the one sign at the lifts and stairs. Take your magnifying glass with you and this is what you will be confronted with. 

For those without a magnifying glass or 20:20 vision, I can tell you that the small print  at the bottom explains that you are accepting the parking deal by parking, waiting or otherwise remaining in the car park. Stay for longer than 90 minutes or return within two hours and you may be charged £70 which will be reduced by at least 40% if you pay up within 14 days. Failure to pay up within 14 days will mean the full charge will be levied and there may then also be recovery charges on top.  

I put some questions to Waitrose. Here are the questions and their answers.

Q To what extent, if at, will Waitrose have any input in a customer challenge to a charge being levied?

A We will support any customer who has needed longer whilst shopping at any of our shops, and this can be done  through our Customer Care team or at our Welcome desks in our shops.    

Q How do you communicate to customers that you would wish them to go to the Welcome desk if they wish to return within the time period and where do they park while they do this?

A Prior to any changes to our car park operation, we will advertise these to our customers so they are aware and can speak to a Partner in one of our shops should they have a question.

I put these questions to Britannia. They did not wish to answer any of them

Q How many car parks does Britannia run for Waitrose using the ANPR system?

Q When will a charge actually be imposed? Signage says there ‘may’ be a charge? What criteria will be applied in deciding whether there will be a charge and to what extent, if at all, will Waitrose have any say in the decision as to whether or not to impose a charge?

Q The signage suggests that the charge may apply on parking for in excess of 90 minutes or returning within two hours. Does this mean there may be a charge if a customer parks for five minutes, departs and returns within two hours and parks for another five minutes?  

Q How does the system distinguish between (a)  a driver who has simply passed through the car park or paused to read the detailed terms and conditions so as to decide whether or not to remain and (b) a driver who has parked in a bay with a view to remaining?

Q When does the return time run from? If a customer parks at 9.00am for 60 minutes, are they in jeopardy if they return at 11.00am or at 12.00noon?  Further, in order to trigger a return charge, is the customer in jeopardy if they return without actually parking or otherwise stopping within the car park? Is the signage not ambiguous?

Q Waitrose say that that they will support any customer who has needed longer in the car park and that this can be done through their customer care team or at their Welcome desk in the store. How will this actually work? Will Britannia automatically cancel a charge if Waitrose asks them to do so? Through what means of communication will the Waitrose ’support’ be channelled?

7 Why are the terms and conditions as displayed by the lift at the Havant store printed is such small  type? How can Britannia reasonably expect to argue that they are sufficiently conspicuous or readable? This is the only notice displaying those terms and conditions in the park? 

Britannia declined to answer any of them but a spokesman said:  “We operate and manage more than 500 car parks nationwide, include those at Waitrose stores. We are a member of the British Parking Association and the industry’s Approved Operators Scheme. All of our signs and procedures meet the approved operators’ code of conduct, including those at Waitrose stores. We work very closely with all of our clients to introduce the most appropriate parking solution based on their requirements. We are not at liberty to disclose information about arrangements between Britannia Parking and its clients. We do not comment on our own internal procedures. As a long standing car park operator and manager of more than 25 years, we take our responsibilities to our clients and customers using our car parks very seriously.”

If you are aggrieved by a number plate recognition charge at this car park or in a similar situation -  and you may be clobbered even though you were not the driver but were the registered keeper though see http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/search/label/car%20parking - try and get Waitrose on your side and, with or without their support,  take advantage of Britannia's appeal scheme. And if your appeal fails and a county court claim is made against you, consider whether you may have grounds to contest it. Should you have been caught out because of something stated in the tiny print by the Havant lifts and stairs which was not stated in one of the bigger notices then you might be able to argue that you are not bound by it as it was too small to read and was not sufficiently prominent (see my book Breaking Law on small print at chapter 41).  Also check the bigger print notices to see how many were displayed on your route to the lifts and stairs and what they said. 

Before parking at a number plate recognition car park next time, take your watch with you - how many of us remember the exact time we parked ? - and that magnifying glass.

Just one other thing, Waitrose and Britannia. The sign at the lift and stairs doesn't quite make sense in the section just above the small print in respect of car park and store closure times.