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10 March 2014

Fee waived in parking dispute news

Consumer member David Wardle had his $65 parking fee waived and Disputes Tribunal costs refunded after he challenged the fee as unfair.

Consumer member David Wardle had his $65 parking fee waived and Disputes Tribunal costs refunded after he challenged the fee as unfair.

David and his family had parked in a Wilson Parking lot in Auckland. But the pay and display machine they tried to use wasn’t working. “When we went to pay, we were unable to push any coins into the machine,” David says.

They ended up taking photos of their efforts to pay the $6 charge as evidence the machine was faulty.

When they got back to the car two hours later, there was a $65 breach notice on the windscreen. David wrote to Parking Enforcement Services (PES) – Wilson Parking’s monitoring division – explaining what had happened. But PES rejected David’s complaint. “They didn’t accept there were sufficient grounds to dispute the charge so I told them I’d take the case to the Disputes Tribunal,” he says.

A day before the hearing, the company advised it would waive the $65 breach notice “without prejudice” – a legal term that means the offer can’t be used as evidence in any later court proceedings.

However, David had also claimed the $36.30 (now $45) it had cost him to file the tribunal claim and told the company he intended to go ahead with the case unless this amount was refunded as well. The company agreed to pay the filing fee the next day.

Wilson Parking confirmed the pay and display machine David used was faulty but didn’t accept the breach notice was issued unfairly. Chief executive Steve Evans says “a commercial decision” was made to waive the $65 notice and pay the filing fee as no manager was available to attend the hearing on the day. Evans says there are six other machines at the carpark and credit card, phone and text-to-pay services are also available. However, these payment options incur additional fees.

Legal points

The Consumer Guarantees Act requires traders to perform their services with reasonable care and skill. “For a carpark operator, we’d expect this to include ensuring the pay and display machine provided for customers’ use actually worked,” says our consumer adviser Paul Doocey.

“We think it’s also reasonable to expect there should be clear signage explaining what to do in the event the pay and display machine doesn’t work. That’s particularly important at carparks where there’s no attendant, as was the case here,” Paul says.

Consumer receives regular complaints about private carpark operators. We want to see better regulation of the sector, including clear rules about signage and dispute resolution.

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