Drivers are being given an average of more than 22,000 tickets every day by private parking companies, according to analysis of government data.
Companies issued four million tickets to motorists between April and September despite car use being more than a quarter below pre-pandemic levels in the early part of that period.
If that rate continues, the total for the financial year will come close to the record of 8.4 million set in 2019-20, which in itself was more than double the figure from four years earlier, when 3.7 million fines were issued.
The figures show the number of times parking companies obtained records from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to chase car owners for alleged infringements in private car parks such as at shopping centres, leisure facilities and motorway service areas. Each resultant ticket can cost drivers up to £100.
A total of 163 firms requested car owner records between April and September. The biggest buyer was ParkingEye with nearly 900,000 records.
The DVLA charges private companies £2.50 per record. The agency says that its charges recover the cost of providing the information and it does not make any money from the process.
The implementation of measures aimed at preventing drivers being mistreated by parking companies is awaiting ministerial sign-off. The new code, which was mooted in early 2018, is being drawn up to regulate parking on private land such as supermarkets, retail parks, pubs and residential developments.
They include a government sanctioned code of practice, a single appeals service and a system of charges and penalties more in line with those levied by councils. Under the reforms, access to DVLA data would be dependent on companies abiding by the new code of conduct.
The system, which is expected to be introduced this year, would include an independent appeals process, the end of penalties for genuine errors such as keying in the wrong registration number, a ten-minute grace period before tickets are issued and a requirement to make signage more prominent.
Penalties in most car parks outside London would be limited to £50 and halved to £25 if paid within two weeks. A rate of £80 would operate in London, which would be a cut from the existing maximum of £100. A consultation by the former Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government proposes allowing companies to levy an additional £70 debt collection fee.
Steve Gooding, director of the motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said that the number of tickets being issued was a “clear sign that something in the current system isn’t working”.
He said: “We believe there are very few drivers who set out to intentionally break the rules and consequently get stuck with a bill for up to £100, particularly if all they were doing was dropping off some of the myriad parcel deliveries we’ve been ordering this year to an apartment block or industrial estate.
“Our advice to drivers is never ignore a parking charge notice. Read it carefully and, however strongly it’s worded, if it’s wrong, challenge it. If there is one sector of the economy which has been resilient during Covid then it is the private parking industry.”