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Supermarket shoppers not legally obliged to pay parking fines

Supermarket shoppers not legally obliged to pay parking fines Ashley Gardiner Herald Sun October 10, 2008

TENS of thousands of Victorians have forked out for shopping centre parking fines they are not legally obliged to pay.

Consumer Affairs Victoria today will issue a statewide alert warning motorists that Care Park Pty Ltd has no power to issue fines or impose penalties at "free" supermarket car parks.

Care Park has used the courts to obtain the addresses of more than 16,000 car owners this year -- worth up to $1.4 million in "penalties".

Private parking companies make demands for payment of "liquidated damages for breach of contract".

Using information from the VicRoads database, Care Park sends a "notice of intention to sue" for the sum of $88 plus legal costs.

"If you wish to avoid the unnecessary cost and embarrassment of court proceedings, you must immediately pay the overdue amount," a Care Park letter says.

Another private car park company, Australian National Car Parks, is at the centre of a case designed to test the legality of its demands.

A third company that issues demand notices, Parking Infringements Victoria, is also under investigation by Consumer Affairs.

If shoppers fail to get a ticket or overstay the maximum time, they are issued with "payment notices" that look like council parking fines.

Stuck under windscreen wipers by company employees, the notices contain details on how to pay the demand by cheque or credit card.

If the demands go unpaid, the company takes VicRoads to court, demanding the names and addresses of car owners.

Despite the Consumer Affairs ruling, VicRoads will hand over the names and addresses of 3800 motorists to Care Park in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court today.

The road authority said it had no power to oppose the application to access its private registration database.

The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority resisted attempts by ANCP to access private registration, but was overruled by the Court of Appeal.

Consumer Affairs director Claire Noone said shoppers should not be misled into accepting liability for a fee for which they may not be liable.

"Care Park is a private company, it has no power to issue fines or impose penalties," Dr Noone said.

Consumer Affairs will today warn motorists that Care Park has adopted procedures that resemble the penalty procedures used by law enforcement agencies.

"(This) may mislead owners of cars into accepting liability for a fee in circumstances where they may not be liable," the warning will say.

The Consumer Action Law Centre has launched a test case against ANCP, after a shopping centre worker was issued with a demand for $66.

She failed to display a ticket at the Barkly Square Shopping Centre car park in Brunswick, where parking is free of charge.

She was parked for only 40 minutes but was still issued with the demand.

Consumer Action policy director Nicole Rich said the $66 demand was unlawful.

Care Park, ANCP and Parking Infringements Victoria did not return calls from the Herald Sun.

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