PCNs and fines for EV charging are the new car park cash cow

Be careful in car parks, folks!

We are receiving more complaints than ever from drivers about ‘penalty notices’ issued by car park operators. Make sure you read the terms and conditions on the charging notice before using the car park to charge your vehicle. Note that if the car park is run by a private operator, the ‘penalty notice’ is effectively an invoice, payable because you broke the terms they set out on an information board somewhere. The most common mistake is spending too long at electric charging points.

Have you received a PCN or fine after charging in a supermarket or retail car park? You’re not alone.

We have received hundreds of comments, emails, and DMs from EV owners who have been fined after charging in a car park.

Last year, The Guardian covered a story about someone receiving a £90 PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) while charging their electric car at Lidl.

Their crime? Charging while the Lidl store was closed, despite the EV charging point being switched on and the customer paying £10 for the session.

In this case, the fault came from the customer not registering their licence plate inside the store before charging, thus verifying them as a Lidl customer.

After The Guardian’s intervention, Lidl agreed to waive the charge, but it is absurd that a PCN was issued in the first place.

Sadly, this case isn’t a rarity.

It appears as though private car parks run by fine-happy companies have found a new way to fleece drivers. It wasn’t enough that they could issue penalties for parking, they can now issue penalties for charging your electric vehicle too.

The bottom line is that private car parks are run for profit by companies. Specific terms are set out for the use of these car parks and ANY breach of these terms is usually finable. As EV owners, we must not only deal with the car park terms, but also the EV charger use terms, which can get muddled up. Common mistakes that lead to a fine include overstaying, using the car park outside of hours, and using a charger while not shopping in-store.

So what?

I’ll be the first person to admit that if you charge your EV in breach of a car park’s terms and conditions then you can expect to be fined.

But what if the T&Cs are not displayed in a reasonable place? What if the messaging is ambiguous? What if signs contradict one another?

Sometimes, it isn’t so simple.

Online forums are full of drivers who have fallen foul of car park terms and conditions, with appeals often proving unsuccessful. Sympathy is also hard to come by. “Next time, read the T&Cs!” seems to be the stock response.

The issue as I see it is two-fold.

The first is drivers not reading and interpreting a car park’s terms and conditions correctly. This is on you – you need to read the terms before charging.

The second is ambiguous messaging in car parks, with terms like “anytime” and “all-day” on the charger causing confusion when there are car park time limits.

Sometimes, of course, drivers don’t see the terms and conditions board and only see the signage on the charger, which may not list the T&Cs.

Another problem is chargers being switched on when not available for use under car park terms and conditions. Clearly, this is confusing.

Car parks on private land must comply with the Code of Practice issued by the British Parking Association (the ‘BPA’), which states car park operators must state the terms and conditions of car park use. Providing they do so on entry, and near chargers, then they have met their obligations and can use this as a shield to reject appeals.

My advice is simple – read the signs and don’t listen to other drivers. If you are confused about a car park’s terms and conditions, speak to the car park operator before using the charger.

What to do after getting a fine for charging an electric car?

Take it on the chin or appeal. You have 28 days to decide.

If you do have grounds for appeal, feel free to appeal. If you are caught dead to rights, it’s best to pay up and live and learn.

This Citizens Advice guide is useful for appeals, although, going by forums, EV charging PCN appeals are rarely successful without a smoking gun. The Government also has advice for appealing penalty charges.

Don’t waste your time speaking to the store manager unless the store owns and manages the car park. Otherwise, they will just refer you to the operator.

If you have recently been issued a fine, you can make an appeal to the operator, but don’t hold your breath for a positive result. Most appeals are rejected.

After appeal rejection, you can appeal to POPLA, but again, don’t hold your breath. POPLA does not care about common sense or your personal situation. They will only assess whether your appeal has grounds under the BPA’s Code of Practice.

Keep in mind that if you are in breach of a car park’s terms and conditions while charging your electric car, it is a waste of time appealing. This game ain’t based on sympathy. Private car park operators are profit-making machines.

Most importantly of all, read the signs, and if in doubt, don’t charge there. The best way to avoid a fine when charging is to be cautious.

Have a PCN and EV charge point story to tell? Leave a comment below.

Jakk is the founder and chief editor of Top Charger. He drives a Volkswagen ID.3 Family Pro Performance, and despite having a lead right foot, he consistently gets over 200-miles of range.