This week’s topic on the show is one that really gets people going – vehicle clamping. This was the email we received from a listener:
Yesterday morning I awoke coughing up blood. I have Cystic Fybrosis, and this is one of the unfortunate effects of the illness that can occur. But when it does it is best to be on the safe side, so I arranged with the nurse in the CF Unit in Limerick Regional Hospital to be admitted that afternoon. I’m 21 years old and not living with family members as I am renting a room near my place of work, so I chose to drive myself. I arrived shortly after 2pm, but when I entered the hospital grounds it became clear there were no parking spaces in any of the Hospital car parks. Each one had a queue of around 5-10 cars. Since my appointment to get my x-ray and picc line inserted was at 2:30pm, I decided to park in a next door car park behind a petrol station. I figured if I paid for 2 hours parking there, it would give me enough time to have my procedures done and get admitted into my room and then return to the car and bring it inside the hospital grounds (as the car parks would be quiter by then). So at 2:18 pm, I paid for my ticket and placed it on the dashboard and continued on to the hospital.
An admission is usually quite a stressful day as it is. There can be long periods of waiting. The picc line isn’t the most pleasant procedure, it involves inserting a small tube going from your arm to your heart to administer anti biotics directly to your veins. So after all of this is done, you want to sit down in your room and relax. But I first had to go back for my car. I got back to the car park where my car was parked just after 4:15pm, perfect timing as my ticket expired at 4:18pm. Or so I thought. When I got there I saw some notices on my car and a big yellow clamp on the front wheel. I’m generally not a person who loses his temper easily, so I stayed calm. I checked the dashboard and the ticket wasn’t there, it had fallen on to the front drivers seat, maybe from a gust of wind. Since the ticket was still there and valid I figured it was just a misunderstanding, and that if I called them up they could sort it out once I explained the circumstances.
The company responsible for the clamping are called NCPS, National Controlled Parking Scheme. Bear in mind that due to this specific car parks location, the majority of people parking there would be going to the hospital. Whether it be patients, visitors, outpatients etc. Sick people, people going through hard times, possibly having family members in a ward. Vulnerable people. I have no doubt that this is why the clampers pay so much attention to this specific location.
I called them up, and while the first person I spoke to was very polite and nice, it became clear that he was not going to approve removing the clamp unless I paid the fine. He said that because the ticket had fallen onto the seat it was no longer “clearly visible”, therefore the clamp was valid. I decided to consider my options first, so I said I would ring back and ended the call. I consulted with some of the nurses on my ward but couldn’t really see any alternative myself other than to pay it. The longer I left the car there the more chance they would try add extra charges. They suggested trying to speak to a supervisor this time when I rang.
The supervisor I spoke to was not as nice as the first employee I spoke to. His tone was quite impatient, and he seemed to have no interest in listening to the circumstances of the clamping. As far as he was concerned the clamp was not being removed unless the fee was paid. I felt I was getting no where, and wanted to get my car into the hospital so I could bring in my bags and medicines, so I payed the fine. The driver who had clamped the car came and removed the clamp within minutes. I was not at the car at the time, so didn’t get to speak to him or hear his opinion.
I’m writing this from my hospital room the morning after, still bitter about the encounter. The supervisors lack of empathy really struck me. He said he can not remove the clamp unless the fee was paid. I checked their website it said that the clamp could be removed without fee under “extreme circumstances”. I’m wondering would I have had to collapse while going back and forth to my clamped car with my severely damaged lungs for them to consider it extreme circumstances.
I hope this email helps aware people on the dealings of some of these privately owned companies. Taking money from the sick is far more important to them than maintaining any sort of integrity or decency. Worse is that these clamping companies are not regulated at all. They are privately owned and therefore not subject to regulation from the Council Traffic Department. They can clamp any car they wish, charge any fee they like, and nobody can do a thing because they make their own rules without regulation.
And here are my notes for the show:
Clamping in public places has been common for quite some time. Generally, although nobody likes it, people understand that it’s needed in order to keep parking spaces available and to prevent abuse. There’ll always be hard cases, where people arrive back just as the clampers pull away, or where they’ve “just popped into the shops for a few minutes”, but people generally see clamping as a necessary evil.
What really annoys people is private clamping. Nobody likes that sense that the clampers are making money out of inconveniencing them, or the idea that there is no real public purpose being served.
Until recently, clamping on private land (including hospitals) was completely unregulated. This led to a lot of stand-offs where the owner refused to pay (for, e.g where there wasn’t enough signage to indicate that clampers were operating) and the clamper refused to remove the clamp. Gardaí often ended up being called, but couldn’t do much to intervene, as this was essentially a private property dispute – the landowner and the car owner both having rights over their respective property. There were also reports of “rogue clampers” essentially holding cars to ransom, even where they were perfectly legally parked. In theory (although I doubt anyone ever tried this out in practice – except maybe a lawyer) you could sue a clamper for “detinue”, the wrongful taking of personal property. Of course their defence would be that they were defending their property from unauthorised trespass.
Thankfully there is now some regulation, so that at least there is a bit more certainty about your rights. The Clamping Act, 2015 recently passed the Oireachtas. At committee stage, Catherine Murphy proposed that it ban outright the use of clamps on Hospital ground. The minister, Pascal O’Donoghue, rejected the amendment. In the UK, clamping on all private land is illegal. The rationale for not banning it here seems to be to allow property owners to defend their constitutional property rights – though of course the motorist also has property rights to defend, and there are plenty of restraints on property rights in the public interest.
The new law does require that clamping can only occur where there is prominent, clearly visible signage, displaying the clamp release charge, the tow-away charge and any other charges that might apply. It also sets maximum fines for private clampers of €100 for clamping plus €50 for tow-away. The NTA also has the power to set different maximums. It also bans the clamping of ambulances, which believe or not, has happened in the past, preventing seriously ill people from being taken to hospital.
It also requires that there be an appeals process in place, first to the parking controller (which would be the car park in this case) and then to the National Traffic Authority.
Our listener was parked in a private car park rather than in the hospital itself. NCPS have an appeals system in place. Unfortunately the NTA haven’t got around to setting up the secondary appeals process under the act yet. In fact, a lot of the structures provided for under the Act, such as the code of practice for clampers, don’t seem to have been put in place by the NTA yet (see this piece in today’s Irish Times
I contacted the HSE to see whether hospitals had set up any appeals process. It would seem that the most logical way to deal with this in hospital car parks would be to come up with a single appeals process at HSE level for all hospitals. However, the HSE say that hospitals have a variety of owners, so its up to them to put in place their own appeals processes. I would be surprised if all, or even most of them have done so yet, bearing in mind the Clamping Act was only passed in May (Limerick Hospital have promised to get back to me with a statement regarding the situation in their car park prior to tomorrow morning’s show)
At present, many of the private car parking operators already operate a two stage appeals process not unlike the one envisaged under the clamping act. They say that about one in four of those cases that reach the second stage are given full or partial refunds, but that very few people (under 5% of all clampings) actually pursue appeals. This may be because people might feel harshly dealt with mat the time, but ultimately realise that “I was only a few minutes late” isn’t a ground for appeal, and don’t pursue the matter (there’s a fee for pursuing the second stage appeal).
The Clamping Act comes in response to many complaints about the manners and attitude of clampers, and allows for complaints to be made to the NTA about how clampers go about their jobs. But without a Code of Practice in place (the NTA say it will come at the end of this year at the earliest) it’s hard to see what practical effect a complaint can have.
Also yet to come from the NTA are regulations on how long a vehicle must be be parked before it’s clamped, how long again before it’s towed, and how long it should take to get the clamp removed.