Clamping to be Banned

Every so often, an issue raises its head that tests my libertarian instincts. Car clamping on private property is one such. Now it is to be outlawed.

Lynne Featherstone, the Home Office minister, will announce plans to curb the activities of clampers in England and Wales.

Ms Featherstone will say the rules should be brought into line with those in Scotland, where clamping on private land was banned after a judge said it amounted to ‘extortion’ and ‘theft’.

On the one hand, private property should be just that. On the other, clamping is trespass against the vehicle. The get-out clause of a notice is supposed to be an agreement that the motorist will be clamped. However, all too often, such notices are poorly displayed and people may believe that as they are visiting the property owner, they are parking legitimately.

I have two distinct problems with clamping. The first is that the release fee is disproportionate to the offence. Parking is at best a nuisance. To extort a three-figure sum in the form of a release fee for such a minor issue is grotesque. The other problem is that it places the motorist at a disadvantage should they wish to contest the charge. They cannot effectively fight the matter while the clamper has their vehicle and all they want to do is get to their next destination. And trying to reason with unthinking jobsworths while under duress is bad for the blood pressure.

Mrs L was clamped once when she was visiting a hospital on work business. That she was there for a legitimate reason (indeed, an essential reason) made no difference. That she did not have the means on her to pay the ransom made no difference. She had to borrow from a member of staff at the hospital to get her vehicle back.

A second situation occurred some years later at Parkway station in Bristol. She had paid for her parking ticket but it had slipped down the dashboard, so the attendant did not see it. She was issued with a penalty notice. We fought this and won. Had she been clamped, we would have had to fight to get the money back – which is that much more difficult. It is always easier to withhold money than to try and claim it back once it has been extorted.

So, on balance I am happy to see clamping go, as the practice borders on the criminal. I’m inclined to agree with the judge’s statement that it is tantamount to extortion and theft – not least that the people employed to do it are all too often jobsworths unable and unwilling to make sensible decisions about circumstance and the release fees are exorbitant. But, on the other hand, I suspect that I am betraying my libertarian principles on property rights…


  1. I don’t think you’re abandoning property rights at all. The property rights of the owner of the vehicle must surely have some relevance?

    As an example… if I visit you and accidentally leave my mobile phone in your house, are you entitled to smash it?

    Clamping is not a reasonable compromise between the property rights of the landowner and the property rights of the vehicle owner. It’s good that it’s gone.

  2. Clamping is not a reasonable compromise between the property rights of the landowner and the property rights of the vehicle owner. It’s good that it’s gone.

    Agree entirely. But I also have some sympathy with property owners who do have a genuine nuisance problem with unauthorised parking. The arrangement to deal with it needs to be reasonable and effectively kidnapping the vehicle and holding it for ransom is not reasonable. So, yes, good riddance to the practice.

  3. It’s a difficult balance to strike – and once again, the legislators ( in attempting to tackle those cowboy clampers who do a bad job) have, it seems, thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

    If we were all reasonable about other’s property rights, no problem. But we’re not. I see a taxi driver has been arrested this morning for moving an ambulance blocking his way…

  4. Also, on last night’s ‘One Show’, they followed a legitimate clamping firm. Someone had parked their car ACROSS several parking bays, and they were ticketed and then clamped.

    They refused to pay – took their personal items out of the car and left.

    How can private landowners deal with those sorts of issues?

  5. They refused to pay – took their personal items out of the car and left.

    How can private landowners deal with those sorts of issues?

    Moving the vehicle would be a reasonable response to that one.

    …and once again, the legislators ( in attempting to tackle those cowboy clampers who do a bad job) have, it seems, thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

    You expect anything else?

  6. “They refused to pay – took their personal items out of the car and left.

    How can private landowners deal with those sorts of issues?”

    There are plenty of companys that will collect abandoned cars for free.

  7. The clampers in Manchester were run by thugs who occasionally had to spend time in prison for their behaviour. I always thought if somebody was allowed to clamp your car, then you should be allowed to remove the clamp using an angle-grinder. Good riddance.

  8. “Moving the vehicle would be a reasonable response to that one.”

    But would it be permitted, under this proposed legislation?

  9. “The legislation will also include measures to stop companies towing away parked cars on private land without permission.

    Ms Featherstone said she wanted to encourage “more proportionate way to deal with parking transactions”.

    Landowners who wanted to protect their land could erect barriers, she said.”

    So no, moving the vehicle will not be allowed. As someone who spent over a year living opposite a pub where it was pointless driving home before closing time because your private parking bay would be occupied, my sympathy is with the property owners. Can’t clamp, can’t move, an illegal parkers charter. Oh, you can erect barriers at your expense, where practical, to stop people from trespassing on your land, thanks a bundle, Lynne.

    Why not regulate the size and prominence of “No Parking” signs and the maximum release fee? And if it is wrong on private land, why is it okay on public land?

    I did move one car, a Moggy 1000. I had an old mini key which would open most British Leyland cars so I unlocked it, took off the handbrake, rolled into the middle of the street, put the handbrake on, locked it, went in doors and watched all the fun.

  10. DocBud – “And if it is wrong on private land, why is it okay on public land?”
    I would assume they dont want to ban the DVLA from clamping untaxed cars. They never ban themselves from doing the things they wont let the public do.

    “……went in doors and watched all the fun.” Oh, to have been there to see that.

  11. As someone who spent over a year living opposite a pub where it was pointless driving home before closing time because your private parking bay would be occupied, my sympathy is with the property owners

    There are always hard cases. They do not justify a system of legalised extortion, just as the crimes of Ian Huntley at Soham did not justify the creepy CRB and banning agency that Labour set up in its wake.

  12. Not quite the same thing, Stephen. I’m not advocating clamping everyone in case they think about parking illegally on someone’s land. As I said, the practice can be regulated so that there can be no doubt that parking is not permitted and the release fees can be restricted. What Lynne Featherstone is proposing is that the property owner has no legal recourse against someone who deliberately ignores a request not to park on another person’s land, i.e. the violator of property rights is to be protected.

  13. Getting rid of them is definitely the answer. If not we’d have to keep them and create more bloody legislation and regulation, which would not end the occurence of abuses, such as have turned the public’s mind against them.

    The ideal solution would be a ready and easy means to deal with these kind of petty civil disputes. If some kind of writ could be obtained with minimal effort, and due warning given, then seizure by clamp or other means would be another matter.

  14. I take the view that impounding is unreasonable force, whereas removal of an obstructing vehicle would be reasonable. The land owner’s property rights need to be recognised and there should be a route to enforcing them if necessary. Clamping and holding to ransom is not a proportionate method.

  15. Hard cases are easier to find once you start looking!

    I live, and every other night am responsible for the safety of over a 1,000 residents on, a hall of residence.

    It would be unreasonable simply to put a barrier at the public entrance to the entire site – that’d be a quarter mile walk for many to their blocks.

    I have a book of fixed penalty tickets, and generally they work – I actually couldn’t care less if someone has the money to throw away on regular parking fines – that seems like win-win.

    But, thanks largely to planners, and latterly space requirements, we no longer have parking spaces on the site so there are very few areas where someone could park without causing an obstruction, and given the size of the site it is unreasonable to risk say obstructing emergency services (I have had someone rescued within about 30 seconds of death – had the ambulance had to faff around with an arrogant, inconsiderate obstruction, well…)**

    So I have used our clamps (pre the SIA legislation). Generally not actually to charge people – that’s what the tickets are for – but to give them a right royal rollocking for being such a fsckwit for parking where they did and inform them that if they are a student or a guest and I catch them there again, we may invoke university disciplinary procedures and so on.

    Oh – and if they park so as to damage the property – like those who think the grass means it’s a point-to-point course, don’t get me started on those wonkers!!

    Here’s a more strident libertarian response by Walter Block.

    ** On the other hand I am told that emergency services will just shove an obstruction out of the way (I doubt within 30 seconds though so this person may well still have died even if they did so) so why clamping should be allowed on “public” land and not private is beyond me.

  16. The ironic thing is that this proposal (banning clamping on private land – why incidentally will councils still be able to clamp on their ‘private’ land? One law for the private citizen, and another for our overlords, as usual) is that it will probably end up in even greater hardship cases.

    Because the only way private landowners, especially in urban areas where parking is strictly controlled (by the council, with the threat of clamping and towing away of course!), can protect their parking spaces is to use the court system. Issue proceedings against people who park where they should not. And the first thing people will know about it is when the summons comes through the post. And some will ignore it, and end up with county court decisions against them, which could have serious ramifications for their credit rating, and even having the bailiffs arrive to enforce CCJs. There will be illegal parkers who end up paying hundreds if not thousands because they ignore the initial summons.

    You can already hire companies to do this for you on your land – you stick up a notice, issue tickets to illegally parked cars, and the company do the rest court-wise. You get a few quid for every ticket correctly issued. They get whatever they can get through the court system. I assume that private landowners will not be prevented from issuing court proceedings for illegal parking, so while the clampers may go, loads more people will end up in court, and probably end up paying more than the clamp release fee, due to the increased costs of defending themselves in court.

  17. A lot of commentators on Lynne Featherstone’s own blog indicate that this will cause hardship for a lot of people who suffer at the hands of those who think that their convenience overrides someone else’s ownership of property. For some people, this is a daily battle which greatly affects their lives. It is more than a little frustrating to come home with a boot full of shopping and have to hunt around for a parking space because someone has parked in your space while they nip over the road for a drink.

    One neighbour opposite the pub used to work late every night and struggle to park when he came home. One night a couple parked right next to the “Private Property No Parking” sign but parked parallel rather then perpendicular to the wall. When he came home our neighbour parked behind them and went inside. A little later the couple came out and knocked on his door. He poked his head out of an upstairs window and they asked him to move his car. He refused, stating that they’d ignored the sign and he was ready for bed. When they came back next day, he’d gone to work but another resident had taken his place and charged them 10 quid for overnight parking. We all thought it was a hoot and nobody thought anyone had acted unreasonably. From our perspective it was a fight back against all the pub’s patrons who nightly trespassed on our property. The couple probably saw it as a one-off and felt that they had been unreasonably treated.

    Very few people inadvertantly park on private property as most private property owners are not out to make a fast buck but desire to genuinely stop “cowboy” parkers so that they can enjoy the parking they have paid for. Hence they erect prominent signs. People seem to think they are the only one’s who do it and as they’ve got an urgent need, where’s the harm?

  18. DB – I think your neighbour’s action was a perfectly reasonable approach to unreasonable behaviour.

    There needs to be a balance between the two competing property rights. One should not automatically trump the other.

    In the case outlined by Julia, clamping merely compounds the obstruction. Property owners who are unreasonably obstructed should have the right to move the obstruction and issue fixed penalty notices. Vehicle owners are not faced with the stress of having to pay out – perhaps wrongly – before they get their vehicle back. There is no imbalance of power.

    Clamping is equivalent to kidnapping the vehicle and holding it to ransom, placing the vehicle owner at a disadvantage in any dispute. ACPOA at Parkway have it right, I think. They issue a fixed penalty notice that is clearly observable – so no one is going to be issued with a court summons that they knew nothing about. But – and this is the important part – the motorist can, should they wish, argue their case without being under duress as they try to get their vehicle back.

    All of the above also presupposes that the companies involved are reasonable and behaving within the law. The industry has failed dismally to manage itself and keep the rogue element out of it. Had they managed to do this, I suspect that they would have remained under the radar and avoided this legislation.

    Finally, as Julia mentioned early on – politicians, being politicians, just cannot manage to get things right. Outlawing clamping is fine. I am happy to see it go. It should go across the board, including local councils and the DVLA as fixed penalty notices will suffice. But, they should not be outlawing the perfectly reasonable option of moving the vehicle to clear the obstruction. Julia was right on the baby and the bathwater observation.

  19. I’m confused. Next thing I’ll be hearing is I need to erect signs onmy land to stop them walking their dogs and fouling the area, putting a caravan there and everything else that people do whilst out.

    People have lost all reasonableness and government doesn’t help at all. I find the best cure for people parking illegally is to smash all the windows, remove the wheels and steal everything in the car. Nobody seems to want to park on my private property after that. Plus Plod ain’t interested in the slightest.

    My private land trumps their private property on mine.

    Next thing you know it’ll be accepted practise to just move into our houses and go to sleep when they feel tired on a journey. Should I expect to make them breakfast when they wake up or is it acceptable for them to just help themselves? My courtesy competes with my annoyance. Maybe I should put up a sign stating they will have to help themselves as I won’t be doing it.

  20. I’m with Lord T. If it ain’t clearly “public” then it should always be treated as “private”. There are only two states in which it can be, unless we are thinking of property that looks as if it has never been pre-empted by anyone.

    Once you start making a priori exceptions and judgements about what is reasonable and creating regulations to circumscribe the property owner’s options (that is the victim, the land owner, not the aggressor, the guerilla-parker 🙂 then you leave a gaping hole in the non-aggression principle where it is okay to argue that initiating aggression is okay.

    That said, whilst strictly that would mean that yes, mining the entrance to prevent access ought to be permissable, we have to look elsewhere for a theory of what “ought” to be seen as reasonable.

    But on purely a-moral libertarian grounds the property rights of the land owner upon whose land someone trespassed are sacrosanct.

  21. The law is quite clear on this matter in our written constitution. The Declaration of Rights of 1688/9 specifies:

    “All promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void.”

    These few words underpin the presumption of innocence in our country.

    The landowner’s remedy lies in taking the trespasser to court. Fines, clamping and towing are not legal options.

    Our Big Brother government is creating a new statute to make illegal that which is already illegal merely to avoid drawing attention to the illegality of all government fixed penalty fines, points and ASBOs and their abrogation of the presumption of innocence. A shiny new statute is also nice.


  22. Those of you are taking the line that the landowner’s property rights trump those of the vehicle owner are assuming here that trespass against the landowner has taken place. I gave an example where Mrs L was on essential legitimate business on behalf of the landowner, so was not trespassing. She merely mistakenly parked in the “wrong” place being unfamiliar with the location. In other cases, the parking was legitimate but the vehicle owner stayed beyond that allowed – not always through their own fault. Clamping in both of these situations is clearly wrong – irrespective of what the bill of rights might say about the matter, pure common sense and decency tells us it is wrong.

  23. @Longrider: Mrs L will still get clamped by the hospital as that will qualify as State owned land.

    This is a profoundly illiberal proposal, which appears to be showing many so called ‘libertarians’ up in their true colours. It seems many people wish to avail themselves of the benefit of assets that do not belong to them, and without having to pay for them. In my book that’s called Socialism.

    If clamping is immoral then it should be banned completely. Not just for private landowners, whilst allowing the State to continue to use exactly the same methods to extort parking fines from drivers.

    I suggest anyone who disagrees with this proposal should finds out where their local MP lives and park in his/her driveway. They might get the message then about protecting the rights of property owners.

  24. @Jock : “loads more people will end up in court, and probably end up paying more than the clamp release fee, due to the increased costs of defending themselves in court.”

    This can – of course – be avoided by not parking like a dick in the first place, and then not ignoring the first notice.

    So all in all, only people who are utter dicks are going to end up in that situation, and I can’t find in me to feel to badly about that.

    After all, by parking on private land, they have committed a trespass against property, and taking them to court seems a better option than committing a further and compounding trespass against theirs.

  25. I was going to add, but got interrupted…

    Not everyone who gets clamped is parking illegally or deliberately trespassing. Landowners do not always make it clear – or, as I said, drivers have entered into an arrangement but inadvertently breach the conditions. The landowner should quite rightly have recompense or a route to free up their land in such situation. Clamping however, is merely another trespass. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  26. The reason clamping works is because it is draconian, and you can’t escape. Everyone knows that clampers are b@st@rds and therefore do their best not to park where they shouldn’t. A very few get clamped unfairly, because of poor/nonexistent signage (which could be easily solved by legislating for sign size, height off the ground etc etc). Most people who get clamped are taking a punt, knowing its dodgy but hoping to get away with it. Once the clamps go, illegal parking will make life in urban areas a misery, because the likelihood of being taken to court will be considerably lower, due to all the increased hassle/paperwork/cost etc etc. Anyone living close to big public venues (football stadia, concert venues, shopping centres etc etc) will rue the day clamping was banned.

    And how ironic that so many people who have railed against Labour’s kneejerk ‘ban it’ tendancies now suddenly are in favour of a ban for clamping! Presumably libertarian principles go out the window when you stand to gain a bit of free parking on someone else’s property.

  27. Jim, you will have noticed, no doubt, in the original post that I expressed qualms about banning this practice.

    That said…

    The reason clamping works is because it is draconian, and you can’t escape.

    That’s why I oppose (and abhor) the practice. It is making demands with menaces, kidnapping and demanding a ransom – and all too frequently demanding a three figure sum. All of which is out of proportion to the original offence, whether deliberate or not.

    The other issue is the behaviour of those doing it. They are immune to appeals to reason, demanding money before a vehicle is released – even when it is obvious that they are in error or the motorist made a simple mistake.

    Clampers, frankly, have brought this on themselves and I find it difficult to find any sympathy for them – not least given that some of them indulge in outright thuggery. I do, however have sympathy for landowners suffering nuisance from inconsiderate parking.

    I also have voiced my agreement with the point made that this legislation is one sided.

    I’ll repeat it for clarity – I believe that landowners should have a means of dealing with nuisance parking and one solution would be to have the power to remove offending vehicles. Problem solved, no harm caused. They should not, however behave in a manner that is disproportionate and should always be open to mitigating circumstances. I.e to behave reasonably.

    Presumably libertarian principles go out the window when you stand to gain a bit of free parking on someone else’s property.

    I have no plans to do anything of the sort. This is not why I am happy to see an end to clamping. I am happy to see an end to it for the same reason that I am happy to see kidnapping and blackmail remain criminal offences.

  28. Where would one move the offending vehicles to? One can’t do as I did in my younger days and just stick the car in the middle of the road (comment 10 above). I knew the people were in the pub and that it wouldn’t take overly long for them to be found. The landowner would most likely have to pay someone to tow the vehicle to a compound, where the owner would have to go and pay the towing fees before it was released. Seems to me clamping is simpler and having hordes of extra tow trucks on the road would just add to congestion.

  29. DB – where to move the vehicle to would depend on location. I see no harm with putting a fixed penalty notice on the vehicle either. This would pay for the removal just as much as paying for the clamping. If the vehicle is an obstruction, clamping does not solve the obstruction, it compounds it.

    I have never been clamped, but if I ever was, I’d find the nearest tool hire shop and hire an angle grinder. I would not pay the clampers. So, I’ve damaged their property? Sue me. Trespass against their property? They should have thought about that before trespassing against mine. Two wrongs don’t make a right? Yup, damn right. Lesson learned, perhaps? I would pay a fine if I have inadvertently overstayed my parking space – I would not, under any circumstances accede to demands with menaces or ransoms, both of which in a different context are rightly criminal behaviour.

  30. If you allow moving cars illegally parked, then what do you do with them? Stick them in the road? On a double yellow line? Remove them to a compound somewhere (which is as much depriving the owner of the car as clamping)?

    If you go down the fixed penalty route, then the courts will have to be involved for all those that ignore the penalty. Which brings us back to the point that taking illegal parkers to court will clog up the entire courts system. And there is no limit proposed on fixed penalty fines anyway. So you could end up with a system (after the clamping ban) whereby you get as large (if not larger) fine under the fixed penalty method as paying the clamper to remove the clamp nowadays. How is that an improvement?

    Far better to introduce strict regulations on signage, fine levels, appeals systems etc. And introduce penalties for any clampers found to have clamped someone illegally, in the region of hundreds of pounds. Anyone running a dodgy clamping operation would soon be out of business if every time they clamped someone without the correct signs etc they lost £500.

  31. Jim, your proposed fines for misconduct does hold some appeal – not least it would be nice to see some of these bastards hoist with their own petard.

    There is, of course, more than one type of landowner here. Those whose land is private and parking is going to be a nuisance to them may find that moving the obstruction is the best solution. On a public highway? Possibly. A local compound? Again, possibly. Providing – and this is the crux – there is no release fee. People should not have to pay to get their vehicle back as this is extortion – any fees must be deferred via a penalty notice to be fair and equitable to allow for disputes without placing the vehicle owner at an unreasonable disadvantage. The landowner my prefer barriers or fences as this may be more practical and cost effective. The solutions need to be tailored to the situation.

    It is worth bearing in mind that a significant proportion of landowners invite people to park on their property and charge for the service. They then use campers to impound vehicles that overstay. This is an outrageous abuse. An increased charge is the appropriate way to deal with this. It’s what happens at Parkway as I mentioned in the original post. I am not aware of the courts being clogged as a consequence. I’m not aware of a significant amount of people allowing it to escalate that far. I suspect that most people simply pay up as a quick payment incurs a discount. Those who choose to dispute as we did can do so before any money has changed hands not after, which is as it should be.

    Then there is the third type – the land owner who invites you onto his property to do work. So you visit them at their behest and the fuckers clamp you for the privilege. I have zero sympathy with this property owner as they have abused the trust of their visitor. This is pretty much the situation Mrs L found herself in.

    Ultimately, whatever solution is used, it needs to be equitable – and clamping is not only disproportionate to the original offence, it is perverse as it compounds the original obstruction.

  32. Suggestion: have this signage displayed prominently on your property…


    The owner of this property accepts no liability for any loss or damage which may occur to trespassers, their vehicles, or their belongings.


    No damage would be made to the car by simply unscrewing the cap and pushing in the valve pin on each tyre, waiting for most of the air to escape, then replacing said cap. It is, after all, the legal responsibility of a car’s driver to ensure their vehicle is roadworthy before starting on their journey.

    No need to involve any courts. No need for fines. No need for payments. No need for expensive tows or clamps either. Yes, the car’s owner gets to enjoy re-inflating the tyres—always assuming he has a foot-pump in the boot—but at least he still has his car and can then drive off.

  33. Before you know it, Sean, there’d be evil tyre-inflating companies charging 50 quid per tyre (more for foreign tyres).

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