The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 ("the Act") received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012. Certain sections of the Act came into force on 1 October 2012. The aim of the Act is to protect civil liberties and vulnerable groups. This may not at first ring alarm bells for the property industry, but there are some changes that property owners need to be aware of.
Wheel clamping and parking charges
Section 54 and 55 of the Act will be of concern to owners and managers of private land which includes parking facilities and who, in the past, have used (or threatened to use) wheel clamping and towing to prevent unauthorised parking and abandoned vehicles.
From 1 October 2012, it is a criminal offence to immobilise, move or restrict the movement of a vehicle without lawful authority. This means that clamping and towing are effectively outlawed, except by the police, local authorities, government agencies and bailiffs. The Act also makes it clear that lawful authority cannot be conferred by obtaining the vehicle owner’s consent. Therefore, parking notices warning that clamping and towing are in operation will not be effective after 1 October 2012. Landowners will also need to amend any car park signs or terms and conditions used on their property to reflect the changes.
Property owners who outsource the management of their car parks may wish to review their outsourcing agreements to ensure that the provisions (and the contractor) comply with the new law. Provisions in car park leases, licences and other documents that permit clamping will no longer be effective.
The use of fixed barriers to enforce parking charges is still permitted. The barrier must be in place when the vehicle is parked, but it need not be lowered. The changes may result in an increase in the installation of such barriers. Landlords may wish to check whether their leases ensure that installation costs can be recovered as part of the service charge.
While the Act has removed what was an effective method of policing parking, it has introduced two other remedies in relation to vehicles left on land;
- Section 56 of Schedule 4 of the Act includes detailed provisions for the keeper of the vehicles to be held liable for unpaid parking charges when the identity of the driver is not known, provided that a specified procedure is followed. Currently, parking charges can only be enforced against the driver of a vehicle.
- Section 55 allows regulations to be made under section 99 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984 to extend the powers of the police to remove vehicles from all areas of private land where they are illegally, obstructively or dangerously parked or broken down.
Part 2 of the Act requires the Secretary of State to establish a Code of Practice for surveillance camera systems. The code will be enforced by a newly created Surveillance Camera Commissioner. This part of the Act will only impact upon relevant authorities, as defined in section 33(5) of the Act, including public bodies such as local authorities and police. As such, the Act will not apply to privately owned cameras.
However, during the drafting of the Act there was discussion that Part 2 should be extended to include progressively more cameras in future. In this context, it is interesting to note that section 33(5)(k) allows the Secretary of State to expand the reach of the provisions by wording the definition of 'relevant authority' to include any person specified or described by the Secretary of State in a statutory instrument. Therefore, this is something to watch for in the future.