In December 2011 the McDonalds restaurant in Boreham had a major makeover. McDonalds decided to create a more modern restaurant with a stylish interior. They also updated their children’s soft play area. All of this encourages diners to stay for longer and enjoy their meal then allow their children the time to play with friends before going home. It all sounds wonderful.
However, there is a problem. McDonalds have decided that its customers should not park for more than 90 minutes. If you stay for longer you will receive an automatic fine of £50. The Boreham restaurant is built out-of-town. Having ample car parking is one of the reasons many families go there for a meal.
We have heard several stories from local residents who have been fined by McDonalds for staying too long. One mum took her children there for a treat after school one day. They had their Happy Meals, then played with the new toys, and while the mother order another coffee and chatted with friends the children played in the soft play area. Everyone had a great afternoon and enjoyed the new, modern McDonalds. But all that changed when the fine came through the door a couple of weeks later.
Even after several telephone calls to McDonalds customer services no resolution was made. Customer services simply stated “it is unfortunate, sorry” but refused to waiver the fine. The mum involved made it clear that she is a customer of McDonalds, she spent the whole time in the restaurant with her family and friends, and between them they spent a lot of money. How can McDonalds feel that it is fair to fine them?
This is not the only story. It gets worse.
McDonald’s Party Guests Receive Parking Charges
Earlier this year one group of Essex mums from a local nursery decided to host a birthday party at McDonalds. This is something that McDonalds promotes on its website – “a Birthday Adventure”. On the website they say “Choose between a Jungle or Ocean Adventure and prepare for an hour and a half of action-packed fun“. That is 90 minutes of fun. It is obviously impossible to get parked, enter the restaurant, gather the children, eat, have the party and leave again in less than 90 minutes.
Therefore, what happened should come as no surprise. Most of the guests to the child’s birthday party received a parking charge. McDonalds staff were supposed to take down registration numbers, but they did not.
No Warnings Inside the Restuarant
McDonalds’ defence is that they have signs in the car park detailing the parking restrictions. However, this is certainly not a normal policy. No other pub or restaurant chain that we are aware of in Essex will fine is customers for staying too long. And as every parent knows, when you are taking a family to such a place you really do not have time to start reading the small print on the signs in McDonalds’ car parks. You are more interested in getting your children safely into the restaurant.
McDonalds should really have large banners inside the restaurant “reminding” its customers that they have strict time limits on how long you may dine for. Ideally they should stop fining their customers completely.
We are not the first to raise this though. McDonalds actually appeared on Watchdog for this same reason in April 2010 and a discussion followed on What Consumer: Big charges with your Big Mac.
County Court Actions?
One reader on the Watchdog website (they call themselves McRipoff) stated that they have a County Court Action looming. They received a fine of £120 for overstaying. However, this may have been an empty threat.
Another victim explained that they arrived in the pouring rain and did not see any warnings. At the Heathrow McDonalds the time limit is 60 minutes, which is not enough time to sit down for a meal with a family. If the signs are not clearly visible, the parking company is in breach of the British Parking Association code.
Variations in Time Limits and Fines
It is also not a case that McDonalds has a set rule. In some restaurants the time limit is 60 minutes, sometimes it is 75 minutes, some 90 minutes, some more. And the fines seems to vary too. With no set rules how can customers be expected to know how long they can stay for?
Another Watchdog reader explained that they received a £100 for staying at McDonalds in Newark. “I was there with a foster child who was meeting his parents. I didn’t know there were any parking restrictions and because of that I didn’t look for signs.”
In Sittingbourne one poor customer received a fine for going to McDonalds twice on the same day – they accused him of staying for 555 minutes when he just stopped there for breakfast before work and then a snack on the way home. “Only two photographs were shown instead of the four that would actually have been taken.”
Another victim who went to McDonalds twice in a day had £125 taken from his wages as his company did not want to have to deal with McDonalds.
Alan Chorlton wrote on Watchdog: ”I had similar experience at McDonalds in Chadderton. Took my two children (3 and 10) for something to eat. By the time they had eaten, used the facilities and eaten desserts, we went over the allowed 75 minutes (trying to get a 3 year old to eat is not always easy!). I received a fine for £100”
McDonalds has responded to some customers in writing to explain why they have opted for this harsh and unfair policy. LoobyLou23 (posting on BBC’s Watchdog website) received this reply from McDonalds Customer Services:
“I can confirm this parking area is managed by an independent company who are responsible for monitoring the car park and taking details of registration numbers. The regulations and signs at the restaurant clearly state our policy and the relevant charges.
I trust you will appreciate that in order to maintain a consistent approach; we have to adhere to the guidelines in place. As such, in a situation such as a clear contravention of parking regulations, we are unable to deal with any specifics or cases on an individual basis.
Suffice to say, if a customer contravenes the clearly displayed parking regulations, they will receive a ticket.
Thank you for contacting us and again for the opportunity to comment.”
They are very adamant that their decision is the right one.
Is it a Scam?
Further research reveals that this has been going on for a long time. A discussions on Money Saving Expert shows that many people strongly believe that it is a scam and that the car parking companies who work on behalf of McDonalds have no legal power to fine anyone.
“Nobody can touch your possessions/edit your credit record without winning a court case first.” ~ Crabman on Money Saving Expert.
By law, only a court can send debt collectors. If a parking company sends debt collectors they may be breaking the law. According to Appeal Now;
“If for any reason they do send round debt collectors (which some try on – I repeat it is not an enforceable debt until a court declares it to be a judgement against you!) I would not open the door – tell them that they are demanding money with menaces and are trespassing and you will have them arrested. Also see my note below on The Administration of Justice Act 1970.
Few of these companies pursue these matters to court because so many people just roll over and pay up!”
The parking companies will never listen to an appeal. The business that you visit may do so and cancel the charge with the parking company. Really, McDonalds should be in a position to cancel those charges when a customer requests, and not just say “it is unfortunate”.
How to deal with Penalty Charge Notices issued by private companies
Watchdog speaks to Tim Cary, a Norwich-based solicitor specialising in traffic law at Leathes Prior.
Tim says that people don’t have to deal with them. It is not a criminal offence to ignore the notices. They cannot affect your credit rating.
“If my mum got one of these I would tell my mum to take it and make ones of these with it (make a paper aeroplane) and do this with it (throw away)”.
There is a story here of a woman who ignored all the notices and eventually nothing happened, even though they threatened legal action: My FURY with Met Parking Services.
Advice on Consumer Action Group
Consumer Action Group also say not to pay.
Asmodeus makes a good point:
“McDonalds employ them so it is also their responsibility
Complaining to them is frustrating as they just pass the blame onto MET and the head turd at one local establishment (- sorry I mean ‘manager’) just states that 75 minutes is more than enough time to eat what they pass off as a meal and depart.
Unfortunately when you have several kids to feed and who then want to go on to the thoughtfully provided McD’s swings and slides 75 minutes is a short time thereby making certain that they catch a good number of customers, probably mostly Mums and Dads with kids.
It is called ENTRAPMENT
All correspondence should be treated with contempt it deserves – i.e. IGNORED”
Asmodeus also points out;
“I notice the reptile in McD’s Customer services only gives the premium rate number – cheaper to use either 0208 700 7500 or 0208 700 7505″
Not all PCN’s are Equal
It seems that Tim Cary has been following these parking fines for years. In an older Watchdog article, Should you, by and large, pay your parking charge? (no longer online), he explained:
“When a local authority issues a ticket, it is known as a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). Local authorities issue these tickets under law and you are required to pay them as such (though you can appeal). Private companies use the same initials – PCN – but they use it to represent a Parking Charge Notice, which is issued under civil law, where there is less regulation.”
DVLA makes around £3.4 million a year
What is most interesting is the private parking companies have to pay DVLA a fee to obtain drivers’ names and addresses. The DVLA make around £3.4 million a year by selling this information to parking companies. They charge £2.50 for each vehicle.
Some parking companies even charge customers £10 to view the evidence against them (according to Watchdog).
No Power Under Criminal Justice System
Private Parking Companies have no Power Under Criminal Justice System. Also the British Parking Association code is designed to ensure that parking companies, e.g.:
Section 15.4: You must not use terms which imply that you are acting under statutory authority; this will include terms such as ‘fine’, ‘penalty’ or ‘penalty charge notice’.
Watchdog – Private Parking Company Info
So, why are McDonalds doing this? Other than driving away customers and generating bad publicity, it serves little purpose, especially when in a car park in an out-of-town restaurant. It is a general assumption that in any out-of-town car park, parking is free. Whether it is a sports centre, shopping mall or restaurant, you should not have to pay to park your car, especially when there is no other way to get to the restaurant.
The customers that we have spoken have decided to boycott McDonalds now. More people are doing the same by all accounts. There are so many good pubs and restuarants that allow children to dine with families and also provide play facilities.
The idea of fining customers to who stay “too long” is pretty daft in the minds of most restaurateurs. If McDonalds wants to be a modern, healthy and family orientated restaurant, they really need to start acting like one.
Have you been fined by McDonalds for enjoying your Happy Meal too much? Let us know!