Clamping soars as cowboys cash in before tough government regulations kick in

Careful: The RAC Foundation is urging drivers to be extra vigilant to avoid the same fate as this motorist

The number of vehicle clampers has soared by 75 per cent in the past 18 months – despite ministers declaring war on the ‘cowboys’.

Many want to take advantage before tougher government regulations kick in, following a campaign by the Daily Mail to crack down on widespread abuses.

Rich pickings from unwary motorists stung for hundreds of pounds after being clamped, towed and released mean there are 900 more licensed clampers than in March 2008.

This takes the total to 2,100, according to research by the RAC Foundation based on official figures.

This is a 10.5 per cent rise – an increase of 200 – even since the Government consulted on ways to control the industry in April.

The foundation is urging drivers to be extra careful over the festive period and to check parking arrangements before they head for the shops, and to consider options like park and ride.

RAC Foundation director, Professor Stephen Glaister, said: ‘Unwary drivers who park in the wrong place, even for just a few minutes, could find that any money they save in the winter sales ends up in the hands of unscrupulous clampers.

‘There will be little festive cheer for bargain hunters if they put a wheel wrong when it comes to parking.

‘The figures reveal more and more people are becoming clampers because the business is so lucrative and the law surrounding it so lax.’

Stuck: The number of cowboy clampers making motorists lives a misery has increased dramatically

Professor Glaister added: ‘The huge rise in licence holders proves the Government needs to act quickly. It has promised a cap on fees, an appeals service and a binding code of conduct. In 2010 it needs to deliver.’

Last month the Government announced cowboy clampers could be jailed for five years if they flout strict rules unveiled by ministers.

Daily Mail campaign

In a huge victory for the Mail campaign, ministers decided that clampers operating on private land must be threatened with prison if they are to be finally brought into line.

The cost of removing a clamp will also be slashed after the Government agreed to implement every aspect of our Curb the Cowboy Clampers manifesto – including giving drivers an independent right of appeal.

It follows massive support for the newspaper’s demand for the regulation of a ‘legalised mugging’ regime worth £1billion-a-year. Clampers will face a tough mandatory Security Industry Authority licensing regime, backed by a new code of conduct.

It will fix maximum fines for having a clamp removed at as little as £40 outside London, and £70 inside the capital. The towing away of vehicles within minutes of them being clamped will also be barred. A maximum charge for recovering a towed car will be fixed at around £105 outside London, or £200 within.

Currently, total charges can top £500 – meaning they have been at least halved.

The clampers will also be banned from marching terrified drivers to cash points, and will no longer be able to hide signs to catch out unsuspecting drivers.

Anybody breaching the code, which is currently being finalised by the Home Office, will face a threestrikes- and-you’re-out punishment regime.

If they continue to target motorists after their licence has been revoked, clampers face up to five years in jail and fines of up to £5,000. Land owners who allow unlicensed clampers to operate from their property also face jail.

Any driver who feels they have been wronged will be able to appeal to an independent tribunal, funded by a levy on parking and clamping companies.

At present, motorists appeal to the clampers themselves – scandalously allowing them to act as judge and jury.