The tale of two families: How one gets a parking ticket - and the other is clamped with a £500 release charge

The misdemeanours are the same, the punishment hugely different. Two families who have been stuck in a supermarket queue, or stayed too long in a restaurant, return to their cars late.

The parking ticket has expired and they have been snared by a warden.

But the difference is that one car was in a bay on a public road, while the other was 50 yards away in a car park on privately owned land, policed by wheel clampers.


Terrifying: Clampers can demand the money in cash, and march you to a bank machine to get it

For the driver who overstayed on the public road, the situation is straightforward. He will find an envelope stuck to his windscreen imposing a fine for a maximum £70 out of London, £120 within.

It can be paid through the post and prompt payment will result in the penalty being halved.

If the motorist is unhappy, he can appeal. The family in the private car park, however, are in the lap of the gods. The clampers who operate on private land can charge whatever they want.

Commonly, the vehicle will not even be there - having been towed to a compound shortly after the original fine was issued. The release charge will be as much as £500, once the cost of towing the car has been added to the original penalty for overstaying.

The clampers can demand the charge is paid in cash - involving a terrifying march to the bank machine - and the only right of appeal is to the firm which issued the penalty in the first place. The family can be left stranded, rain or shine.

It is impossible to justify treating the same parking offence in such different ways, depending on whether it took place on private or public land.

But this is not the result of legal loopholes. Rather, while parking upon public land is governed by the Traffic Management Act 2004, private clamping is not regulated at all.

Belatedly, the Government has recognised this position is unsustainable. But there is no commitment to bring penalties in line with public land. 

Nor is there a promise of rules to mirror those issued by the Department for Transport, which says clamping should be used only when the same vehicle repeatedly breaks parking restrictions and it has not been possible to collect payment for penalties.

Crucially, the Home Office is also yet to offer privately clamped motorists a right of independent appeal.

Motoring groups view the next few months as crucial. The Home Office's intended Bill provides a golden opportunity to offer the public some long overdue protection from 'cowboy clampers'.

By exerting pressure now on ministers, it is hoped they can be persuaded to go significantly further than has so far been suggested.

Some want it banned altogether, as in Scotland. But this would remove the deterrent against parking in disabled bays, flagrant cheating of the rules, blocking access to private premises or parking without permission on private residential roads.

Motorists do not want impunity, they want simple fairness.