Motorists are being hit by a new wave of pay-by-phone ripoff charges – with sneaky extras as much as doubling the cost of using a car park in some cases.
While many holidaymakers are opting to spend their summer vacation in Britain rather than abroad, pay-by-phone providers are taking advantage of motorists to the tune of an estimated £20million by levying these additional charges.
This is all being made easier because many drivers struggling to find a space are forced to use a phone app. This is because traditional cash or card payment machines are no longer being provided or are being left out of order.
Campaigners are calling for tougher regulation of the burgeoning pay-by-phone market and for car park users to be told before they pay of the fee to be taken from their bank account, plus any extra costs they might incur for receiving texts confirming payment or telling them their paid-for time is nearly over.
Pay and dismay: Christopher Godfrey says he accepted an offer of £2.49 for parking only to find the cost had risen 60 per cent on completion
The latest payment ruse is being carried out by the app YourParkingSpace. It is demanding an extra £1.50 for drivers who use a car park without pre-booking a space.
This is on top of a 49p ‘service charge’ for using the app. Some customers say that they are finding out they have paid an extra levy only after pressing a button to make a payment on their phone.
Other pay-by-phone parking apps are also demanding extra money to use their service – with the fees taking a variety of guises.
For example, RingGo can include a ‘convenience charge’ of 12p on top of the normal parking tariff.
In addition, it demands up to 20p for a ‘summary charge’ text confirming you have paid – and a further 20p ‘reminder charge’ text sent ten minutes before your car park session ends, inviting you to extend your stay via your mobile.
Competitor PayByPhone also demands up to 20p for a texted ‘receipt’ as well as 20p for texting a ‘reminder’. JustPark has a 49p ‘transaction fee’ for parking for less than two hours – 99p if longer.
The apps wriggle out of providing a clear explanation of the sneaky fees in their terms and conditions by varying the costs they levy at different car parks.
Christopher Godfrey is among the millions of motorists who have fallen foul of small-print app tricks. A few days ago, he agreed to pay £2.49 to park his blue Volkswagen Polo at a Morrisons supermarket in Norwich for 3½ hours while he went to watch the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun: Maverick at the cinema.
Christopher says: ‘The car park had a sign that showed it was free for the first two hours, but if you wanted to stay longer you had to log on to the YourParkingSpace app to find out what you must pay.’
He adds: ‘The charge was clearly shown as £2.49. But as soon as I pressed the payment button on the app, I got a message to thank me for my payment of £3.99. I felt cheated because at no point beforehand was I warned of the extra £1.50 fee. Additional fees almost doubled the cost of parking.’
Christopher confronted YourParkingSpace. It confirmed the charges were correct as he had not ‘pre-booked the space’. But it said that it would refund the £1.50 ‘as an exception’.
He says it failed to explain why details of the charge for not pre-booking weren’t provided prior to payment being taken.
He added: ‘I have asked Apple Pay, my credit card issuer and Trading Standards to look into it.’
Motoring and consumer groups believe tough new regulations need to be introduced to stamp out the sneaky ways motorists are being hit with extra charges in car parks.
Luke Bosdet is spokesman for motoring organisation the AA. He says: ‘When the pay-by-phone apps were first introduced, there was an expectation that parking charges would fall rather than rise.
‘This was based on the fact that there would be savings for car park operators such as local councils which would no longer have to maintain and collect money from payment machines. But charges haven’t fallen. They’ve risen.’
He adds: ‘We now need a clear and uniform charging structure throughout the pay-by-phone industry so that no car park user is misled or left confused over the charges they are paying.
‘It is not right that a motorist ends up paying far more for a car park spot than expected, or gets charged for simply receiving a receipt.’
The AA calculates that 200,000 people a day pay for parking using a phone app. It conservatively estimates that each pays on average an extra fee of 25p, adding up to £50,000 a day, or more than £18million a year.
Consumer campaigner Martyn James says the number of complaints relating to parking apps and extra fees has doubled in the past year – but are still relatively low because of the way the charges are levied.
He explains: ‘They are using a horrible manipulative trick known as micro-charging. The extra they charge is not enough for most people to complain.’
James says the apps ‘exploit’ drivers and he believes charges should be clearly signposted in a car park and not hidden within the small print of a mobile phone app.
The additional fees vary widely as they are often set after an agreement has been struck between a local council or private operator and the pay-by-phone firm.
Last week, The Mail on Sunday contacted all the main parking app providers so that they could defend their charges.
YourParkingSpace has more than a million motorists signed up to rent spaces at public and private car parks, as well as off-street locations, such as driveways.
Referring to cases like that of Christopher Godfrey, it said: ‘Users booking in advance may get a cheaper rate, as advance bookings help space owners guarantee rental. Our service fee helps cover costs related to a driver’s booking. The driver will never have to pay any additional costs after placing their booking.’
JustPark was the only other company prepared to make a comment. It said: ‘We charge the same flat fees for pre-booking a parking slot or paying by app at the car park to provide clarity and avoid confusion. Fees are clearly shown on the app at the time of purchase.’
Dutch firm RingGo is one of the most popular parking apps with 18million motorists signed up in Britain – and it is favoured by many local authorities too.
The Mail on Sunday found that in Leatherhead, Surrey, customers are being charged a 12p ‘convenience charge’ by RingGo plus 10p for a ‘summary text message’ giving details of their charge.
There is also a 10p ‘reminder’ text for when the parking time is about to end, though this one can be cancelled by changing app settings.
But in the busy Central London district of Westminster RingGo charges 20p for summary or reminder texts – though it imposes no extra convenience charge. PayByPhone is another big app operator, owned by Volkswagen Financial Services, an offshoot of the German car giant.
PayByPhone’s head office is in Canada and serves ‘nearly 1,300 cities’.
On its website the ‘optional text message’ rates start from free in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, rising to as much as 20p in the West London borough of Ealing.
These rates are for both ‘receipt’ and ‘reminder’ texts.