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Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Clampers "make no money" from clamping

Members of the Irish Parking Association spoke to a committee about clamping in Ireland – from the aggression experienced by clampers to the lack of money made.

THERE IS NO money to be made from clamping, members of the Irish Parking Association said yesterday during a discussion on the regulation of clamping in Ireland.

They were speaking at a meeting headed by Labour TD Ciaran Lynch in which a number of issues were discussed.

The Independent Parking Appeals Officer, Liam Keilthy, also spoke.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, TD, asked the committee to take a role in the pre-Heads of Bill stage and contribute to the initial drafting of the legislation to regulate the vehicle clamping industry.

The committee put a number of questions to the IPA members.

  • The Irish Parking Association

Keith Gavin of AGK Displays Ltd, who is secretary of the Irish Parking Association, said that the IPA is a voluntary organisation.

He said that members have to adhere to a code of conduct that includes clear signage, resonable release fees and the independent third party appeals process.

  • Clamping operators

Deputy Catherine Murphy said that some clamping “runs people out of a town” and that having different operators in the same location can “cause terrible confusion”.

Gavin said that the idea of having one company operating in one region “would be anti-competitive” and he doesn’t think it is a practical solution.

He said there are less than 10 organisations actively enforcing parking enforcement on private property, and that the three main parking enforcers are members of the IPA. They would be responsible for more than 90 per cent of parking enforcement in the country.

  • Appealing clamping

The IPA has put in a private appeals system to give people a second option. Gavin said that there were 300 second appeals last year and 50 per cent were successful.

He added that the IPA could have a bigger role in promoting that appeals service.

  • Money made from clamping

Dave Cullen from Euro Car Parks Ltd and a director of the IPA said clamping can cost €100 – €80 plus VAT and that staff do two or sometimes three callouts.

“We don’t make any money out of clamping,” he said. “It’s less than 5 per cent of our turnover.”

Fine Gael TD Noel  Coonan said: “I get immediately suspicious when we hear someone saying ‘we make no money doing, it we make no profit’. Why do it – there has to be something in it for you.”

Gavin said that clamping is not a very profitable activity and is a small part of their operations.

We’re talking about a very small scale of operators. It is perceived as hugely prevalent …  it’s not really in actual fact. In response to complaints from public we introduced a code of conduct.

Cullen said that their staff aren’t incentivised and that in some cases, such as with Dunnes Stores, all clamping fees go to charity.

  • Grace period

Senator Cait Keane asked if there is a grace period before cars are clamped.

Gavin said having a grace period would be difficult. “If a standard grace period of 5 or 10 minutes is applied and everyone is aware of it, it becomes a regime and people use that as part of their entitlement.”

Cullen said the company that hires the clamping company decides if there is any grace period and decides on the rules.

However, Liam Keilthy said there can be a grace period before a clamp is put on a car.

  • Freephone

Senator Cait Keane suggested a freephone system for people to contact clampers to get the clamp removed.

Cullen said he wouldn’t have a problem with a freephone number.

  • Urban Myths

Deputy Ciaran Lynch asked about what he called the “urban myths” around clamping, such as the claim that clamping companies are infringing on car owners’ private property rights.

He asked if this has ever been tested in the courts.

He also asked if a person can remove the clamp without doing damage to the clamp and bring it to the clampers’ office, would the person then not have to pay the fine, within the law.

Tom Harrington of the IPA said that the legislation hasn’t been tested in Ireland. It has been tested in England and that individual didn’t win the case because the area had clear and legible signage and it was said the person entered into a contract as they parked on private property, he explained.

He said that there have been occasions where people have cut through clamps with a saw but they have “never been good enough to bring it around to the office”.

  • Regulation

Deputy Lynch questioned the IPA members on the operation of a licensing system and whether they welcome a separate regulator or more governed model of self-regulation.

Dave Cullen said they would like the public to know they are reputable and the IPA is in favour of a regulated structure.

Gavin said he believes the IPA does run strong self-regulation at the moment.

For the scale of the industry and amount of people involved self regulation would make most sense in my opinion

Gavin said: “There is no legislation so we put self legislation in place”.

  • Appeals

Gavin noted that the appeals process is an independent appeals process and uses the same ombudsman as would be used for the second stage appeals process for on-street enforcement appeals.

  • Aggression

Deputy McLoughlin said that some people say clamping operators can be very aggressive.

Noel Coonan TD also addressed the issue of aggression. He asked if employees are vetted and what instructions they are given when they go out clamping.

He asked what the IPA would say to people who could not use the ticket machines at Irish Rail carparks during the winter time as they were frozen, and got clamped.

Cullen said: “Our staff are not vetted – we can’t get garda vetting in a private company.”

Harrington said that during the snow, clamping was banned and patrol officers were deployed to clear paths. He said that if the machines were out of order “we would not clamp” and he would look into the Deputy’s claims

He welcomed staff vetting using the Private Security Authority.

If an operative feels a clamp could be taken off, he can ring a staff supervisor and request this to take place.

Neil Cunningham of the IPA and Apcoa Parking said that it “is a confrontational situation when clamping” and that this “is a big problem with our staff”.

He said there are numerous instances of staff being attacked and assaulted and all staff get training in conflict management.

We are representing the owner of the property to manage that car park on their behalf. We have to deliver good customer service and be as professional as we can.
  • On camera

Dessie Ellis TD asked if the IPA members use photographic evidence.

He was told that pictures are taken and stored to be used in appeals.

  • Voluntary code

Deputy Lynch asked how the voluntary code of conduct is enforced and if anyone was ever found in breach of it and suspended or challenged.

Gavin said that the voluntary code was brought in in response to rogue activity.

He said no member has been expelled from the association “because all of our existing members would adhere to a code of practice”.

If we were getting repeated complaints about operators then we would look into it and then take action. Our whole objective is to improve standards and improve professional standards.

Read: Hearings on clamping regulation to continue today>

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