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Unclear consumer contract spells trouble for local council

[20 Aug 2014. Amended 3 Sept 2014] Plain Language Commission has complained to a local council for producing one of the most unclear agreements of recent times, alleging it falls foul of the regulations requiring ‘plain and intelligible language’ in all standard-form consumer contracts.

The 27-page, 70-clause document comes from Wycombe District Council in Buckinghamshire. It purports to form a contract between the council and every individual who parks a vehicle in its car parks. In fact, no driver is ever likely to get a copy of the contract before supposedly becoming bound by it, as the contract is available only as a downloadable document from the council's website.

The council has written the contract after taking the strange decision to designate most of its car parks as private land and bring in a private contractor to run them. So instead of issuing statutory civil penalties for parking contraventions as a council normally would, the contractor is issuing ‘standard charge tickets’ for £60. The council says it will enforce these in court if people don’t pay up, presumably alleging breach of contract and using the agreement as the basis of its claim.

However, following complaints from us and other anti-rip-off campaigners, the government’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has taken the rare step of suspending the council’s access to drivers’ details. This means the council will have difficulty chasing drivers for payment if they’ve incurred penalties in its so-called private car parks. So the vastly expensive scheme – which uses automatic number plate recognition technology – is in big trouble. The council’s website is silent about the DVLA ban.

For extracts from the contract, please see the final page of this article. [cont]

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