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back to article British car parks start reading number plates

UK car parks are now reading number plates to ensure everyone pays their due, with payments deducted from the account and unregistered parkers getting a ticket while everyone gets tracked. The system is called SwishPARK and already operational in eleven car parks, six in Welwyn Garden City, the rest scattered around England. The …

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Anonymous Coward

They've been doing it in Chester for the last few years to stop people parking for free on the out of town shopping areas and walking or getting the bus from there to work. Suddenly it was easy to get a parking space outside Mothercare.

The downside is it probably reduces footfall or impulse buying on the way home.

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Silver badge

Surely the downside is that the billing mechanism's primary source of identification is a yellow and black plastic sign that you could knock up in any printers in about ten minutes, and it's difficult to refute false claims even if you KNOW it wasn't you in that car?

I think that the more weight that we put on number plates being read by technology (petrol stations, congestion charging, etc.), the more technology should be IN the number plate to stop it being faked. Because at the moment it's a bit of plastic read by optical cameras with no bells and whistles beyond a bit of OCR (i.e. you could fool it with a well printed bit of paper).

And is it technically illegal (aside from the obvious obtaining-services-by-deception) to not have a valid number plate while INSIDE a private car park?

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Anonymous Coward

Similar at Horfield sports center in Bristol ... free parking for 2 hours there but now they've contracted enforcement to a company which scans all cars entering an exiting and issues the relevant "fine"/"charge" to anyone overstaying.

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Anonymous Coward

Not just in Chester

ASDA tried introducing pay-or-buy-our-stuff parking a few years back using barriers. That ended up with some woman getting killed by an erratic barrier (somewhere in Wales if memory serves me right). After the public outcry they have removed the barriers and replaced them with ANPR. That is definitely the case at the local retail park around here.

Ditto for B&Q and a few other usual suspects. In fact, it will be difficult to find a retail park that does _NOT_ do ANPR nowdays.

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Anonymous Coward

@Lee Downling

Simple - just start reading the RFID chip instead. Or mandate that all vehicles have government sanctioned trackers. Never let practical considerations getting in the way of a money-spinning, technocratic solution.

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Confuse the system

I've often wondered whether it's possible with one of these places to drive in, park, cover number plates, drive out, remove cover from number plates, park somewhere else with plenty of people/CCTV to see your car, drive back to the first car park, cover number plates, enter, uncover number plates, drive out.

The system at the car park would then decide you'd been there all day and presumably cough up a charge notice which you can then challenge with the evidence that your car was elsewhere for most of that time.

It might also be interesting to not return and see if it gets confused by the lack of an exit record.

For those with real lives, carry on as normal.

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Unhappy

Not quite so easy

It's not quite so easy to fake a plate with a paper print-out, given that it's a criminal offense to display a fake one and that policemen and traffic wardens are quite good at spotting fakes. You need a friend in the auto trade who will knock up a fake using the right hardware and no paperwork, or ... the big weak spot ...

The crim steals the plates from some other poor sod's car. They're often held on with nothing more than screws or sticky pads. Provided it's the same colour, make and model of vehicle, you get the hassle and he gets off scot-free. The crims do this already, to escape speed cameras and freeloading on your car's insurance (now there's something easy to fake - an insurance certificate to con another driver with after a minor accident!) Expect number-plate theft to become even more popular.

However, because of this it's quite easy to deal with a parking fine. You tell them that it wasn't you, and with a bit of luck you can also say where the car was at the time, many miles from that car park. If necessary you say "see you in court". If you have good character a court is likely to decide that there is quite enought doubt. Especially if you reported the theft of your plates to the police, and keep the crime reference number.

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Devil

Re: Confuse the system

You think too small.

Drive in, park, cover number, drive out, find arch enemy and commit horrible MURRRDERRR of your arch-enemy by running him/her down, return to car park, uncover number, drive out. "It can't have been my car, detective inspector, I was parked in town all afternoon..."

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Mushroom

You can buy 'show plates' on eBay - delivered in ~ next day!

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Re: Not quite so easy

It is so easy.

Although you can't do it with a printer, you can pay a tenner to one of the many online places that will happily make and send you a new numberplate.

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Coat

Re: Confuse the system

"I've often wondered whether it's possible with one of these places to drive in, park, cover number plates, drive out, remove cover from number plates, park somewhere else with plenty of people/CCTV to see your car, drive back to the first car park, cover number plates, enter, uncover number plates, drive out."

Covering number plates? That's like sooooo 1950s! Surely revolving number plates (valid in all countries) would be a better solution.

Mine's the one with the Walther PPK in the pocket!

Colin

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Thumb Down

Re: Not quite so easy

Have they changed the rules? Last time I had to buy a numberplate, I had to show the vehicle registration document for my vehicle, and was told that this was a legal requirement. (This was at a high street car parts shop). Of course, it wouldn't be the first time an on-line trader was operating illegally.

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WTF?

Auto billing?

But was this auto billing in Chester? Obviously general ANPR to make sure you don't overstay is common everywhere.

Crazily, they introduced it in a local B&Q. I went there and was going to shop there and at the Morrison's next door, however with the new ANPR and 1 hour limit that it said on the sign, I parked in Morrison's instead.

However about an hour and half later I went back to B&Q and parked, went in an bought the stuff I was going to buy.

I later get a parking charge notice as the sign also said "no return within 4 hours"!.

So I had driven in, saw the sign driven out (total time less than 3 mins). Then later returned parked up for half an hour and shopped in B&Q and got hit with a charge. Luckily I had been on holiday for a couple of weeks so the charge had also been doubled for non-prompt payment. This forced me to look on the 'net and realise to ignore these invoices, which I duly did.

However, no return within 4 hours! how many people must do DIY at the weekend, go and pick up some goods and then realise they forgot something, need more of something or bought the wrong type? They would drive back and get hit with a fine! Ridiculous.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Confuse the system

It is a legal requirement in the UK to have visible number plates on your car when on the public highway.

As long as you uncover the number plate when you leave the private car park and before you go onto the public road you will not be committing an offence.

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Silver badge

Re: Confuse the system

Are you absolutely certain you know where the public highway ends and the private car park begins? Also it's not against the law to have a private camera taking pictures of vehicles on a public highway.

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Happy

Re: Confuse the system

A friend of mine tried to confuse the system in a Milton Keynes car park by reversing into the car park and then driving forwards out of it, hoping it would look like he'd exited twice

They weren't impressed and sent him a fine!

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Re: Not quite so easy

"Provided it's the same colour, make and model of vehicle, you get the hassle and he gets off scot-free."

The criminals generally don't bother. They'll use any old plate (swap them with another car, or clone them) and put the plates on what ever car they're using/stealing. It's why the police are getting kit in their cars to scan plates and return the make/model of the car they're registered to, as well as road tax/insurance checks.

The problem with a system like this is it makes the operators lazy. They won't bother checking to see if you did actually park, or who was driving, or if the car matches the plates: They'll get the VIN and your address and post the fine or the bill and it's up to you to prove you are innocent.

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Anonymous Coward

We have a road in our area that is private that leads to a GP's surgery, it catches drivers all the time. If you stop in the road for more than 2 seconds, you get a £70 fine. No excuses, nothing is accepted, you pay or it's court. We all wrote to the local paper and the council to say it was killing local trade making the road a deathtrap. No surprise to learn that one of the councillors is on the board of the company that runs the tagging scheme that fines people, so no chance of them removing it..

So upshot is that no one enters the road unless it's clear right to the end and then they race down it, right outside the GPs at over 25mph to make sure they cannot be caught! On that same road is a Post Office and the rear entrace to a supermarket so it's a lethal place to be in!

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Big Brother

Tesco in Keynsham (Bristol) also have these cameras. A friend had a letter through the post saying she had over parked, but because she was a tesco loyalty card holder, they wont fine her this time! I wonder if the amount of moneyh you spend in TEsco sets the automatic letter posting from here s a fine to hey next time leave on time? Also how many Tesco points do you think you can collect for the fine?

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WTF?

Re: Confuse the system

You could of course just pay the two quid or so.

Who actually goes into town or the big white goods stores/parks anymore?

We don't even go to Supermarkets any more. Much easier to stay at home and order it in. You don't have to deal with 'plebs' then.

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Big Brother

Re: Confuse the system

> Who actually goes into town or the big white goods stores/parks anymore?

Unfortunately, that's exactly what they want.

You're easier to control if you don't ever go out.

Ideal situation, you're born, you sit down, consume media then you die. Much less troublesome than having people walking and driving round the place.

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Facepalm

Re: Confuse the system

I don't think ordering a fridgefreezer on Amazon was quite what Orwell had in mind.

Plus all the poundshops don't quite have the goods I want.

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Re: Not quite so easy

Do what Elwood Blues did - Use a fake address for your driver's license. 1060 West Addison works well.

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Childcatcher

When is news No News?

When it is reported by The Register

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Re: Not quite so easy

They're only operating illegally if they're selling you a number plate for use on the road - quite a few e-tailers will sell you "joke", or "novelty" number plates (for parties, birthday, behind the bar, etc.) with a little note - stating "This isn't a real number plate and shouldn't be used as such" - at that point they're in the clear, if you (or somebody with nefarious intent) then stick it on a car then - you're breaking the law, not the e-tailer.

To be honest, much easier to have a strategically placed rusty screw or two, changing 9s to 8s, Gs to 6s, 1s to 7s is relatively straight forward and quite innocent looking and easier to go "oh my gosh, look at that," on the off chance you're ever stopped by an actually real and increasingly rare, real police officer (either traffic or on foot)

(I had a friend with a number plate where a 9 looked like an 8 this way, to the point where his wife actually thought the number had an 8 in it...)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not just in Chester

>>> Ditto for B&Q and a few other usual suspects. In fact, it will be difficult to find a retail park that does _NOT_ do ANPR nowdays.

None that I know of in Scotland!

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WTF?

Re: Not just in Chester

"some woman getting killed by an erratic barrier "

Presumably she wasn't in a car at the time (unless the extra powerful barrier crushed the car which then exploded hollywood style), in which case why was she walking in the road underneath moving barriers? I sense a darwin award.

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FAIL

Re: Not just in Chester

It was a bloke, he was in a car, and the barrier was not an automatic one - it was a large metal one which had not been secured open. A strong wind caught it and blew it into his car, killing him.

Asda were fined £225,000 plus costs for a H&S failure.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_east/7200678.stm

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Unhappy

Re: Not just in Chester

"A strong wind caught it and blew it into his car, killing him."

Its sad , but those barriers are heavy and you'd need a hurricane force wind to move them fast so I suspect what probably happened was it was slowly drifting open when this driver probably going too fast and not paying attention drove into it.

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Re: Not quite so easy

I am sure that any half decent printer could reproduce a paper number plate. This only has to to be read by the camera and then removed once through the reader. It could be replaced to exit and removed again. The owners would have to check all vehicles in the car park to find the one not in the database.

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Paris Hilton

Ooh, dogging will never be the same again

<<see title>>

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Joke

Re: Ooh, dogging will never be the same again

Oh I don't know, many car parks don't charge for staying less than 5 minutes....

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Mushroom

Only councils and police can issue fines. What these are is a 'parking charge' that should be appealed (which costs the parking company money) and then if you loose, ignored. This still stands even after the recent change in the law.

See http://forums.pepipoo.com/

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Meh

I did wonder this, seems a bit draconian that the system as it's described can assume agreement from a driver to pay just by driving onto a piece of land that may or may not be clearly identified as a paid car park. Are there even barriers involved here? I assume if I pass a barrier, I'm probably going to be paying something, but I also assume there will be a space for me.

And don't get me started on the multitude of airports that are now charging a quid just to pick up or drop someone off..

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elreg

I got really peeved by that at BHam, until I realised that Long Stay 1 is free for up to an hour - has an excellent bus service to the terminal (or a 5 minute walk) and saves a whole lot of trouble seen at other airports.

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That's a handy site. Thanks!

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Mushroom

The Law has recently changed. The owner is now liable in theory if they cant / dont name the driver. Here is the full outline current guidance.

Legal Enforceability of Private Parking Tickets

There is a great deal of doubt about the legal enforceability of private parking invoices that are issued to motorists. Unlike parking tickets issued by local authorities, which are backed by statute, the enforcement of private parking is essentially a matter of contract law. A private parking company needs to overcome many significant legal hurdles in order to be successful, which include:

•Establishing that any claim is under the law of contract, rather than the tort of trespass (see case of Excel Parking Services v Alan Matthews, Wrexham County Court, May 2009 where the parking company lost on this ground);

•Establishing that the parking company has sufficient interest in the land to bring a claim (see case of VCS v. HM Revenue & Customs, Upper Tax Tribunal, a binding decision at the level of the High Court) in which it was decided that unless the PPC has a proprietary interest in the land they are not able to offer contracts for parking;

•Establishing that all of the elements of a contract (offer, acceptance, consideration) are present;

•Except in England and Wales, establishing who the driver was on the relevant occasion, as any contract can only be enforced against the driver, who may or may not be the registered keeper of the vehicle;

•Establishing the prominence and adequacy of any warning signage, and that the driver actually saw and understood the signage (Waltham Forest v Vine [CCRTF 98/1290/B2]);

•Establishing that the amount claimed is not an unlawful “penalty”, including that there was no attempt to “frighten and intimidate” the driver (see well reported case of Excel Parking Services v Hetherington-Jakeman, Mansfield County Court, March 2008 where the parking company lost on this ground), and that charges must be a genuine pre-estimate of loss, or actual damages caused by trespass (see the Department of Transport's guidance on the Protection of Freedoms Act);

•Establishing that any contract does not fail foul of the Unfair Contract Terms Act and associated regulations.

Protection of Freedoms Act (England and Wales only)

In England and Wales the Protection of Freedoms Act has introduced some changes that might affect your decision whether to simply ignore a PPC ticket. These changes apply only to parking companies that are also members of the BPA AOS scheme, and are principally:

•The PPC may "invite" (not demand, nor require) the RK to provide the details of the driver at the time of the alleged transgression. If the RK doesn't do so, or their invitation is ignored, the PPC is entitled to pursue the RK for whatever charge they are lawfully entitled to from the driver. If the RK does give the name of the driver, the PPC must solely pursue the driver. Therefore as long as the PPC goes through the correct process, relying solely on the argument that "I was not the driver" won't help you. However that is the only change, and if the decision is to ignore then it simply means that the RK ignores rather than the driver.

•There is an independent "appeals" process, operated by Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA). The grounds on which POPLA will consider an appeal look to be narrow and until the first appeals are heard we don't know the stance it will take. However the appeal costs you nothing and costs the PPC £27+ VAT, so we would recommend that everyone who is so inclined appeals. The best grounds seem to be:◦"The parking charge (ticket) exceeds the relevant amount" (if the charge is not valid it should be zero), and;

◦"I am not liable for the parking charge" (if the charge is an unlawful penalty, or the PPC has no interest in the land to offer a contract, etc there will be no liability)

Even if you lose at POPLA, it's not binding on you and the PPC would still have to go to court if they wanted to pursue their claim. Note that you will have to exhaust the PPC's own so-called "appeals" process before POPLA will consider an appeal to them.

You should be aware that the Protection of Freedoms Act doesn't affect the legal position regarding enforceability of these tickets in any way.

Exceptions to Advice to Ignore PPC Tickets

A PPC will normally obtain the name and address of the vehicle's Registered Keeper from DVLA, and pursue them for their ticket. In some cases where you were the driver but are not the RK, leaving the PPC to pursue the RK might be more hassle or more expensive than providing your details to the PPC, naming yourself as the driver and putting up with the junk mail yourself. For example:

•You drive a Company car. Your employers may be unhappy about receiving a stream of claims from the PPC/debt collectors, and it could affect your relationship with them;

•You were driving a hire car, and may incur administration charges from the hire company for dealing with the PPC letters;

•The RK is a friend or relative who may find it too stressful to receive the threatening PPC letters (particularly since they won't have the same level of understanding as you do now!).

In these circumstances you might wish to write to the PPC telling them that you were the driver, and then carry on ignoring them after that.

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"Establishing that all of the elements of a contract (offer, acceptance, consideration) are present"

I thought that was the killer line though. Even if they have you on CCTV walking up to the parking tarrifs board, it does not mean you understood what it means. As they cannot prove you understood the "offer", you therefore could not accept. As you didn't understand what was written then you clearly didn't understand that you had to pay or that it was an offer to start with.

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Anonymous Coward

It only came in two weeks ago (1st October). I doubt anyone has had chance to test it yet.

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Mushroom

In the small claims court the level of proof is 'the balance of probability' - so not impossible to expect that a reasonable person would have noticed cand understood clearly displayed signs. The best one imo is that they can only recover actual losses and not a penalty.

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Silver badge

Your advice seems to contain a contradictory element, namely...

"Therefore as long as the PPC goes through the correct process, relying solely on the argument that "I was not the driver" won't help you. "

and yet you earlier state that the normal process of contract applies (offer, acceptance, consideration etc). If you are not the driver then they cannot go after you as you did not enter into any contract and you may legitimately not know who was driving the vehicle - husband and wife with several adult children insured on a vehicle, for example. It cannot work both ways.

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Trollface

Ignoring private parking...

I always ignore because, although tying them up in their own bureaucracy costs them, it's a little bit like responding to spam emails - in that they suddenly discover there's a person willing to participate in their sham and are more likely to keep haras^H^H^H^H^H annoying you. It is fun to read the escalation letters though - fonts get bigger, blacker, redder, ££££'s...!

Life in the UK pro tip: The more threatening and dire the warning letter from a private company - the less legal power they have to back it up. If they don't take action after their own ridiculously short deadline of 7 days (other than writing another 7 day warning), then they likely never will. IANAL YMMV.

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Mushroom

The law now says the owner is responsible if they dont identify the driver at the time. That is why saying "I was not the driver" will no longer help you.

IF you do admit to being the driver then the normal process of contract law (and all the other burdens of proof above) apply.

That is how it 'works both ways'

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Silver badge

> charges must be a genuine pre-estimate of loss, or actual damages caused by trespass

This is an interesting one. If there were still spaces in the car park available to other customers, you could argue that your presence there cost them nothing, since they lost no business.

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Silver badge

It can't assume agreement!

The private parking company has to establish that you had accepted a contract with it. This means it has to display its terms and conditions in a place where they cannot reasonablty be overlooked. (For example, un-lit notices at night fail this test, as do vandalized notices). They also have to comply with all relevant contract law, for example no unfair terms, and no small print that a person with driving-legal vision might be unable to read under the prevailing conditions.

They'll bully and bluster, but if the contract is not valid for reasons such as the above, take photographs to prove it, and tell them that you'll see them in court. "Honest John" in the Telegraph has examples of this most weeks! (There's also legislation concerning harassment, if they continue to pester after you've told them "see you in court" and requested that they cease harassing you.)

Incidentally penalty charges have to be fair. If you agree that you owe something for parking there, but that what is demanded is exorbitant, the best policy is to offer a smaller sum, or see them in court if they decline it . If the court agrees that a tenner was fair, they'll have lost a small fortune in legal fees. This applies, for example, if you overstay what you paid for by a few minutes, especially if you can argue that the car park was not busy and you deprived no-one else of a parking space.

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Silver badge

Civil court

Arguments in civil proceedings are on "the balance of probabilities". If you've been filmed reading the contract, you can't argue that you did not understand it unless it's (deliberately?) misleading or unclear. (You might have a better case if you were a foreign tourist with minimal English). If on the other hand you did not read the notice, the argument will be over whether it was displayed sufficiently prominently for that to be an unreasonable action on your part. (Note - what's reasonable on a bright sunny day may not be reasonable after dark or during a snowstorm).

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^^^^^ Wot he said

x several million

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Anonymous Coward

so

Does that mean, I park, I dont pay, I get a fine for the cost of the parking had I bothered to get a ticket? Because that sounds great. I often have no idea if Im staying 1 hour or 3, so now I dont have to bother? I just drive in, drive out and wait for the bill?

Will council run/managed car parks have a different law as they are the council so can issue fines?

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xyz

Re: so

YOU DO NOT GET A FINE<<<<<. It's an unsolicited invoice from a company which if you receive one, you just bin. These are not like council or police tickets

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Anonymous Coward

Re: so

Indeed. I have done this many times. They cannot enforce it and call it a civil penalty.

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