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.