Sneaky parking app charges DOUBLE the bill for motorists

Motorists are being hit with a new wave of scam fees paid over the phone – with sneaky extras going as far as doubling the cost of using a car park in some cases.

With many holidaymakers opting to spend their summer holidays in Britain rather than overseas, pay-by-phone providers are taking advantage of motorists to the tune of around £20million by levying these extra charges.

This is all made easier because many drivers who struggle to find a space are forced to use a phone app. Indeed, traditional cash or card payment dispensers are no longer provided or are left out of service.

Campaigners are calling for stricter regulation of the booming pay-by-phone market and for car park users to be informed before paying of charges to be deducted from their bank account, as well as additional charges they may incur for receiving text messages confirming payment or telling them that their paid time is almost up.

Pay and dismay: Christopher Godfrey says he accepted an offer of £2.49 for parking only to find the cost had risen by 60% at the end

The latest payment trick is performed by the YourParkingSpace app. It charges a £1.50 surcharge for drivers who use parking without pre-booking a space.

This is in addition to a 49p ‘service charge’ for using the app. Some customers say they find out they’ve paid an additional charge only after pressing a button to make a payment on their phone.

Other pay-by-phone parking apps also require additional money to use their service, with fees taking various forms.

For example, RingGo may include a “convenience charge” of 12 pence on top of the normal parking rate.

Additionally, it charges up to 20p for a ‘fee summary’ text message confirming you’ve paid – and another ‘fee reminder’ text message of 20p sent ten minutes before the end of your parking session, inviting you to extend your stay via your mobile.

Competitor PayByPhone is also charging up to 20p for an SMS ‘receipt’ as well as 20p for sending a ‘reminder’. JustPark has a 49p ‘transaction fee’ for parking under two hours – 99p if more.

Apps avoid providing a clear explanation of sneaky fees in their terms and conditions by varying the costs they charge at different car parks.

Christopher Godfrey is one of millions of motorists who have fallen victim to fine 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 3.5 hours while he went to watch Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick in the cinema.

Christopher says: ‘The car park had a sign that said it was free for the first two hours, but if you wanted to stay longer you had to log into the YourParkingSpace app to find out what you had to pay.’

He adds: “The charge was clearly stated as £2.49. But as soon as I pressed the pay button in the app, I got a message thanking me for my payment of £3.99. I felt cheated as at no time was I notified of the additional £1.50 charge. The extra charge almost doubled the cost of parking.

Christopher confronted YourParkingSpace. He confirmed that the charge was correct as he had not ‘pre-booked the space’. But he said he would refund the £1.50 “on an exceptional basis”.

He says he did not explain why details of the non-booking fee were not provided before payment.

He added: “I have asked Apple Pay, my credit card issuer and Trading Standards to look into the matter.”

Motorist and consumer groups say 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 the spokesperson for the automobile organization AA. He says: “When pay-per-phone apps were first introduced, it was expected that parking charges would come down rather than up.

“This was based on the fact that there would be savings for car park operators such as local councils who would no longer have to maintain and collect money from payment machines. But the charges did not fall. They got up.

He adds: “We now need a clear and consistent charging structure across the pay-by-phone industry so that no parking user is misled or left confused about the charges they pay.

“It’s not fair that a motorist ends up paying far more than expected for a parking space, or being charged for just receiving a receipt.”

The AA calculates that 200,000 people a day pay to park using a phone app. He conservatively estimates that each pays an average additional fee of 25p, which is up to £50,000 a day, or more than £18m a year.

According to Martyn James, the consumer campaigner, the number of complaints about parking apps and additional fees has doubled over the past year, but is still relatively low due to the way fees are collected.

He explains, “They use a horrible manipulation trick known as micro-charge. The extra they charge is not enough for most people to complain.

James says the apps “exploit” drivers and he thinks charges should be clearly marked in a car park and not hidden in the fine print of a mobile phone app.

Additional charges vary widely as they are often set after an agreement has been reached between a local council or private operator and the payphone company.

Last week, The Mail on Sunday contacted all major parking app providers so they could defend their claims.

YourParkingSpace has over one million motorists registered to rent spaces in public and private car parks, as well as off-street locations, such as driveways.

Referring to cases like that of Christopher Godfrey, he said: “Users booking in advance may get a cheaper rate because booking in advance helps space owners secure rental. Our service fee covers the costs of booking a driver. The driver will never have to pay any additional costs after making his reservation.’

JustPark was the only other company willing to comment. He said: ‘We charge the same fixed fee for pre-booking a parking space or paying per app at the car park for clarity and to avoid confusion. Fees are clearly shown on the app at the time of purchase.

Dutch company RingGo is one of the most popular parking apps with 18 million registered motorists in Britain – and it’s also favored by many local authorities.

The Mail on Sunday revealed that in Leatherhead, Surrey, customers are being charged a 12p ‘convenience fee’ by RingGo plus 10p for a ‘summary text message’ giving details of their charges.

There’s also 10p ‘reminder’ text for when parking time is about to end, although this can be overridden by changing the app settings.

But in busy Westminster, central London, RingGo charges 20 pence for summary or reminder texts – although it doesn’t impose any additional convenience fees. PayByPhone is another big app operator, owned by Volkswagen Financial Services, an offshoot of the German car giant.

PayByPhone is headquartered in Canada and serves “nearly 1,300 cities.”

On its website, rates for ‘optional text messages’ start free in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, reaching up to 20 pence in Ealing, west London.

These rates apply to both “receive” and “recall” SMS.

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