What are the laws in the UK in relation to the legal clamping of cars?

Clamping of cars

If you park your car somewhere where you shouldn’t, your car may be clamped. The clamp placed over the wheel of the car will ensure your car can’t be driven and will only be removed upon the payment of a fine.

When will my car be clamped?

When your car will be clamped depends on whether you have parked on public or private property.

Public property

Under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, vehicles which are illegally parked on roads can be clamped. Clamping of a vehicle on a public highway can only be done by authorised bodies; eg, a local authority, the police or the DVLA. Normally vehicles are only clamped on a public highway if the vehicle has no excise licence, or is parked in no waiting area or other restricted areas.

Notice fixed to the wheel

If you are clamped, a notice will be fixed to the wheel of your vehicle and/or your windscreen which will provide you with details on how it can be released. This will usually be in the form of a charge to be paid before the clamp is released.

What happens if I try to get the clamp off the car myself?

It is a criminal offence to interfere with or try and remove a clamp which has been placed on your car by the police or another authorised person.

Private property

Under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PFA 2012), it is now a criminal offence to clamp, tow, block-in or immobilise a vehicle without lawful authority on privately owned land.

The ban was introduced to end abuses by rogue clamping firms who preyed on motorists by charging excessive release fees.

To commit this offence a person must intend to stop you from moving your vehicle. No offence is committed if you are prevented from leaving a car park because the vehicle’s exit was blocked by a fixed barrier.

Parking notices put up by would-be clampers, warning that clamping and towing are in operation are no longer effective, as PFA 2012 stipulates that lawful authority cannot be conferred by obtaining the vehicle owner’s consent.

Privately owned land includes car parks, such as those at retail parks, whether or not there a fee is payable to park there (it does not include local authority run car parks).

Lawful authority to immobilise or move a vehicle is limited to specified organisations including the police, DVLA and local authorities. Section 55 of PFA 2012 extended the powers of the police remove vehicles from all areas of private land where they are illegally, obstructively or dangerously parked or broken down. Government agencies such as the DVLA and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency can do the same with unroadworthy or untaxed vehicles.

There are other organisations and public bodies which can establish ‘lawful authority’ through Acts of Parliament and local byelaws, including airports, ports and harbours, strategic river crossings, as well as some railway stations and common land.

What happens if an unlicensed clamper clamps my vehicle?

If someone clamps you illegally, they could be liable to an unlimited fine in the Crown Court or up to £5,000 in a magistrates’ court.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.