When a South Norwood-based businessman popped in to the BP garage on Mitcham Road expecting to pay for a tank of fuel, a bottle of wine and a car wash, he got a shock weeks later when he received an official notice of a £60 fine and threat of further action.
And this week, Guy Clapperton has discovered that BP is using an agency to check who goes on to the forecourt of its petrol station next to Mitcham Common, because they are claiming that drivers park there to… pick up their mates landing at Gatwick Airport nearly 20 miles away.
The incident occurred on March 24, when Clapperton needed to refuel. “I arrived and there was a bit of a queue for the petrol pump,” he told Inside Croydon.
“I queued, got my petrol and went into the shop. There is a Marks and Spencer’s Simply Food shop on the premises, so I stopped to buy a few bits and chose some wine for the evening. There was quite a wait for the till because they appear to be short-staffed.
“I paid and picked up a car wash token. I also needed to vacuum clean the car so I did so as there was a queue for the car wash. I finished and joined the queue. There were a couple of cars in front of me – I didn’t count, why would I? I went through the car wash and I left.”
A straightforward and routine event, or so Clapperton thought until the following month he received a “notice to registered keeper” from an organisation called MET Parking Services. “It said – I am sure correctly – that I had spent 42 minutes on the premises and therefore owed them £60 if I paid immediately, £100 if I didn’t.” That was April 10.
Clapperton appealled. Another six weeks later, towards the end of May, MET rejected his appeal, “because I was indeed on the premises when they claimed. They have photographic evidence of my arrival and departure, time-stamped.
“The thing is, I was there because I was spending money with BP.”
Clapperton, who works as a writer, editor and broadcaster, submitted a further appeal (MET refuses to recognise the official ombudsman for such matters; you can only imagine why), and he emailed BP directly.
He wrote, “I wanted to make you aware that MET is actively punishing people for spending money with you. As a business, you can’t be happy with this.”
Clapperton told BP, “I have outlined everything I did, and it all involved handing money to your organisation for services and goods. Staffing levels meant there were queues to pay but that didn’t bother me – at the time. I’m happy with what I paid for the goods and services and the staff are always pleasant.”
But Clapperton was now firmly enmeshed in BP’s web of arms-length, corporate formatted automatic responses. He had already contacted the company’s parking enforcement contractors and followed the appeal process outlined in the fine notice.
After a two-week wait, he got this reply from what BP calls its “Careline”:
“First of all, please accept my sincere apologies on behalf of BP Oil UK Limited for any inconvenience and disappointment that this incident may have caused you.” Which is a reasonable enough start, if the sentiments offered are sincere.
The Careline email continued: “Customer service and satisfaction is paramount to BP and it goes to great lengths to ensure that customers visiting a BP-branded service station receive nothing but the highest levels of service.” Oh really?
Then came the zinger: “Please kindly note that there is parking enforcement all across the nearby area’s [sic] including the main airport, BP had no option but to follow suit.
“We believe 30 minutes is ‘ample’ time for a customer to shop ‘conveniently’ at our stores where we have implemented time restrictions, the actions taken had to be introduced at the store due to a number of motorists using the forecourt to wait for passengers from the nearby airport and then return on numerous occasions taking up valuable spaces for customers.
“On a number of occasions motorists have left their cars on the forecourts while using nearby airport or hotels and this in turn has led to Fuel Tankers being turned away from the store due to HSSE reasons as the pathways have been blocked by abandoned vehicles.
“In each of our Retail Stores where parking time restrictions have been introduced, we work with industry-approved contractors to make the parking policy as fair and as clearly communicated as possible.
“BP do not profit from operations run by MET Parking.
“Due to the nature of the issue I would like to kindly ask you to please address all your concerns to the Parking Enforcement Company you have received the mentioned letter from as they are equipped with all necessary tools to best investigate your case.
“If you believe the PCN has been issued incorrectly you can make your appeal to POPLA (Parking On Private Land Appeals) mentioned on the letter you have received. POPLA is an independent company who will assess your complaint, If the overstay is due to a genuine reason then POPLA will review your claim.”
Mitcham Common is nearly 19 miles from Gatwick Airport, a 40-minute drive on a good day.
“I’ve often enjoyed parking the car and going for a leisurely stroll to pick up my mates from Gatwick and carrying their cases back,” Clapperton told Inside Croydon.
“Actually I’d struggle to carry heavy bags from this petrol station to East Croydon and get the train the rest of the way. They’re just not making any sense.”
BP’s reponse to Clapperton was clearly auto-generated, which indicates that they must receive multiple complaints about their forecourt parking fines and the conduct of MET. It also suggests that no one at BP’s customer care department had taken any time to care about this particular customer.
“I understand they don’t want people loitering and it’s their property, their rules, fair enough. But they’re sending out a message that says ‘don’t spend money on more than one or two services here or we’ll sting you for £100’.
“I don’t understand how that’s sensible for a business.
“The staff are always helpful and it’s a useful place – car wash, shop, Wild Bean Café. I don’t begrudge anybody their livelihood – they work hard. That’s why I’m so appalled that the company that runs the franchise is kicking them in the teeth so hard by hiring a company that disincentives customers with this sort of fine – and then responds so dismissively when it’s drawn to their attention.
“The message is basically not to go to this BP petrol station or any other and consider spending money on more than one or two items in there. If you go for a car wash and there’s a queue, go elsewhere – the parking operators don’t care why you’re there and the petrol company doesn’t give a damn.”
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