A YEAR or so ago, I fell foul of one of the notorious private parking companies in Warrington town centre.

The company said I had parked on a site it controlled and hadn't entered my car registration number in its little machine in order to get my free parking, and as a result they were going to charge me an extortionate amount of money as a 'parking charge'.

But if I paid up promptly, they would give me a discount.

OK, I thought, that's a possibility.

Then the following day, I received another parking charge from the same company for the same car park.

Again, the letter said my car had been seen on the company's automatic number plate recognition system and that I hadn't entered my car registration number in its little machine in order to get my free parking.

And yes, you guessed it, the company was going to charge me an extortionate amount of money as a parking charge – and yes, they would give me a discount if I paid promptly.

At this point I will confess I had actually parked on the car park in question on both days and it's a car park I use on a regular basis, so I am well aware of the system in order to get free parking.

So what was the likelihood that I would have made the same mistake two days running?

In my opinion, there was no likelihood whatsoever.

Given this was the first time I had ever had a private parking charge, I set about investigating what I could do about it.

Turns out private parking charges are not fines, as fines can only be issued by public bodies such as the police or local authorities.

Parking charges or penalty notices are considered breaches of contract and are a matter of civil and not criminal law.

Once upon a time, the advice used to be you could just ignore these charges because it cost the parking company more to take you to a county court than they would get back when you eventually paid.

But some of the bigger and more aggressive companies got wise to this, and as a matter of principle started civil proceedings against anyone who didn't pay up.

To confuse matters, there were two different bodies you could appeal to if you wished to fight the charge – depending on which one the parking company subscribed to.

In the end, I declined to go down the appeals route.

I refused to pay, told the company I was refusing to pay and gave them a host of reasons why the original charge was actually unlawful and what steps I would take if the company continued to chase me for the money.

In one of the rare cases of the little guy actually winning, the parking company backed down and rescinded both charges.

Nevertheless, what the experience did do was expose me to the murky world of private parking companies and their ruthless business methods.

Which was why I was happy to see the government has finally stepped in and done something about it with new laws to safeguard drivers against aggressive private parking firms.

The new Parking Code of Practice Act 2019, will bring in greater regulation of the private parking industry.

According to the Daily Mirror website, drivers will be able to more easily challenge unfair parking tickets through a new independent appeals service and all private parking operators will have to follow a new industry-backed Code of Practice.

If private parking firms break the code, they could be barred from asking for motorists' information from the DVLA to enforce tickets.

The new independent appeals service will also give drivers greater support to challenge unjustified parking tickets.

Quoted in the Mirror, Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak said: "Millions of us use private car parks every day but for far too many drivers slapped with unjust fines this largely unregulated industry feels like the Wild West.

"Too often, I hear of awful treatment at the hands of dodgy parking firms – from problems paying for parking to intimidating demands for payment and baffling appeals processes."

And all I can add is, about time too.