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Excel Parking’s misleading signs: we complain to OFT

[5 Feb 2012] In the latest stage of our campaign to get bad signs changed, we’ve complained to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) about the language and legibility of signs being used at the entrance to a car park run by Excel Parking Services Ltd at the Peel Centre, Stockport. The signs are unclear and have led to tens of thousands of motorists being stung by £100 charges for failure to buy a ticket. (See our archive for more on this story.) You can see a copy of the main sign by clicking here (download 6MB)

By law, the text on Excel’s signs must be ‘plain and intelligible’ because it represents the agreement between Excel and the motorist. The terms of the agreement come under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. We’ve asked the OFT, which enforces the regulations, to examine the signs.

Regulation 7 says plain and intelligible language must be used in consumer contracts. A term can be challenged as unfair if it could put consumers at a disadvantage because they’re not clear about its meaning – even if its meaning could be worked out by a lawyer. When people see muddled English on signs, they often just skip it – which in this case is likely to mean they’ll contravene Excel’s rules and incur a £100 penalty. 

As the OFT makes clear, the plain-language rule is part of a wider requirement that consumers should be able to read and understand terms before becoming bound by them. The OFT says jargon-free language is of no value to consumers unless it is in legible print and they have the opportunity to read it when they need to. Most people take ‘legible’ to mean legible to the typical user – in this case someone driving in to a car park at about 10mph and seeing the sign from 6–7 metres away.

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