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When your car can be clamped or towed away

It is illegal for your car to be clamped or towed away on any land, except in specific circumstances where the law allows it.  

Your car could be clamped if it isn’t roadworthy, if you haven’t paid unpaid taxes,, fines or legal aid costs, or if you repeatedly park where you shouldn’t and don’t pay council parking tickets.

You can’t be clamped just because you spend too long in a car park or park where you shouldn’t have.  You should only be issued with a parking ticket.

Read this page to find out more about when your car can be clamped or towed away.  

When councils can clamp

The Department for Transport has issued guidelines to local councils about when they should clamp or tow away vehicles. These are called:

Operational Guidance to Local Authorities: Parking Policy and Enforcement Traffic Management Act 2004

You can find these guidelines on the Department for Transport website at www.gov.uk

Where clamping is allowed

The council, police, bailiffs and Government agencies such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) are allowed to clamp and tow away cars in some situations.  This is called clamping with lawful authority. Private companies can carry out the clamping and towing on their behalf.

Councils and the police can clamp cars on roads if you keep breaking parking rules. Or they can tow your car away if it’s causing an obstruction, if it’s abandoned or part of an unauthorised travel encampment. Councils can also clamp cars on car parks they manage. The police also have the power to clamp cars on private land.

The DLVA can clamp cars without road tax and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency can clamp and tow cars that aren’t roadworthy.

You can also get clamped at railway stations and airport car parks, ports and harbours.

When bailiffs can clamp your car

A bailiff can clamp your car then later tow it away if they’ve been authorised to enforce certain debts, including unpaid parking fines, council tax and county court judgements. Before the bailiff can clamp your car or take away other goods you own, you must be given a notice of enforcement. This explains why the bailiff will be taking action against you and what you can do to stop it.

More about vehicles and bailiffs

Clamping for not paying legal aid bills

From 30 July 2013, if legal aid fees are deliberately left unpaid, the Legal Aid Agency can apply for a ‘motor vehicle order’ to get your car clamped. If the fee remains unpaid and you’ve been convicted in the Crown Court, a ‘vehicle sale order’ can also be applied for. This gives permission to sell your car, This can only be done if the value of the car is likely to be more than half the money owed.

A collection and enforcement agency will do this work on behalf of the Legal Aid Agency.

If the car displays a disabled person’s badge or it’s believed that it’s used to transport a disabled person, it can’t be clamped or sold.

If you keep breaking parking rules in council car parks or on roads

Your car may get clamped if you are seen as having persistently broken parking rules. This happens if you have three unpaid Penalty Charge Notices issued by the council. You may have disputed or appealed against the penalty notice and had your reasons rejected, or not disputed it at all.

Often, someone in this position is not the registered vehicle keeper on the DVLA database or is not properly registered.

The council shouldn't treat you as persistently breaking the parking rules unless bailiffs have tried to recover the unpaid penalty notices and failed.

If the council wants to clamp or tow away a car, they should issue a Penalty Charge Notice first. They should only clamp or tow away once they've made sure you are someone who's persistently broken the parking rules.

If your car is parked in a marked out parking space, the council must wait at least 15 minutes after issuing the penalty notice, before they clamp or tow away your car.

Getting your car back

If you need to go to a pound to collect your car, make sure you take your car tax or insurance documents, driving licence and proof of purchase to prove it's yours. If your vehicle has been towed away, dial 101 to contact your local police station or, in London, contact TRACE on 0845 206 8602.

Where clamping is not allowed on private land

Private land owners and companies acting on their behalf can’t clamp your car just because you’ve broken parking rules on their land.  They can issue you with a parking ticket. They are also allowed to put barriers up to keep your car on their land or to stop you getting on their land in the first place.  

If someone clamps your car because you have broken the parking rules, they commit a criminal offence if they intend to make it difficult or impossible for your to move your own car, even if they don’t charge a release fee.

If your car is causing an obstruction or is parked dangerously, it may be moved to a more appropriate location at no charge to you.

If you think you have been illegally clamped

If you think you have been illegally clamped, keep calm and don't lose your temper. Don’t attempt to remove a wheel clamp as you could be sued for criminal damage if you damage it. You could be also prosecuted for theft if you keep the clamp.

Instead, call the police to explain you think you have been clamped illegally.

Blue badge holders

If your vehicle displays a valid Blue Badge, it should not be clamped and should only be towed away in an emergency.

Next steps

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