The Government will cap clamping fees at $100 in a crackdown on predatory practices, with clampers who charge more subject to police enforcement

New measures to address "cowboy" wheel clamping and exorbitant fees were announced by the Government today.

Pressure has been mounting for tougher penalties on clamping contractors over the past year in particular, following a number of complaints from the public largely relating to one west Auckland retail complex.

Today Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi and Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced that a maximum of $100 will be able to be charged for removal of a wheel clamp, enforceable by police if clampers try to charge more.

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Infringement fees of up to $1000 for an individual and $5000 for a company will be charged by police, and a fine of up to $3000 for an individual and $15,000 for a company can be imposed if the matter goes to Court.

Faafoi said he had heard the concerns of the public who were being targeted by clampers charging as much as $700 for removal of a wheel clamp.

"Wheel clamping is common on private land, particularly in cities, and the practice is not currently regulated.

"The law has been sadly lacking and that has resulted in some of the cowboy operators charging outrageous fees.

"While some operators were working to a voluntary code intended to protect consumers, it was not a level playing field and some were deliberately preying on people.

"Something needed to change to protect consumers from the financial loss and emotional distress caused by these unscrupulous operators."

Mark Stockdale, AA principal adviser for regulations, said while this was a good first step, $100 was still a lot of money, much more than most of the big companies like Wilsons' charge.

"Having no regulations for wheel clamping has allowed anyone to set themselves up in the clamping business and charge any penalties they like, on any private property, any time,"

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Stockdale said $100 was disproportionate for the offence and it didn't solve the problem of denying motorists the opportunity to dispute a wheel clamp penalty without paying on the spot.

"The AA also believes wheel clampers should be regulated, the same way tow truck operators are.

"Tow truck companies have to be licensed, they have to keep a record of the opposed, they have to have uniforms so that people can see that they are professional and not someone stealing their car."

The AA was working on the development of the voluntary Code of Practice for Parking Enforcement on Private Land, which prioritises issuing breach notices, and discourages the use of wheel clamping.

"The major parking companies which are signatories to the code do not use wheel clamps for enforcement," Stockdale said.

Faafoi said he was pleased the Government had agreed to amend the Land Transport Act 1998 to enable a quick resolution to the issue as it had been a growing concern left unaddressed over a number of years.

Twyford said cowboy clampers have used stand-over tactics to squeeze unfair fees out of motorists for far too long.

"Many New Zealanders have been horrified by the stories of clampers swooping in mere seconds after people have parked and then demanding excessive fees to free up their car.

"The voluntary code of conduct has not worked, so we're stepping in with clear rules and accountability to protect the public."

Wheel clamping has been common on private land, with infringement fees up to the discretion of the clamper. Photo / File
Wheel clamping has been common on private land, with infringement fees up to the discretion of the clamper. Photo / File

Legislation to enact the measures will now be drafted with the aim of it being introduced to Parliament this year.

The Herald visited a controversial clamping hot spot in March, resulting in a reporter's car being clamped - despite the fact a cameraman from the same vehicle had legitimately purchased items from the complex's bakery. The reporter confronted the operator on camera, to which he defended clamping her car, denying he had done anything illegal.

A few weeks earlier, Bryan Ward was also clamped in the same carpark by an Elite Parking Services warden and received a $450 fine in the mail.

It was reported that Ward ripped the clamp off and drove away, before being followed in a car by the parking warden.

A grieving mother was also clamped in June at the same spot as she gave a statement to police about her son's death. The woman and her friend, Louise Allen, were both clamped and handed $200 fines each to pay upfront. Upset, Allen paid the money, even after the detective they had just met with argued with the parking warden to have "an ethical backbone".

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has said it was legal for parking companies to take enforcement action, and to apply charges where a customer had overstayed or parked in a car park where they were not a customer.

However, that has never sat well with Consumer New Zealand's chief executive Sue Chetwin, who has long advocated for a total ban on clamping.

"We are pleased to see the some changes that will get rid of the high fines but we still think there needs to be further regulation - for example giving all drivers the ability to challenge if there was error," Jessica Wilson from Consumer NZ said it response to today's announcement.

Wilson said Consumer NZ hoped the $100 cap would force the real "cowboys" to shut up shop.

"If not - and the same problems keep happening - we will continue to campaign for further regulation," Wilson said.

The Government brought in a voluntary code of conduct in 2012 after a spike in complaints, giving people a 10-minute grace period before a clamp could be used.

Despite that, many smaller private parking companies simply haven't signed up to it.

Earlier in the year, Faafoi called for a cap on the amount companies could charge to remove a clamp and indicated a ban would be unlikely.

In June, he told the Herald all options were available to Cabinet when considering legislation.

"We're still going through the process of finalising exactly where we'll land on that, whether it's an outright ban or we regulate that and cap the price of a fee to remove a clamp."