A NORTH-EAST man is warning shoppers to avoid making an 'innocent mistake' which left his household with £200 worth of parking charges.

Martin Ellis received a parking charge notice from Smart Parking following a family member's visit to B&M in Bishop Auckland on Saturday, May 2.

Mr Ellis, from Shildon, said he and his family 'assumed' car parking charges had been relaxed as other retailers had suspended tariffs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The car park, which is controlled by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) currently requires all customers to pay between 50p and £2 depending on their length of stay.

Unlike some sites operated on behalf of B&M in the region, the car park on Saddler Street does not offer a free period of parking.

Mr Ellis told The Northern Echo: "We assumed that all car parks weren't charging, it was totally ignorant, but it was all totally innocent.

"The fact that we had been in other car parks where you didn't have to pay led us to believe this was the case here.

"We first realised that you had to pay, when we heard another customer saying they had received a parking fine and B&M just said it’s doesn’t have anything to do with them."

Mr Ellis, who lodged an appeal against the original May 2 ticket stating that he did not know who the driver was, said he anticipated three further parking tickets following subsequent visits.

However he said it was 'immoral' for B&M and Smart Parking to enforce parking charges when other retailers had seemingly taken the decision to suspend theirs.

Warning other shoppers against making the same mistake, he said: "I don't think people are aware of it. It is 50p for a ticket, we wouldn't knowingly risk it for a £100 fine.

"So far, I've had one ticket and my daughter has had another, a lot of people seem to have been caught out too. We expect another three.

"People need to be very careful where they park their car parks, it's a bit immoral with what's going on."

In response, a spokesperson for Smart Parking said it had been brought in to manage the car park to stop ‘parking abuse’ and ensure ‘genuine customers’ could always find somewhere to park.

It said there are ‘numerous signs’ which clearly explain the ‘terms and conditions’ of use and added that hundreds of motorists use the car park everyday ‘without any issues.’

Responding to Mr Ellis’s claims, Smart Parking said: “Mr Ellis had already contacted us directly stating that he was not the driver of the vehicle in question and was unaware of who was. Further, he said he had not used the car park and so was incorrectly charged.  

"From our records, we can see that this vehicle stayed in the car park for 18 minutes and no payment was received nor was there any attempt to pay. To that end, we are actively reviewing this specific appeal."

The Northern Echo contacted B&M with Mr Ellis' concerns, but they chose not to provide us with a statement.