Disabled and elderly drivers have slammed a national parking company after reports dozens of drivers have racked up hundreds of pounds worth of fines at a Northampton car park.
Northampton Borough Council handed the upper level of the St Peters Way car park back to owners PAT Pensions Limited in October last year.
National firm NCP began running the top level, by Argos, Peacocks and Pure Gym, in August, and in doing so removed the free parking for blue badge holders using the disabled bays.
But several disabled people using the car park have spoken of their disgust after receiving £100 fines in the post this week.
The dozen people the Chronicle and Echo spoke to say the signage is simply not clear enough to warn people of new charges, meaning many of them have been caught multiple times, totally unaware they were breaking the rules.
Retired engineering consultant Anil Dhir, 69, from Hinton Road, Kingsthorpe, has mobility issues and uses the convenient St Peters Way disabled bays regularly. This week he received a ticket after a short trip to Iceland supermarket on September 16.
"This is going to get people in their 60s, 70s and 80s," he said.
"They perhaps won't even have a laptop to appeal this sort of thing - so they will just end up paying it.
"NCP should be refunding the people it has fined."
To add to the confusion - though there is a small notice on the entrance to the car park stating that charges apply in disabled bays - a sign near the bays themselves stated that those staying over four hours would be 'penalised'.
This week that sign was mysteriously removed.
And worst still, the lower level car park by Pets at Home just yards away is still being run by the borough council and offers free blue badge parking.
Mr Dhir said: "When you enter that upper car park - who is going to get out and study all the words on the sign?
"It would create queues of cars.
"It is ludicrous, just put up a sign by the disabled bays saying disabled people have to pay."
Brian Smyth, 74, is expecting at least three separate fines - but he says he will refuse to pay them.
"I I will sign any petition, I will appeal - but I'm not paying that money," he said. "If they want their money they will have to take me to court. I would rather go to jail than pay."
Great-grandfather of five Raphael Bates suffers from severe arthritis and has used the car park for nearly 20 years free-of-charge. He said the confusing signs were a "scam".
But the 67-year-old, of Alcombe Road, is now expecting to receive £500 worth of penalties after using it without paying on five separate occasions.
"I wasn't aware, I couldn't believe it," he said.
"A lot of disabled people would not be able to walk to the pay machines from where the bays are anyway, it's a disgrace."
A sign informing people that new charges apply is situated at the side of the pay machine itself.
But Stephen Rose, of Lakeview, Kettering Road, said the bay users have not even been approaching the meter to see it - because they believe they are entitled to free parking.
"The thing is there are no wardens, they are not putting a ticket on the car," said Stephen, 68, who recently received a fine. "They are just sending you it in the post much later.
"There must be loads of disabled people caught out by this on several occasions.
"I feel like going down there on a Friday and just warning people."
A further 16 disabled car park users have claimed to have been fined on the recently launched Facebook group 'St Peters Car Park Blue Badge Fines'. Combined with the people the Chron has spoken to, at least 25 have recently received fines - with the likelihood of many more.
A petition has been launched to force NCP to change their signage policy by another car park user, Corey Haseley, which can be seen here.
NCP, on the other hand, says the small warnings to blue badge holders are on display at St Peter's are adequate.
A spokeswoman for the firm said: "We do understand that historically the car park was run by the council who did not charge disabled motorists, but the terms and conditions of the car park now states that disabled motorists are welcome to park in dedicated disabled bays in the most accessible area of the car park as long as they display a blue badge and have paid for their parking.
"All customers are welcome to appeal a PCN (parking ticket) and NCP reviews each appeal on a case by case basis.
"If the customer is unhappy following the NCP appeal process then they are also able to go to the independent appeals process POPLA for a totally independent review that can overturn any NCP decision and that we will stand by."