Most drivers have experienced that sinking feeling you get when you return to your car to see a plastic envelope with a scary-looking bit of paper in it stuck to your windscreen.

Top related searches:
  1. Clamping
  2. Private car parks
  3. Parking enforcement
  4. Contract law
  5. Parking ticket
  6. Parking law
  7. Legal letters
  8. Small claims court
  9. Private parking companies
  10. Parking tickets
And drivers are now also getting scary letters arriving on their doormats days or weeks after an alleged parking infraction too.

But before you reach for your bank card in order to pay up, it might do to conduct a little bit of research into the validity of bill you have been given.

What is it called?
If the ticket or letter is titled "Penalty Charge Notice" (PCN) then you should pay attention to it, although that doesn't automatically mean you HAVE to pay up.

If the PCN is issued by a local authority then you probably will have to pay, assuming it is all above board and you parked somewhere that your shouldn't have without paying. That is because local authorities have a legal power to issue parking fines.

Private companies do not have the power to do this, but in the past some have issued demands for money and called them Penalty Charge Notices.

If your ticket/letter is called a "Parking Charge Notice" (only one word different!) then it is issued by a private company and is essentially (in law) an invoice for a service.

Private parking firms can obtain motorists' details from the DVLA by paying £2.50, which might explain how they managed to send you a letter about it.

"Parking Enforcement Notice" is also used by some operators, and these have the same status as the Parking Charge Notice discussed above.

Do I have to pay?
By all means pay if you feel the demand is fair and you think you were in the wrong. But if you feel the demand is unreasonable - and many do appear to be so - then you are under no obligation to inform the company who was driving the car at the time.

Their legal case would be with the driver, and so will not get very far if they do not have that information.

Also, the charges made for "unauthorised" parking can be quite considerable - £150 is not uncommon - and may not stand up in court, where they could be seen as penalties rather than a fair price for a service.

Should I respond?
Letters or tickets will often hold vague threats of legal action. If you do not respond you will get more letters, often with more threats of legal action and deadlines. If you continue not responding they will probably stop.

It is very rare for a parking company to take a vehicle's registered keeper to court when it does not know the identity of the driver.

If you do respond, the parking company is highly unlikely to back down - so factor that into your decision.

Should more restrictions be placed on private parking firms? Comment below...