Hundreds of thousands of parking fines may have been wrongly issued because councils have â€˜made upâ€™ signs not approved by the Government.
The number of tickets issued by wardens has soared in recent years with drivers now hit with penalties of up to Â£80 every 4.6 seconds.
Many of those fines are given to motorists in spaces that have been suspended to allow for road repairs or other works.Â
But an investigation has found thousands of â€˜suspended parking bayâ€™ notices have not been cleared with the Department for Transport.
That means in London alone almost 350,000 parking fines â€“ totalling Â£23million â€“ may have been unlawfully issued because of the invalid signs.
Neil Davies, a motoring solicitor at the law firm Caddick Davies, said: â€˜From a legal perspective councils are on very shaky ground, because the signage they used is effectively made up.
â€˜They may be relying on the fact many people donâ€™t challenge parking notices.â€™
The DfT provides a â€˜bookâ€™ of designs for road signs that authorities must follow.
But it has not yet produced a template for a â€˜suspended parking bayâ€™ sign, meaning councils must get each individual notice cleared by the DfT before it complies with Traffic Signs Regulations. A typical London council suspends more than 1,500 parking bays a month and at least 28 authorities had not applied for clearance for their signs before 2012.
No loading or waiting: There is no template for a suspended parking bay sign, reported BBC Inside Out
In January 2010, motorist Suzanne Campbell defeated Londonâ€™s Camden Council at a Parking and Traffic Appeals Service hearing after being ticketed in a suspended parking bay.
Adjudicator Edward Houghton said: â€˜In the absence of a compliant sign the vehicle was not in contravention and the appeal must be allowed.
â€˜No doubt the council will give consideration to obtaining the Secretary of Stateâ€™s authorisation.â€™
Motorists fined years ago might find it hard to claw money back because there is a time limit of 28 days for appeals.
But Mr Davies said both councils and the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service could use their discretion to hear historic appeals, adding: â€˜Thereâ€™s certainly a strong moral argument for councils to refund those monies.â€™
A BBC investigation found there was a rush of applications for authorisation from London councils after the Suzanne Campbell ruling but at least 14 local authorities still have no clearance.
Local authorities raised an estimated Â£411million from parking charges last year, but a quarter of the 6.8million parking tickets given out in 2011 were disputed with 39 per cent of challenges succeeding.Â
The DfT was yesterday unable to say how many had applied for approval for â€˜suspended parkingÂ bayâ€™ signs.
Â£23million of fines ‘may have been illegally issued’ to drivers in suspended parking bays due to wrongly constructed signs