I move amendment No. 9:
In page 11, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“Limitation of clamping activities in certain clamping places
10. (1) It shall be an offence under this Act to apply a clamp to a vehicle for the purposes of seeking payment for a debt or unpaid charge.
(2) It shall be an offence under this Act for an Owners’ Management Company, as defined by the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, to apply a clamp to a car unless it is operating as a clamping operator under the terms of this Act.
(3) Clamping operators or clamping controllers may not apply a clamping device to a person that is a patient in a health facility or visiting a patient in a health facility.”.
I raise an issue that is very serious in my constituency and many others, particularly where there are new and multi-unit developments. There are three aspect to the amendment. First, clamping should not be used to get a person to pay a debt, second, clamping companies should be regulated, and third, the odious practice of clamping people at hospitals should be banned. Clamping was allegedly introduced for traffic management purposes, to facilitate the free flow of traffic, etc. However, private companies of various shades are using clamping for profiteering in the most despicable manner at the expense of people who are in very vulnerable situations.
People who frequently need to visit hospitals are especially in fear. People whose appointments overrun in a crowded waiting room and who cannot walk back to the car park in time are clamped. I was clamped as I dropped a specimen in to Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown as I spoke to a doctor at the door. Even the doctor, who was a member of the board, could not get the clamper to remove the clamp or see any sense. Clamping is being abused. Many of the clamping companies offer piece work and encourage the clampers to clamp as many people as possible for bonuses, which is why they operate as they do. The Minister must agree that clamping has no place in hospitals, where people are in vulnerable and difficult situations and do not need the extra stress.
There is a widespread and despicable practice whereby private estate management companies are using clamping as a way of getting management fee arrears from their members. People come out of their houses and find their cars clamped, although they are parked in parking spaces which they are legally entitled to use and which do not block anyone's access or egress. In many cases, they must pay up to €150. This has happened in Applewood estate in Swords, the Phoenix Park Racecourse in Dublin 15, my area, Ongar, Archers Wood and many other estates. The Government should send a message to private management companies. There can be many reasons people do not pay estate management fees, and this is not a justifiable way of getting them to pay arrears.
I am very familiar with estate management companies, which have been a scourge throughout Dublin West and in many other recently developed areas. Estate management companies were imposed in multi-unit estates. Obviously, an apartment block needs a collective structure for insurance, a sinking fund etc. However, most of the management companies apply to people who have their own houses, with front and back entrances and no need for a management company. Former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, recognised this in the Dáil in 2006 and sent a circular to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government indicating that the practice should not apply to houses in the future. The problem is that there are many estates that were built in the limbo period during which planning permission was given and which have been left with these private management companies.
I live in an estate where we do not have clamping or parking issues. We have a management company as a legacy issue, although, with advice from Fingal County Council, we have taken a democratic decision, in conjunction with the council, that the houses should be released from it. However, tens of thousands of people throughout the country are legitimately withholding fees because they do not agree they should have to pay them. They are being charged fees of €200 to €300 for the maintenance of a sprig or a bush in front of their houses, which they are well capable of maintaining themselves.
In Tyrellstown, people are paying insurance on a car parking space. These are totally unjustifiable management company structures. Clampers are being used by the directors of these companies. I have sympathy with some of these directors who are ordinary residents and who have been put in the odious position of having to take over the management company because they live in an apartment block and the management structure was not working for them given the level of arrears and non-payment of fees. Residents on one estate are going to court because it is totally unjustifiable to live in a house, maintain and insure it and then have to pay a management fee. In Ongar, Clonsilla, Dublin 15 and in other areas, people are waking up and finding that they have been clamped because they have not paid the management fee. This is effective because the payment of the fees seems to increase when this happens, but is it right? This is extortion in a sense with people having to pay an unjust fee. They try to sort the management fee out legitimately by dealing with issues in their management company or they may be in arrears because they have lost their job and they cannot afford to pay the fee anymore, which has been the case during the recession. We should ban clamping for that purpose on behalf of those people.
Legislation needs to be introduced to deal with management companies and to ensure houses can be released from their control in a fair and workable way. The legal advice is that this can be done and the Government needs to deal with this problem because it has left many people on newly developed estates in a difficult position having to pay unjust fees to management companies while getting clamped in the process. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment. This major issue was raised by a host of Members on Committee Stage. It will also be an election issue.