Some £55 million a year is being paid to cowboy wheel-clampers by drivers, the Government has revealed.
The Home Office statistics add to fears that unofficial clampers are raking in millions in unjustified fines. It comes as the Government moves to outlaw clamping on privately owned land.
Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone said: "For too long motorists have fallen victim to extortion and abuse from rogue clamping companies. I have been outraged by cases of drivers being frog-marched to cash points late at night or left stranded by rogue operators who have towed their vehicle away. Clearly this is unacceptable. By criminalising clamping and towing on private land this Government is committing rogue clampers to history and putting an end to intimidation and excessive charges once and for all."
However, not all driving groups are behind the changes in the law. The British Parking Association said the Government was creating "a charter for the selfish parker" and it would mean drivers leaving their cars anywhere they like.
Some 98% of people clamped pay the fine, regardless of whether they think it was justified, because they need the vehicle, the Home Office said. Data from England and Wales revealed there are about 500,000 people clamped every year on private land and on average they fork out £112 to release their cars.
Sometimes clamped cars are towed away and owners are often worried they will find their vehicle damaged when they collect it from an impound.
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "There are as many clampers now as there have ever been, with 1,816 people legally licensed to clamp. Add to that all those who don't even bother getting officially registered and you can see the scale of the problem.
"It is time for change but the legislation must set rules for those forms of enforcement which will replace clamping, such as ticketing. This needs to be joined-up thinking, not knee-jerk law-making which fails to drive unscrupulous operators out of business. Drivers should also be aware clamping will continue to be allowed on the public highway."
Copyright © Press Association 2011