Our articles are written by experts in their field and include barristers, solicitors, judges, mediators, academics and professionals from a range of related disciplines. Family Law provides a platform for debate for all the important topics, from divorce and care proceedings to transparency and access to justice. If you would like to contribute please email editor@familylaw.co.uk.
A day in the life Of...
Read on

Penny Booth: Beware of the hidden charges

Date:18 MAY 2010

Beware of the hidden charges

Penny BoothCurrent financial constraints and howling of a political nature cannot be missed this week... the politicians are back in town. I love them, really - after all, who'd be a politician? All that work, and nobody likes you, really; all those hard decisions to make, and the impact on one's own family, too. Let's watch out for changes in law and policy that impact on families in ways in which we might not expect.

Here's a little story illustrative of the general impact for the family that I would like the politicians to consider as they decide what needs to be cut to pay back the credit card so wantonly used over the last few decades. Before any votes are taken about cutbacks, I would like the politicians to consider, in the same way they want us to consider that things have to be paid for (indeed they do), the impact on families of changes made in law and policy. Changes may not hit immediately but the future is something we all have to plan for and failure to take into account some small matters might have a bigger impact later.

For instance, of all the ‘freebies' received by families (with younger children) the one they do not get (alongside everyone else, I might add) is much consideration for parking. No, I'm not talking about those parking spaces (if there are any) outside the local supermarket, the ones that have painted on them a stylised impression of the buggy type used 15 years ago (and hasn't it grown) to indicate that only those travelling with small children can park near the entrance, by the ‘disabled' bays etc. What I am specifically referring to are the charges levied against those who have the temerity to park in a ‘motel'.

Now, I would have thought that it was difficult to get to most motels without a car or other vehicle, and that the majority of these facilities are not located by bus stops. That is surely in their nature. The term implies a small hotel providing relatively few facilities, usually bed and basic room only (and trust me, I am talking basic, hence no business names), near a motorway or major road, designed to be used by those travelling by car. Yet one finds that those cheap deals online mention in tiny writing (only on the first introductory page and not in the ‘now let's pay' section) that there is a charge for parking. The charge for the 8-12 hours you need for an overnight stop can amount to between one quarter and one third of the supposedly cheap deal just obtained for a basic overnight room by the customer and family. So, how does the family get there, except by car, and how can such a charge be levied? Of course, it is all perfectly legal (quote, unquote). Of course, profit must be made to make the world go round and to allow businesses to be able to provide such ‘services'. Surely, though, the charge should not be so much for the basic service of somewhere to put the car you had to use to get the family there to use the motel in the first place, particularly when there is nowhere else to put the vehicle? Why do I have the feeling that I have been ‘mugged' - legally, of course?

At the rate charged for this provision it can add considerably to a family's travel costs. It would be easy to agree that we should all be making better use of public transport and reducing our carbon footprint, but sometimes that is not available or feasible for the family group, or, indeed, for some individuals. Older members of families would find travelling and using these facilities a burden, and to make life harder for them is simply wrong.

How long will it be before we take the view that poverty of suitable provision at reasonable cost is such a basic enough requirement to make businesses justify the obscenely high charges they make for something so essential for the family? What worries me is the wider aspect of this sort of attitude - that in the no doubt hard times to come over the next decade (and hard times for those on basic rations are not the same as ‘forgoing the second holiday in the year') false deals and hidden charges will become the norm. It will be the elderly, the infirm and disabled, those with families on modest incomes and those having no choice who will suffer when the squeeze hits. The effect of that will linger longer than the current economic downturn upturned. Watch out - reducing social provision because we have to save billions (some of which could be saved from those obscene expenses) will have a knock-on cost for families least able to compensate for the loss themselves. We could be paying for that for a generation or two to come.

Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.