The Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency is raking in the massive cash windfall in exchange for vehicle keeper data – including drivers’ addresses.
It collected £8.3 million from the practice last year – and £31.8 million over the past eight years.
The lucrative trade in drivers’ details is expected to continue rising as soaring numbers of private parking firms make demands to the DVLA, enabling them to chase motorists for payment.
Simon Williams, of motoring group the RAC, described the situation as “worrying”.
He said: “The practices of some of these companies are often called into question and disputed by motorists who feel they have been poorly treated.”
Private parking companies often operate in supermarkets, retail parks, hospitals and housing estates.
The tickets they issue, often for as much as £100, are not technically fines as the only way the firms can enforce them is by taking motorists to court.
They track car owners down by requesting registered keepers’ names and addresses from the DVLA.
While people’s personal details are usually kept private under the Data Protection Act, the DVLA is legally entitled to pass on information from its “confidential” database of 36.5 million vehicles.
It charges firms with “reasonable cause” £2.50 a time to make a request.
Only members of the parking industry’s approved operator scheme are given the information.
Daniel Nesbitt, of privacy campaigners Big Brother Watch, called for jail sentences for car park companies which misuse personal data.
He said: “The Government has to ensure there are real deterrents to punish those who seek to misuse our personal information, this includes the threat of prison sentences for the worst offenders.”
Figures revealed by the DVLA under Freedom Of Information legislation show income from the trade has risen every year for almost a decade.
It collected £1.3m in 2007/08, £2.9m three years later, £6.1m in 2014/15 and £8.3m last year. Over the past eight years the trade has netted the agency £31.8m.
Some of the money was raised from companies with questionable track records.
UK Parking Control Ltd made 16,544 requests for information last December, costing it more than £41,000.
The requests – all granted – came just three months after the firm admitted some of its employees had altered photographic evidence to unfairly impose parking charges.
It’s right to obtain drivers’ details was suspended last October while the DVLA investigated.
Another company, Vehicle Control Services, had 68,015 requests for personal information approved by the DVLA last year, costing it more than £170,000.
The firm came under fire last year for demanding payment from motorists who attended a Remembrance Day service at the Frigate Unicorn in Dundee.
Petty Officer Simon Johnson and former Dundee Lord Provost Mervyn Rolfe were sent letters demanding £100 after Vehicle Control Services obtained their addresses.
The company, which said it issued the charges as organisers of the service hadn’t told them it would be taking place, later agreed to waive the charges.
Unlike England and Wales there is no “keeper liability” in Scotland.
That means the owner of the car can’t be held responsible for the ticket if they are unable to say who the driver was at the time.
Parking charge specialist Gary McIlravey, of Dundee law firm Lawson, Coull & Duncan, said: “The parking companies are spending a large amount of money on personal information from the DVLA as an investment because it pays off.
“It allows them to engage in scare tactics by sending out letters for increasingly higher amounts in the hope that people will pay up.”
A DVLA spokesman said its does not aim to profit from selling keeper details and that its fees only cover the cost of providing the information.
He added: “We take our responsibility to protect information extremely seriously and we have robust safeguards in place to ensure data is used correctly.
“If we become aware of any issues, we will investigate and take swift action where appropriate.”