We're all paying the penalty for the new Dart Charge system
Out went these cash toll booths at the Dartford Crossing, and in came the troubled remote payments. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
Dart Charge, the system for paying the toll at the Dartford river crossing, which links Kent to Essex over the Thames, seems to be leaving numerous motorists out of pocket. Instead of stopping at a barrier to pay in cash at booths, motorists now have to pay remotely online, at retail outlets or by phone. Southbound traffic, from Essex to Kent, uses the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, while northbound traffic uses the two two-lane Dartford tunnels. In November I featured the case of the driver of a rental car who was issued with a penalty charge after her payment was applied to a crossing made by a previous customer.
Since then, CB of Hertford has reported that he too incurred a fine, despite paying: In April 2015 I made two trips across the bridge, he says. On each occasion I paid online within hours of completing the trip, receiving an electronic receipt for each journey.
The car is leased by my employer. Two months later, two penalty notices were issued to the lease company (as the registered owner). The lease company then deducted the fines of 75 plus an admin fee from my employer s account. I lodged an appeal, but after three months received a letter saying I was not eligible to do so as I am not the registered keeper. It said it would write to the registered keeper and ask them to give permission for me to appeal on their behalf. If permission was not received within 21 days the appeal would be considered invalid.
The deadline has now expired and I have heard nothing from either Dart Charge or the lease company. So by virtue of its own error, Dart has gained the fines for journeys correctly paid for.
RG of London has also been fined for two crossings despite making payments. I supplied Dart Charge with copies of my receipts and was informed that it has a 56-day turnaround. This explains why I received the fine three months after making the journeys. Drivers should be warned to hold on to their receipts.
MH of Nottingham was fined 210 for a return crossing for which she had paid. Although they can see that I paid within the correct timescale, because I pressed a wrong button on the website the money was wrongly allocated and I ve been threatened with bailiffs. Highways England, which administers Dart Charge, says that in the case of CB, payments for the April crossings were applied to another crossing he made back in December. Payment for that journey was deducted from his account, but the car number plate was not recognised because he had typed the number 0 instead of the letter O. We urge drivers to be careful not to mix up the letters I and O with the numbers 1 and 0, a spokesperson says. We have included a feature for UK-registered vehicles so that customers can check the model of their vehicle against the registration they enter. We take a fair approach to cancelling penalty charge notices (PCNs) where customers have made this mistake. It remains a mystery why two payments in April were applied to a crossing in December, or indeed what happened to the original December payment but after The Observer stepped in the charge has been refunded to CB s employer.
Invoking the press has also worked a little miracle for RG. Dart Charge says that in the early months of the new scheme it delayed issuing PCNs to give confused drivers maximum opportunity to pay hence the three months it took to impose the fine and the confusion of payments being backdated to the wrong crossing. It now sends them out 14 days after non-payment and gives 14 days to pay to avoid a fine. The 56-day period RG refers to is the maximum time in which the Dart Charge team will consider a representation against a PCN and is part of the enforcement legislation which is the industry standard, a spokesperson explains. We aim to resolve most cases well within this time.
As for MH, the agency says that because she made a mistake when submitting her payment it was not registered. Despite the fact she was told that she had no choice but to pay up, the press office secures her an immediate reprieve. We are taking a common sense approach to cases like this, says a spokesperson.
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson is expected to tackle the government about the ongoing problems at the Dartford Crossing at a special meeting planned for Wednesday at Westminster Hall in the House of Commons.
If you need help email Anna Tims at or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number.
- ^ payment was applied to a crossing made by a previous customer (www.theguardian.com)