I have been charged more than £3,000 for missing Dartford crossing payments

GRACE ON THE CASE: I have been charged more than £3,000 for missing Dartford crossing payments that amount to £135 – how is this fair?

I work for a company based in Thurrock, Essex and have worked there for six-and-a-half years now. I travel from the Dartford side to the Essex side twice a day.

The company I work for used to pay the bridge toll but about a year ago they changed the regulation meaning the employee needed to pay.

I set up an account, which is like a top up system and I would put £10 on every couple days. However, I have missed some crossing payments here and there – equating to £135 – but now the debt has snowballed out of control.

I now owe over £3,000 to a debt collection group. I have bailiffs knocking at my parents’ home and had my car clamped twice. This seems so unfair.

Grace Gausden, consumer expert at This is Money, replies: This is an unfortunate situation you have got yourself in and one that This is Money has reported on before.

The Dartford Crossing now charges customers £2.50 to cross the bridge each way with drivers able to pay the fee prior to or after travelling.

However, many are forgetting to make the payment since the barriers were removed with motorists asked to pay online instead.

At present, drivers have until midnight the day after they cross to make the payment before the fines come rolling in.

Aside from many forgetting to make the payment, others argue that the Dartford Crossing should be free by now.

The original agreement, when the bridge was built, said tolling was supposed to stop once it had paid for itself, which was almost 15 years ago.

Many drivers are frustrated they are still charged for the service as thousands rely on the bridge to commute to work.
However, despite this, whilst the charge is in place, it is important to keep on top of all payments to avoid a scenario like yours, where you have debt spiralling out of control.

Although you said you missed a couple of payments ‘here and there’, further investigation shows there are 54 crossing payments you have missed over the course of just over a year, which amounts to £135 in total.

You say you and your partner would top it up on a weekly basis but for one reason or another some have been missed.

Although Dart Charge said they have sent you letters about the outstanding payments, you have said you live with your parents on and off due to personal reasons and have missed several of the reminders.

Whilst it is your responsibility to keep on top of your correspondence, you were shocked that you didn’t receive any emails, texts or phone reminders about having to pay, even though the firm will email you when you have made a top up on your account.

The first time you knew this was a serious issue was when your car was clamped by the Marston Group, debt collectors for Highways England, and you had to pay them to get the clamps taken off.

You say, as of now, you have made payments of £215 and £425 to the Marston Group which is 79 per cent more than the actual cost you had failed to make. As a result, you thought the matter would be closed.

However, shockingly, your most recent online statement shows that you owe £3,180 – a 2,255 per cent increase from the actual debt due thanks to fees being added on.

This is a huge jump in costs, especially as on the Government website it says those that don’t pay the fee could receive a £70 fine which must be paid within 28 days.

It added the fine will be reduced to £35 if you pay within 14 days, or increased to £105 if you do not pay it, and drivers will also have to pay the crossing charge.

However, as your case demonstrates, those who don’t pay up could actually end up facing thousands of pounds of debt – from forgetting a few £2.50 trips.

Although you may not have initially made payments, it seems very harsh that despite paying £640 to the debt collectors, it is still looking to charge you thousands more.

As a result, I contacted Highways England to ask why the debt was so exorbitant and why it had not sent out texts and emails as a reminder to customers who may have outstanding fees.

Mark Belton, Senior Contract and Governance Manager for Dart Charge, said: ‘We always try and strike the right balance between being absolutely clear that drivers using the Dartford Crossing need to pay their Dart Charge while giving people maximum opportunity to avoid a penalty.

‘We have reviewed Mr R’s case and as a gesture of goodwill a decision has been made to allow him to pay the remaining 54 outstanding penalty charge notices at the road user charge rate of £2.50 each.

‘Mr R’s case could have been resolved at a much earlier stage if he had contacted us to discuss his case.’

Although, fortunately, you are now able to simply pay off the trips you forgot to pay for, you are still £640 out of pocket as a result.

This serves as a reminder to all using the Dartford Bridge to pay either before travelling or immediately after – before you land yourself with thousands of pounds of debt.

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