London Congestion Charge: "Thousands are fined by mistake" claims Evening Standard

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 24 February 2003

"Thousands are fined by mistake" screamed the headlines and billboards of the London Evening Standard on Thursday 20th February. Fact.

But let us have a look at what was in the actual front page story:

Thousands of motorists may have been wrongly sent congestion charge fines because of flaws with the scheme's spy vans

Oh, I thought the headline said "Thousands are fined by mistake", not that thousands of motorists "may have been wrongly sent" Congestion Charge fines. And that is 'sent' them, not required to pay them.

The article goes on to assert that the flaws their undercover operation has discovered:

"seem certain to be the cause of a proportion of the 15,000 fines issued for the first two days of the scheme."

Now the London Evening Standard does not specify the exact proportion of the fines, but referring again to their headline that "thousands are fined by mistake", that implies at least 2,000 - or 13% of the 15,000 fines issued, are as result of the flaw exposed in this story.

According to my calculations the only way that could happen would be if every driver who drove into London on Tuesday was different to the drivers who entered on Monday, and the detector vans had a 100% capture rate of the cars that evaded the fixed cameras, and additionally there was a one in four human error factor in looking at the pictures*.

If the Evening Standard is claiming that people's number plates have been mis-read, which is leading to the fines, doesn't that imply that the people driving the 'unidentified' car may have got away with not paying the charge? And shouldn't the Evening Standard be actively campaigning against these people who are getting a free illegal ride through the city at our expense, rather than campaigning for people who will be able to prove that the photographs do not show their car, as let us be honest, what are the chances that a misread number plate will be on the same make, model and colour of car that the wrongly charged person owns?

And more importantly, shouldn't the Evening Standard's front page be based in fact? Read through Thursday 20th February's front page article again, and despite the headline "C-Charge: Thousands are fined by mistake" it does not actually assert that any one fine has been wrong - but it does provide an email and phone number for people to get in touch and back up the story it wasn't able to find evidence of itself.

Luckily civil servant Fitzgerald Johnson contacted the Evening Standard to complain about wrongly being issued a congestion charge penalty. Mr Johnson "paid £10 to cover him for driving in the zone for a month" as he qualifies for a resident discount, and couldn't understand why he recieved the penalty notice:

"All I can imagine is that the computers can't read the numberplates properly"

Now what I can't imagine is why the Evening Standard is persisting in publishing something totally untrue.

Quite rightly if Fitzgerald Johnson paid, it is wrong that he received the penalty. As a resident he doesn't dispute that his car was in the zone. Even if his car wasn't in the zone, and someone else's numberplate was misread as his, he still should not have got a penalty fine because he had paid. Quite clearly there is a failure of the system in either registering payment or matching numberplates to those who have paid. But the one part of the system that is patently working is detecting Fitzgerald Johnson's numberplate. Why would he get the notice if his numberplate hadn't been read?


*the figures given are that 87,000 and 92,000 people paid to drive into london on the Monday and the Tuesday - 179,000 in total. TfL claim 90% accuracy for their fixed camera positions (of which there are 688 in the congestion zone), which the Evening Standard does not dispute in this article. If we assume that on both days totally different sets of drivers ventured into the capital, that would leave the vans with 10% of these cars [17,900 numberplates] to detect. Assuming the vans saw all of them, and that the Evening Standard's claim of a 40% failure rate of recognition is true -

"as many as four in every 10 registration plates were misread"

- that would leave 7,160 number plates that had evaded the fixed cameras, been caught by the vans, and erroneously identified as non-payers. The human process - "all of the images of registration numbers of vehicles entering the zone are manually checked before any notices are issued" (TfL quoted in the same evening standard article) - would then have to fail in 27% of cases to generate the 2,000 penalty notices.


Visit to cc zone on 9.7.03, paid on internet that evening. TfL took money from my account on 11.7.03, but had already sent me a penalty notice on that same day. Despite my proof of payment, and Barclays, they are unwilling to accept or even fully investigate. They insist on an appeal process which involves time off work, travel expenses etc apparently with no conpensation for their poor systems management.

I had a similiar experience. Sent payment details on 23 Nov 2003 in respect of £40 penalty notice issued on 18 Nov (I unknowingly strayed into the Zone at 6.22pm) but they claimed never received it and issued £120 charge notice. They ignored my representations and said only way would be to deal through Court. Mysteriously they debited £40 on 6 Jan 2004. I can only assume it is due to their gross inefficency and am still expecting the bailiffs....

I feel I have to write to you with regards to the Congestion Charge. Back in August last year I paid my CC on the day that I drove through London. Unfortunately the shop where I paid my CC entered the registration wrongly. No problem I thought I just returned the receipt that had the registration on it and sent it back to them. They then claimed that they had not received my receipt within the given time and fined me further this debt going up to £125. I telephoned CC and stated that I had paid this amount and that I should not worry it would go before the Court and they would deal with. I sent off my statutory declaration signed by a solicitor etc and eventually received back in November a notice that my appeal had been disallowed for it not being within the grounds.

Admittedly I did nothing about this but then on Friday had bailiffs attend at my premises and thankfully my flat mate was in otherwise I would have returned to see that my car had been taken away.

I never received any correspondence from either Transport for London or the bailiffs company (Drakes). I am so angry that I have not been given any proper hearing or appeal process. I have now had to pay £500 being £125 congestion charge that I had already paid at £5 and further costs. I feel that this is a total disgrace that due to the fact my father is disabled and I am his driver that I had to pay the money to keep my car over £125.

Please help.

The problem experienced by motorists in dealing with the Congestion Charge and Transport for London are sadly not surprising. I founded my website to enable motorists to appeal against incorrect Congestion Charge penalties at the touch of a button. You will not be surprised that we get lots of complaints from motorists about poor customer service and downright rudeness on the part of Tfl and their contractors.

We recently got one person's 15 invalid Congestion Charge penalties cancelled. To everybody's astonishment Transport for London re-issued the penalties and the whole appeal process has had to restart. A while ago I wrote to Transport for London questioning the robustness of their accounting systems and their IT systems. Needless to say I have not had a response.

Barrie Segal
Founder of

I frequently drive to London and have always phoned the previous or same day to pay the CC by credit card. Each time the operator has urged me to use the texting payment method explaining that JUST the last 4 credit card numbers are needed to be texted each time. My credit card details and the VRMs of two vehicles were later logged with Transport for London, accepted and confirmed.

18th. May 2004 I attempted to text my payment for the first time using the last 4 credit card digits AND the vehicle make and number. The reply came "Unable to interpret ... send the last four digits of your credit card ...". I then texted JUST the last four digits of the credit card and received a receipt text for my OTHER vehicle. Immediately I phoned and told them they had credited my £5 to the wrong vehicle and was told I would have to pay again!

After much correspondence, an appeal hearing in London and lawyers' involvement I reluctantly paid the £80 penalty charge.

The Adjudicator was sympathetic and advised me to contact the appropriate politicians and reported "The sytem does not permit transfers of payment in such a situation ..." and "The Congestion Charge Regualtions afford no discretion in this situation".

My lawyer wrote "Common sense clearly has not prevailed in this case" and "I think the fault clearly lies with their system ..." and further "Daft as it is, I think that you should now pay the outstanding amount forthwith ...".

The trip to London last May has cost me in excess of £500 so BE WARNED.

I've recently been penalized by the London Congestion Charge.

Being a tourist in the UK, I did not know that there was something like this charge.
As tourists, we hired a car and drove through London once, we got lost and apparently crossed the congestion zone.
We did not get the payment notices until we've recently came back for a visit to the UK - after few months. By now the charges are 180 pounds.

I find this appalling. It is a tourists trap. No one bothered to inform us to be careful - not even the car hire company.

We wrote to the Transport for London, but were un successful in our Representation - they claim - it was late. But of course it was late. We don't live in the UK and did not get the notices.

Is there a tribunal or a higher hierarchy we can appeal too ?

There is no sense in punishing tourists for not knowing about the charges and for not receiving the notices in time.

Natasha Murray,

EXACTLY the same thing happened to me, my fine is now £500 and the baliff's are writing threatening letters.

does anyone have any advice? Do i need to get in touch with a solicitor, watchdog, Evening Standard? This is outrageous!

I traveled to London Last saturday KNowing full well I would encounter a congestion Charge, as a tourist i was informed that Londoners who live in the city centre pay monthly bills to cover the Charge, however as a Tourist i would encounter a charge through the post for The Price £10.00 and on recieving this bill i had a set number of days to pay. To my horror I have recieved a summons for £60.00 for not paying before midnight on the Saturday. I had know isea this had to be done If I had I would of paid it .. I feel this is just another tousit trap to con money out of innocent people. Very Disapointed in the way buissness is done in London SHOCKING.

Car was used by domestic worker to go to London on 8 occasions. Domestic had permission to use car.

What the domestic then done is the icing on the cake. Knowing full well she and her boyfriend were going back home in the new year (2009), her acces to the house gave her access to the arrival of penalty charges from TFL - she concealed the whole lot.

Bailiffs turn up - actauly they weren't to bad about it, but did force me on the spot to sign a "Walkin Pocession" order, meaning they agree not to take anything on the day but to return the following day - giving me time to raise the funds - which from the orignal 8 x 7 = 56 Quid, had risen to over 2000 (yes - two thousand plus in charges!).

I immediatly submitted Out of Time Stat Declearations to the Court. The bailiffs backed off completly. Today they turn up with a court order to take goods to the value of close on 3500 Quid.

The reason: the courts themselves had not processed the Stat Dec's!

Again, and actaully all credit to the bailiffs on this one, they backed off again when I showed them the evidence and have not clamped the car or taken it away, or taken anything out the home.

Ther are a number of issues here:

a) the system obviosuly still has admin holes in it, and if you get a bailiff on the door who is not wiling to give you some slack - you have no way of defending yourself. I consider myself lucky - and all credit to DKB COLLECTIONS (the bailiffs).

b) The charges TFL slaps on, and the free hand all in the "chain of collection" seem to have to pile on charges, has turned the system into a "cash cow".

Charges associated with failure to pay the congestion charge have become disproportionate - hugely so -they are actually worse than criminal penalties, way above the disproportionate bank charges now been challenged on a class action basis in the courts, and quite unlike those connected to failure to pay any other "service" type bill/invoice in the UK.

Its become a free for all which needs to be challeneged as the banks have been challenged, and legislation to bring it into some sort proportion.

No ways can an original 56quid total for 7 or 8 unpaid charges be allowed to escalate to close on 3500.

Proportionate - nope, its become a free for all - a cash cow in the extreme.

Will keep the forum posted.

hi there...could anybody tell me how i check whether there is an oustanding fee to pay for the congestion zone...a few months ago i drove to london but not sure if i drove into the congestion area as well...i dont know if i got the penalty ticket at my address because i moved from there and there was nobody who could have let me know..

thank you

hi, i had congestion charge penalty notice,i august 2009, for the car i did sold.i contacted with tfland explain them the car is not my, and do not send me any charges.they asked me send proof letter from dvla, i get letter sent them and on 16.09.2009 i received letter from tlf all sorted, no futher actions will be taken against me, but in 15.01.2010 i receive an other letter from tfl (transport for london) pay charge 120.00, for the same reference number.i called them they told me we do not any records and the car is still under your name.if any one can advice me where i can coplain about this issue.thanks

I've just returned to my place of residence in Norway this afternoon after an otherwise great visit home to England. We hired a car through Hertz and specifically tried to avoid congestion charge routes while briefly driving through London. I'm certain we entered the zone on at least one occasion, and due to the fact we have not had access to the internet while we were there, were unable to pay. I've rung the General Enquiries and Penalty Charge Notice enquiry lines multiple times to try and see if we have incurred charges, so we could pay them - but there is "no way to confirm whether you have outstanding charges" either for the day of travel or previous days.

I find this infuriating. We want to pay, we don't want to have to sit back here in Norway - they have said this is all we can do - waiting for the 7-9 days they have told me it takes to gain visibility of Penalty Charge Notices on their system, followed by the processing time with Hertz, followed by the long postal period for letters to reach us here in Norway from the UK. By the time we know whether we incurred charges, or more specifically how many, it will be too late to pay within their 50% discounted 14 day window and potentially too late to issue a Representation about our case.

Anyone else feel like they're being trapped by an incredibly convoluted and unhelpful system?? There must be so many people who just pass through London, especially in hired vehicles, who are stung into paying hugely disproportionate charges.

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