I received charges of more than £13,000 to a debt collection agency called Cder Group after failing to pay the Dart Charge.
I am being charged for a total of 64 crossings of which I have paid £8,424 so far in monthly instalments of £150.
However, there is still an outstanding balance of £4,772.35 left to pay for 25 crossings.
I can barely afford this and am at the end of my tether. Considering the cost is just £2.50 and I have already paid thousands, this seems totally unfair – although I accept that I should have just paid in the first place. Is there anything I can do? N.Q., via email
A driver found he must pay £13k in unpaid Dart Charges – despite the total reaching just £160
Grace Gausden, consumer expert at This is Money, replies: At This is Money, we’re no strangers to writing about Dartford Crossing charges that snowball into something far bigger.
In late 2014, the payment booths for the crossing – which consists of a bridge and two tunnels connecting Essex and Kent – were removed, meaning you couldn’t pay with cash there and then.
It put the onus on the driver to pay beforehand or shortly after use, by either making a one-off payment or setting up an account – useful for frequent users.
However, it can be easy to forget to pay by midnight the next day if you don’t pay in advance, especially for non-frequent users – although, you don’t seem to fall into that category.
In summer 2017, we helped a driver fight an unfair fine that had been passed onto debt collectors – they believed they had paid from an auto account.
From there, we’ve received a steady stream of Dart Charge traffic from drivers who fall into the category of facing a ballooned, over-the-top debt for failure to pay.
The crossing, which when built was promised to be free to use once costs had been recouped, is £2.50 each way for car users. It falls to £2 for those who have an account.
Getting to the details of your case: You are a taxi driver and had a contract to take a child with special needs from his college in South Essex to his home in South London which took you over the Dartford Bridge.
GRACE ON THE CASE
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The reason for the non-payment over a period of a year and a half you say was a combination of forgetting and not having enough in your joint account to top up as well as the fact you had just been through a difficult divorce which affected your mental state.
You say once you were alerted to the outstanding payments you tried to organise a solution with Highways England but were still struggling financially so agreed to pay monthly.
During the period of trying to negotiate with Highways England, your parents even had their car clamped by bailiffs.
Clearly this was a difficult time in your life and you say you make ‘no excuses’ for not making the payments.
However, you have now had to pay thousands of pounds, equivalent to around £270 per penalty charge.
As with others who have been in the same position, it seemed unfair that you had to pay £13,196.35 when the actual value of the charges would have amounted to £160 – an £13,000 addition.
While it is perfectly acceptable to be expected to be fined, often in Dart Charge cases, the costs seem to be incredibly harsh once it goes to a debt collector – and it seems clear you have learnt your lesson the hard way.
I contacted Highways England to see if it was able to help reduce the remaining £4,772.35 you have left to pay.
Although the Dartford Crossing only costs £2.50, the fines if not paid can add up to thousands
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 for each crossing they make while giving people maximum opportunity to avoid a penalty.
‘Having reviewed this drivers case we are satisfied all procedures have been carried out correctly.
‘However, as a gesture of goodwill a decision has been made to allow him to pay the remaining 25 penalty charge notices at road user charge only, leaving an outstanding total of £62.50.
‘If the driver had engaged with us much earlier and responded to our correspondence this could have been resolved without additional enforcement fees.
‘Moving forwards we recommend this customer opens an account and selects the auto top up function to ensure this situation does not happen again.’
It added that once drivers are in receipt of a PCN the registered keeper must either pay the required amount or challenge it by making a representation within 28 days of the date of service of the document.
As it did not receive a payment or a representation from you within this timeline, enforcement continued to progress with charge certificates and order for recovery documents being duly issued to you.
As no representation was made or payment received the debt was escalated to enforcement agents.
While the gesture of goodwill is good news, you are concerned about the lasting damage of having to pay out more than £8,000.
It all serves as a warning to other motorists using the crossing to ensure they pay in a timely manner – or risk paying thousands. And if you do forget, it’s better to come clean and contact Dart Charge as soon as possible.
And remember, if your V5C logbook is not updated after a move, a shock fine can land months after you use the crossing.
A Natuzzi Italia customer was left frustrated after waiting months for a sofa to be delivered
Hit and miss: This week’s naughty and nice list
Each week, I look at some of the companies that have fallen short of expected standards as well as those that have gone that extra mile for customers.
Miss: In the firing line this week are Natuzzi Italia, a furniture company, trading internationally.
Reader Laura said: ‘On 26 April 2021, I went into the Natuzzi Italia store in Farnborough and ordered a Golf Corner Sofa. The cost of the sofa was £3,220. I was asked to make a deposit so I paid £1,000 on my credit card.
‘In the terms and conditions, it states the deposit is non-returnable, as the goods are made to order.
‘It also states that although the approximate delivery date quoted is accurate, any delays must be accepted due to the fact that any delays are beyond the control of the retailer.
‘I was quoted a delivery date of July or August and I signed the order form agreeing to the above but it is now January and I haven’t received the sofa.’
Laura said she repeatedly contacted the store after receiving no updates but was continually told she would get a call back with a new delivery date which rarely happened.
When she did hear back, the order date was moved backwards time and again.
She said: ‘I feel the firm took a deposit under false pretences, knowing full well that delivery wouldn’t happen in July or August. It has now been 30 weeks and I still haven’t received my goods.’
I contacted Natuzzi Italia to find out why there had been such a delay and when Laura could actually expect to receive her sofa.
A spokesperson for the company said: ‘I am pleased to confirm the factory in Italy have confirmed that Laura’s order has been dispatched and it is scheduled to arrive at our warehouse next week.
‘We will contact Laura as soon as the goods arrive next week and we will then arrange for the goods to be loaded by our local delivery teams to dispatch the goods directly.
‘We are sorry for the extended lead time but this has been caused by a number of factors primarily as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic which has led to a shortage of materials, disrupted supply chains and unavailability of transportation.
‘We have learned lessons from this unprecedented situation and one of these is how better we can relay updates to our valued and loyal customers.’
Natuzzi Italia is just one of thousands of companies who have seen delays due to the pandemic with international orders taking longer to arrive.
Fortunately, you have now received your sofa despite the delays and can sit back knowing the problem is resolved.
One customer praised Simba for refunding and re-ordering him the correct weighted blanket
Hit: This week, reader Peter, praised mattress firm Simba‘s customer service.
He said: ‘I ordered a weighted blanket on-line from Simba Bedding Company. Sadly I am of an age where I am not too cyber intelligent and ordered the incorrect weight of a 15lb blanket instead of the 20lb blanket.
‘I contacted them via their online chat service and the customer service agent re-opened my basket and put the correct one in. I had to pay for a second time.
‘I told them this, again using the chat line and the firm very promptly refunded my first payment.
‘Having had quite a bit of trouble with companies in the past when I have made similar errors. I must congratulate Simba on their excellent, hassle free, five star customer service.’
The firm certainly didn’t sleep on their customer service and delivered you a restful experience.
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