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. Can you help me? I.R., via email
A driver found he had debts of over £3k for missing several Dartford Crossing payments
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.
GRACE ON THE CASE
Our weekly column sees This is Money consumer expert Grace Gausden tackles reader problems and shines the light on companies doing both good and bad.
Want her to investigate a problem, or do you want to praise a firm for going that extra mile? Get in touch:
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.
The Dartford Crossing fines can spiral out of control if they are not paid on time, drivers find
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.
One consumer was full of praise for cat flap firm, Sureflap, after they replaced hers for free
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: Virgin Media are under fire again after I revealed last week that a customer, Jean, had not received a cheque from the firm for an overpayment she had made.
This week, Kyla, got in touch to say she was also sent a cheque for £54 after Virgin made a mis-calculation on her bills when she closed her account.
But in January 2021 this was sent to her in her old name – one she hadn’t used in four years since getting married. As such, the bank wouldn’t accept this.
She said: ‘I sent off a copy of my marriage certificate and driving licence showing my name change, along with a covering letter. After numerous phone calls and sending the relevant information again in April, I received another cheque in May, again issued in the wrong name.’
She once again sent off the information with another covering letter saying that it needed to be issued in her married name but each time this has been sent back via recorded delivery.
As Kyla still hadn’t received the cheque in her married name, I contacted Virgin Media as it seemed there was somewhat of a recurring problem with the correct payments reaching ex-customers.
The provider said it had since called Kyla and sent out another cheque – in the right name. It added it will call again in a few days to ensure it has been received.
Whilst this is now resolved, surely it should be the case that ex-customers cease all contact with their old providers when leaving – rather than spending hours trying to resolve an issue.
Hit: No catty comments this week as reader, Jessica, praised feline firm, Sureflap which sells cat flaps that work by detecting a cats microchip.
Jessica said: ‘We’ve had a couple of issues over the last few years with our cat flap.
‘However, Sureflap have been quick to respond to issues sending replacement parts which are easy to install yourself and on one occasion a new cat flap, all free of charge.’