I have a £13,000 fine for Dart Charge – what can I do?

I received charges of over £13,000 from a debt collection agency called Cder Group after failing to pay the Dart charge.

I am billed for a total of 64 crossings of which I have paid £8,424 so far in monthly installments of £150.

However, there is still an outstanding balance of £4,772.35 to pay for 25 crossings.

I can barely afford it and I’m out of breath. Considering the cost is only £2.50 and I’ve already paid thousands of dollars, this seems totally unfair – although I accept that I should have paid in the first place. Is there anything I can do? NQ, by e-mail

A driver has found he has to pay £13,000 in unpaid darts fees – although the total is just £160

Grace Gausden, consumer expert at This is Money, responds: We at This is Money are no strangers to writing about Dartford Crossing fillers that snowball into something much bigger.

At the end of 2014 the pay desks for the crossing – which consists of a bridge and two tunnels linking Essex and Kent – were removed, meaning you couldn’t pay cash on the spot .

This required the driver to pay before or shortly after use, either by making a one-time payment or by creating 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 infrequent users – even if you don’t seem to fall into that category.

In the summer of 2017, we helped a driver fight an unfair fine that was passed on to debt collectors – they thought they paid from a car account.

From there, we received a steady stream of Dart Charge traffic from drivers who fit into the category of people facing excessive and exaggerated debt for non-payment.

The crossing, which once built was to be used free of charge once costs were recovered, costs motorists £2.50 each way. It drops to £2 for those with an account.

More about your case: You are a taxi driver and you 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 across the bridge of Dartford.

GRACE ON THE CASE

In our weekly column, This is Money consumer expert Grace Gausden tackles readers’ pain points and shines a light on companies doing good and bad.

Do you want them to investigate a problem or do you want to commend a company for going the extra mile? Get in touch:

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The reason for the non-payment over a period of a year and a half, you believe, was a combination of forgetfulness and not having enough in your joint account to recharge as well as the fact that you had just been through a difficult divorce which has affected your mental state.

You say that once you were alerted to the outstanding payments you tried to arrange a solution with Highways England but were still struggling financially so you agreed to pay monthly.

During the negotiation period with Highways England, your parents even had their car immobilized by bailiffs.

Obviously it was a tough time in your life and you say you don’t apologize for not making the payments.

However, you have now had to pay thousands of pounds, which equates to around £270 per penalty.

As with others who have been in the same situation, it seemed unfair that you had to pay £13,196.35 when the actual value of the charges would have been £160, an extra £13,000.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to expect to be fined, often in Dart Charge cases, the costs seem to be incredibly high once they’re handed over to a debt collector – and it seems clear that you learned your lesson the hard way.

I contacted Highways England to see if this could help reduce the remaining £4772.35 you still had to pay.

Although the Dartford Crossing costs just £2.50, fines if not paid can run into the thousands

Although the Dartford Crossing costs just £2.50, fines if not paid can run into the thousands

Mark Belton, senior contracting and governance manager for Dart Charge, said: ‘We are always trying to strike the right balance between being absolutely clear that drivers using the Dartford Crossing have to pay for every crossing they make while giving people the maximum chance of avoiding a penalty.

“After reviewing this driver case, we are satisfied that all procedures were carried out correctly.

“However, as a sign of goodwill, a decision has been made to allow him to pay the remaining 25 penalty notices solely at road user expense, leaving a total of £62.50 unpaid.

“Had the driver engaged with us much earlier and responded to our correspondence, this could have been resolved with no additional application costs.

“Moving forward, we recommend that this customer open an account and select the auto-recharge feature to ensure this situation does not happen again.”

He added that once drivers have received a PCN, the registered holder must either pay the required amount or contest it by making a representation within 28 days of the date of service of the document.

As she did not receive payment or representation from you within that time, the enforcement continued to progress with certificates of charge and collection orders being duly issued to you.

As no representations were made or payment received, the debt was passed on to the administrators.

While the goodwill gesture is good news, you fear the lasting damage of having to shell out more than £8,000.

This 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 forget, it’s best to be clear and contact Dart Charge as soon as possible.

And remember, if your V5C logbook isn’t updated after a move, you could be hit with a shock fine months after using the crossing.

A Natuzzi Italia customer was left frustrated after waiting months for a sofa to be delivered

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 failed to meet expected standards as well as those that went the extra mile for customers.

Miss: In the line of fire this week are Natuzzi Italy, a furniture company, doing international trade.

Reader Laura said: “On April 26, 2021 I walked 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 £1000 on my credit card.

“The terms and conditions state that the deposit is non-refundable as the goods are made to order.

“It also states that while the approximate delivery date shown is accurate, any delays must be accepted due to the fact that any delays are beyond the retailer’s control.

“I was given a delivery date in July or August and signed the purchase order accepting the above, but it’s now January and I haven’t received the sofa.”

Laura said she contacted the store several times after not receiving any updates, but was continually told that she would receive a reminder with a new delivery date, which rarely happened.

When she got a response, the date of the order was repeatedly pushed back.

She said: ‘I think the company took a down payment under false pretences, knowing full well the delivery wouldn’t be in July or August.’ It has now been 30 weeks and I still have not received my merchandise.

I contacted Natuzzi Italia to find out why there had been such a delay and when Laura could actually expect to receive her couch.

A company spokesperson said: ‘I am pleased to confirm that the factory in Italy has confirmed that Laura’s order has been dispatched and is expected to arrive at our warehouse next week.

“We will contact Laura as soon as the goods arrive next week and then arrange for the goods to be loaded by our local delivery teams to ship the goods direct.

“We are sorry for the extended turnaround time, but this has been caused by a number of factors, primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted in material shortages, disrupted supply chains and the unavailability of transport.

“We have learned lessons from this unprecedented situation and one of them is how to better deliver updates to our valued and loyal customers.”

Natuzzi Italia is just one of thousands of businesses that have experienced delays due to the pandemic, with international orders taking longer to arrive.

Luckily, you have now received your sofa despite the delays and can sit back knowing the issue is resolved.

A customer praised Simba for refunding and re-ordering the correct weighted blanket

A customer praised Simba for refunding and re-ordering the correct weighted blanket

To hit: This week, reader Peter praised the mattress company Simbacustomer service.

He said: “I ordered a weighted blanket online from Simba Bedding Company. Unfortunately I am at an age where I am not too smart and ordered the incorrect weight of a 15lb blanket instead of the 20lb blanket.

“I contacted them through their online chat service and the customer service agent reopened my cart and put in the voucher. I had to pay a second time.

“I told them this, using the chat line again and the company very quickly refunded my first payment.

“Having had quite a few issues with companies in the past when I have made similar mistakes. I have to commend Simba for excellent, hassle-free, five-star customer service.

The company certainly didn’t sleep on their customer service and gave you a relaxing experience.

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