Motorists are at risk of being wrongly hit with Ultra-Low Emission Zone (Ulez) fines even though their cars are compliant, because of Transport for London’s (TfL) failure to update driver registration records.
The organisation’s current system for checking whether vehicles are Ulez-compliant is only refreshed every month, meaning drivers are being issued with hundreds of pounds worth of charges if their registration details change during that window.
Those transferring number plates from one vehicle to another are at particular risk if they enter the zone before the monthly update.
The Telegraph has spoken to one driver of a compliant car who received nine fines in a matter of weeks and was threatened with charges that could have topped £2,000.
City Hall Conservatives have now warned that more Londoners are likely to be affected when Ulez is expanded across the whole of the capital.
Eric Williams told The Telegraph that he had several sleepless nights after wrongly being issued with penalty charges.
To comply with Ulez, your car must meet certain European emissions standards. Most petrol vehicles less than 16 years old and diesel vehicles under six years old meet these standards.
In November last year, Mr Williams traded in his previously non-compliant Mitsubishi Shogun for a smaller Ulez-compliant vehicle.
Alongside this, Mr Williams went to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to transfer his personalised number plate from his old car to his new one.
After checking multiple times on the TfL website that his vehicle complied with Ulez, he began using the vehicle to drive into the zone for work.
However, a few weeks later Mr Williams received his first penalty charge notice letter, which was followed by several other charges.
“I got really panicked and thought: ‘What have I done?’ I had been so careful in checking that it complied when I bought the car,” he said.
The fine for entering the Ulez without paying the £12.50 charge is £80, but this can rise to £240 if not paid within 28 days.
Mr Williams said: “I was losing sleep, thinking that suddenly, out of nowhere, I could be lumbered with hundreds of pounds of penalty notices, which I couldn’t afford.”
After contacting his local councillor, the charges were eventually scrapped, with TfL admitting the mistake.
A TfL spokesman apologised to people who had incorrectly received Ulez penalties, saying: “We only receive an updated version of the DVLA database every month.”
The spokesman added: “There can sometimes be a slight lag between when a private number plate is swapped from one vehicle to another,” adding: “We are speaking to the DVLA about how the frequency can be increased.”
If they are wrongly charged, customers can contact TfL with the appropriate documentation to ensure records are updated, the spokesman also said.
‘Likely that other people will be affected’
When asked by the office of London Assembly member Nick Rogers if it was looking to implement a more reactive system, TfL said this would not be cost-effective because the number of instances where it is needed remains low.
Mr Rogers told The Telegraph it was unacceptable that his constituent was wrongly issued with several fines because TfL could not keep its database up to date.
He added: “It is likely that other people will be affected if the Ulez is expanded in August.”
He also believes that, in many cases, people will be unaware of how to challenge the fines. They therefore might pay the initial £80 out of fear their penalty could grow.
In December, French media reported that a lorry driver crossing the Channel racked up more than £182,000 in 300 Ulez fines over two weeks. The driver, who entered the zone in November without realising he had to pay a charge, is now challenging the fines.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that five councils – including four Conservative-led outer London boroughs and Surrey County Council – are launching a judicial review to block London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ulez expansion plans.