Dart Charge errors may cost hauliers thousands

Hauliers using the Dartford Crossing have potentially been hit with thousands of pounds worth of unnecessary penalty charges, according to a third-party payment handler.

Snap Account, which handles Dart Charge payments for 9,000 HGVs, told CM it had been receiving penalty charge notices (PCNs) regularly since the new system went live last December. A PCN is automatically issued if the crossing toll has not been paid by midnight on the day after the trip.

However, a Snap Account employee had subsequently discovered a clause in the warning letter sent out with each initial PCN, in effect cancelling any penalty charges issued for crossings after the first infringement. This act of goodwill stands as long as any crossing tolls – set at £6 per HGV – racked up since the first failure to pay are settled.

However, Dart Charge had been taking full-price penalty charges, from £35 to £70, for each one issued, making no indication to customers paying online or on the phone that they may not have had to pay all of the PCNs they have received.

Snap Account employee Jonny Billing said: “When I phoned up to pay, I’d ask to pay off all the existing transactions and it would come to hundreds of pounds. And actually it’s stated on the warning letter that this should never happen. We have paid hundreds, maybe even thousands of pounds in PCNs that we shouldn’t have.”  

Snap Account has since been offered a refund, but Billing said that Dart Charge required them to provide details of each transaction they had been charged too much for, costing the company further still.

“We are very busy, we do not wish to spend time and money rectifying their mistakes. We would rather spend the time helping customers with the constant problems Dart Charge are causing them,” he said.

He added: “People panic when they get PCNs – panic and pay them off. And until someone says they want a refund, which must be hundreds of people, they’re not going to refund them.

“People should act on – and really fight – things that they receive from Dart Charge, because a lot of the time they’re wrong.”

Dart Charge had not responded to a request for comment when CM went to press.

  • See this week's Commercial Motor, out Thursday 28th, to see our full investigation into the Dart Charge issues

Relax cabotage rules, IRHA chief says

The UK government should consider relaxing enforcement of the cabotage rules on visiting Irish truck operators to help address the issues created by driver shortage, the new president of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) has suggested.

Verona Murphy, who was elected president of the IRHA for two years in early May, told CM last week that Irish drivers visiting the UK were having to sit around for two to three days at a time, given the lack of return backloads – despite some UK firms struggling to find the drivers they needed to fulfil deliveries.

“What I see – and it has been going on for some months now – is Irish trucks parked within the UK for two to three days at a time because there is no backload, as exports [from the UK to Ireland] are currently poor,” she said. “If the legislation was relaxed, they could be working for a UK firm.

“If the UK firm doesn’t cover the work as required [due to a shortage of drivers], you’ll get Eastern European countries coming in to do it,” she warned.

Murphy, who is MD of Wexford haulier Drumur Transport – a firm she set up in 2010 with business partner Joe Druman – said a simple relaxation in enforcement is all that would be required, rather than a change in the law itself. And the precedent for such a relaxation has been set in the car transport sector, she pointed out, where cabotage rules are lifted during peak car registration periods to ensure sufficient vehicles are available. “That happens, and it works a treat and helps everybody,” she said.

Instead, said Murphy, the UK’s cabotage restrictions are currently costing Irish hauliers about €460 (around £330) a week in lost work. “We are in a difficult arena and we should stick together,” she said.

Murphy also expressed continuing concerns about high levels of road tax and other operating costs in Ireland, and called on the Irish government to honour the commitment it made last November to overhaul the country’s road tax mechanism in its budget later this year. 

“The industry continues to haemorrhage jobs to other jurisdictions as a result of excessive operating costs, with road tax at the top of the list,” she warned.