What happens when you don't pay the toll at Dartford

Published: 19 June 2018

Free-flow tolling, where cameras read your number plate and you're expected to pay for your journey before or after you travel rather than by stopping at a toll booth, has been in operation at the Dartford Crossing for the last couple of years, meaning there are no toll booths and it's possible to forget to pay the toll. What happens then? Don't worry, we have the answers.

If there's a row of toll booths and barriers across the road, it's easy to pay the toll. You stop and you hand over some money. The only way to avoid paying is to dramatically smash through the barrier, like something in a movie chase sequence, and if you do that some nice people in uniforms will probably catch you up pretty quickly and you'll be asked to settle your bill anyway. But with free-flow tolling, where there are no toll booths, you need to spot the signs explaining the toll and remember to pay either before or after your journey. That's the system now in operation on the A282 Dartford Crossing, the new Mersey Gateway Bridge and the London Congestion Charge.

The old toll booths at Dartford, now removed, with their permanent queues. Click to enlarge
The old toll booths at Dartford, now removed, with their permanent queues. Click to enlarge

Of course, some people will sometimes forget. Some people will not understand the signs on their first trip. Some people will have other things on their mind. Some people, perhaps including someone who runs a prominent website about the British road network, will simply be the sort of absent-minded fool who has enough trouble remembering people's names and what day of the week it is, and who will only remember they have a toll to pay when it's too late.

This post is intended to act as a guide to the Dartford Crossing payment system but does not constitute legal advice.

What are the rules?

Crossing the Thames at Dartford is tolled in both directions. You'll see signs on the approach, and at the crossing itself, with the red disc "C" symbol, indicating that a congestion charge applies. The toll charges are also listed on the final approach.

For each crossing, you must pay the toll, and as part of the payment process you'll be asked for your vehicle registration number. Cameras on the road automatically read and log the registration of every vehicle.

  • You can pay it in advance, so that when you cross the system records that you have paid and no further action is taken.
  • You can pay after you cross, in which case the system logs your registration number and awaits payment. You must pay the toll by midnight the following day - so if, for example, you cross on a Monday, you have until the end of Tuesday evening to pay.
  • You can set up an account with Dart Charge, linked to a credit or debit card, so the toll is automatically paid without you needing to take further action. Local residents can set up an account to receive a discount.

You can pay online at the Dart Charge website, by phone (on 0300 300 0120 between 5am and midnight daily), by post, or with cash at any Payzone facility.

This is not the official Dart Charge website

For information about the Dartford Crossing tolls, a list of toll charges, and to pay online, please visit the official Dart Charge website.

A first time PCN. Click to enlarge
A first time PCN. Click to enlarge

The first time you fail to pay

If you use the Dartford Crossing without seeing or understanding the signs, or you see them just fine and then afterwards forget you need to pay, you'll receive a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) about a week later informing you that you now owe £70, discounted to £35 if you pay within fourteen days - just the same as speeding tickets and other fines.

However, if it's the first time your vehicle has been recorded using the Dartford Crossing, it will come with a further "warning letter", titled Maybe you didn't know about the Dart Charge scheme or simply forgot to pay?

The effect of this letter is to say that if you pay within fourteen days, just this once, the penalty charge will be discounted to the regular price of the crossing (currently £2.50 for cars), so you just pay for your crossing and you're effectively not fined. That's very handy, but it comes with a catch.

A warning letter for the forgetful. Did you forget to pay? Yes, I did. Click to enlarge
A warning letter for the forgetful. Did you forget to pay? Yes, I did. Click to enlarge

If you did pay for the crossing, but you did it after midnight the following day, it won't count - you still need to specifically pay the PCN and your toll payment will count towards your next crossing instead. To pay it online, you need to select "pay or challenge a PCN", not "make a one-off payment". The PCN system will then ask you to pay the regular crossing charge. We've heard several accounts from people who found the PCN and letter were not very clear and who didn't realise they had to pay in this way.

In other words - receiving the warning letter and accompanying PCN means you have to pay again, no matter whether you have paid the toll in the normal way, and if you don't the PCN will be progressed to a £105 fine, and then potentially to court.

The next time you fail to pay

The first time you fail to pay, Dart Charge give you the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, on all subsequent occasions, if the first PCN was not enough to jog your memory as you sail over the QEII Bridge, you will be issued with a standard PCN notice a week later asking you to pay a £70 fine, discounted to £35 if you pay within two weeks. When you go to pay the PCN, you will be charged the fine plus the original cost of the crossing.

A second time PCN. It's the same as the first one, but without that nice warning letter to take the edge off. Click to enlarge
A second time PCN. It's the same as the first one, but without that nice warning letter to take the edge off. Click to enlarge

Again, paying the toll late will not prevent this happening. If you haven't paid by midnight the day after your crossing, a PCN is issued. Late payments do not appear to be taken into account at all, and even if you have paid the toll late, you will still be charged the PCN plus the cost of a crossing. Any toll payment you have made that is not counted in this way is not lost, and instead counts towards a future crossing.

If you still don't pay

Once you have a PCN in your hand, you have the right to challenge it in the normal way, but after 14 days the applicable fine goes up to £70, and if you haven't paid or started a challenge, another two weeks later it goes up again to £105. As with any PCN, failure to pay that final amount will then see it registered as a debt in the County Court.

The bottom line is that it's best to simply remember to pay the toll when you cross. And if you're as forgetful as I evidently am, then paying in advance or setting up an account may be the best way to keep yourself out of trouble. Otherwise, you will land yourself with a nice collection of letters that are only really any use if you want to write a blog post about what happens if you fail to pay the toll at Dartford.

Comments on this post will be moderated - this is not the place to let off steam about whether a toll should apply at Dartford.

Comments

Hmm. My first and only time (so far) going across the new Mersey Gateway, I completely forgot about paying until two days later. I was expecting the old bridge and it totally caught me by surprise: I hadn't realised the new one was even open! Their website didn't seem to offer much advice, and couldn't even tell me if anything was owing. I paid for a trip anyway, just in case, and thankfully haven't heard anything more..

Josh T 24 June 2018

At least with the Dart Charge, you can now set up a pay-as-you-go account. They need to do that with the Mersey Gateway. It's very draconian if you forget to pay.

Toby Speight 25 June 2018

Thank you for doing the time-consuming research here! ;-)

Small typo in the "first time" section: missing "as" in "just the same speeding tickets"

Fraser Mitchell 25 June 2018

One thing not so far discussed is that the whole enforcement system relies on your V5C registration document being up-to-date with name and address. Over on the Pepipoo.com forum lots of threads on parking and other traffic PCNs appear where the poster has not updated his/her V5 after a house move, and the first they hear of anything is bailiffs knocking at their door wanting several hundred pounds ! Updating your driver licence does NOT update your V5 !!

Geoff F Hummel 2 July 2018

What's the rule for ignorant foreigners who have no idea about this and are driving a rental car from, for example, Heathrow airport?
If I'd not found this site I'd not have known how to pay the toll and been very confused!

The hire company gets the bill, pays it and takes the money from the hirer, usually with a whacking great admin charge that near doubles the cost. It's one of the things you agree to when you sign the hire paperwork.

Actually, I was one of the 'foreigners' with a rental car traveling around the UK. It was my 1st time visiting the UK and I was a bit trepidatious about driving on the 'wrong' side of the road so I read the entire government road regulations before going. It did mention the congestion charge in London but nothing about a DART Charge for a tollboothless toll bridge. I saw no signage on any bridge so I just continued on my merry way. A few days after getting back home I received a notification from Sixt with a 40 GBP 'service fee' and they told me I would have to deal with the government and pay my fine separately! Thanks Sixt! For nothing! Now I have to figure out how to pay this fine. It kind of poured soap in my soup for what had been, otherwise, a great visit.

Robin des bois 7 July 2018

I live in France and was surprised to learn that DartCharge is operated by the French motorway company Sanef (Société des Autoroute du Nord et de l'Est de la France) - I wonder why they don't use the same technology in tolls on their motorway network (although queues are rare outside of the manic summer Saturdays).
French drivers who travel to England are not well informed about this system. I registered with DartCharge as soon as it was set up and now my payments are automatic as I use it a couple of times a year and the system can definitely identify my French registration number. The only problem was when I changed my credit card and quickly got an e-mail asking me to change my payment details (which I had to do over the phone). But my colleague did not register with the system and used it a number of times and she said she did not pay. I'm not sure the system actually has access to the French registration number database (equivalent to DVLA) so cannot issue PCNs.

This is not unusual

Most countries regard things like vehicle registration databases as things which should be administered by the Police or other state law enforcement departments. Such organisations do NOT usually let private companies or overseas agencies access said databases - any requests for access must effectively be made by Police / security forces run directly by the state.

In the UK by contrast, the love of outsourcing / flogging as much off to the private sector as possible (so as to minimise the amount of debt / spending that appears on the books of HM Treasury) means that organisations like the British DVLA is a stand alone agency and not regarded as part of the UK law enforcement bodies.

Thus when the DVLA (or one of their private sector contractors) comes along trying to gain access to vehicle details in foreign countries they normally get turned away empty handed as that states laws do not permit the information to be handed over.

I would also suggest that a certain event which happened at the end of December 2020 which say UK law enforcement excluded from large chunks of the EU shared policing systems will not help the cause going forward either.

Neil Symons 12 July 2018

I once crossed the QEII bridge and returned on the Dartford tunnel back in 2015, I forgot about it until 3 days later. I paid the fee online and rang up the number and explained. The person I spoke to said that they don't get the data for a few days but could see I'd paid and said it was OK, but this was 2015 so I don't know whether it changed. However I did write to my MP, on 23/9/15 I wrote the following:

Dear Mr Harrington,

I would like for you to raise an issue regarding the recent change to how the tolls are paid for making the Thames crossing at Dartford.

As it stands the lanes are open and the onus is upon the driver of the vehicle to pay the crossing charge by midnight the following day. However, in cases where a driver genuinely forgets to do this but does nevertheless pay the charge a couple of days later, the system is designed to be over-punitive towards such drivers. The charging goes from £2.50 per crossing to a large fine in the matter of some hours which I would consider grossly unfair.

Would it be possible for you to suggest a change to this procedure where if the payment isn't paid within the current timespan, that a reminder letter is sent to the driver where the fee is simply doubled to cover the cost of the letter. Then if the driver does not respond after x number of days, then apply a fine?

I would like to hear your opinion on this matter and whether it has some merit considering that it is entirely possible that a driver, particularly those who live a long way from London, may not understand or as in my case simply forget to pay within the current timescale.

Yours faithfully,

On 13/10/15 I got the following reply:

Dear Neil,

Thank you for your email and for raising this with me.

The Dart Charge system was introduced to alleviate queues and traffic flow around the area. Issues with it were raised recently in parliament, by the Members for Thurrock and Dartford with Transport Ministers and the Secretary of State so I do think that at the highest levels there is attention to this. It does seem to be helping with congestion, however there are estimates that 2.1 million PCNs will be given out at the crossing in its first year, a lot of that will be from people who aren’t quite used to the system yet, but that is a huge amount.

I will write to Transports Ministers with your suggestion today and let you know as soon as they reply.

Regards,

Richard

He never wrote again on the matter but the article does suggest that you get a first time warning, which I don't know whether it would have been the case in 2015, so maybe my letter to my MP was partly taken on board.

Phil 24 July 2018

I recently discovered I'd made the opposite mistake - when my wife changed her car, I forgot to update the details on my direct debit via the gov.uk website and as a result, someone who used the tunnel and the bridge will have got themselves a free return crossing. Isn't that sweet of me?

Andy 13 November 2019

Thought we were supposed to concentrate on the roads not read a sign and take a phone number down while we’re driving,first time across the bridge on route to Spain and a month later someone asks me how I paid the charge,WHAT CHARGE ?? I said ffs
Still in Spain by the way

Cristina Cruz 30 April 2020

Hi
I crossed the bridge for the first time and don't know about dart charge at all. Im quite new driver for 1yr and half. So last week 17 April 2020 i went somewhere in that place to pick up something, then the week after I received a letter saying i need to pay £70 and will be discounted to £35 if i pay within 14 days plus 2.50. So i immediately pay for it online, but im surprised i only charge 2.50, so rang and pay via voice record and again asked for 2 50 only. So i rang again to double check. I spoke to the guy and saying Its OK it's paid already but i told him it supposedly 37.50, but he said its ok. So i hope NO letter next week and its all done.

It's because of the "Maybe you didn't know about Dart Charge or simply forgot to pay" warning letter.
If this is the first time you failed to pay the toll, they waive the penalty charge if you pay within 14 days.
This is so people like you get a gentle nudge letting you know that there's a toll that you need to pay.
I always pay in advance - last thing before we leave for the journey where we cross.

AndyB 30 September 2020

I drove a hire car down to Kent and back on Sunday. My own car, which I have a pre-paid DART account for, was out of action. I'm so used to not having to worry about the charge that I completely forgot to pay the charges. I'm assuming that the rental company will get the PCN letter but I have no way of knowing if it's the "first time" that they or their car have failed to pay the charge! Surely, the leniency should apply to the driver. The fact that DART always have about £20 of my money sat in their bank account because of the pre-pay top-up rules, doesn't seem to make a difference?

Sorelle 13 October 2020

I made a return trip to Kent & have crossed twice. I have forgotten to pay the toll. Would you advise I pay anyway, or wait for the letter coming through.

How long ago since you crossed ? DART are normally quite forgiving for first time offenders, so if you ring them up, they may use their discretion and allow you to pay the two tolls, and not issue a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). If you're going to cross regularly, its best to have an auto-pay account. In addition, there is a mobile phone app that will allow you make payment.

If you get a PCN you could start a thread on: -

www.pepipoo.com

The forum for council and decriminalised notices is the one to use.

Kevin 12 March 2021

If some one will not pay the charge and its gone to court and they get a ccj and they still will not pay would this go to the high court to get the money

The matter never goes to court, and the person will not get a CCJ, the full process is defined in the legislation, however a summary of the process can be seen here on the Traffic Penalty Tribunal website.
https://www.trafficpenaltytribunal.gov.uk/appeals-process-dart-charge/
The final part of the process is adjudication. The adjudicators come under the Ministry of Justice but it is not a court.
If the person does not pay-up, despite receiving all the statutory enforcement documents, the DART administrators can apply to the Traffic Enforcement Centre at Northampton for the debt to be registered as a civil debt. This is a form of civil court but never holds any sessions. Once the debt is registered, DART send an Order for Recovery, the final statutory document, and this is the final point where the person can pay. If not payment is received, DART will instruct bailiffs to collect the debt, and also add on their own charges.

My wife made a return trip using the Dartford crossing last week for the first time in months. She has a pre-paid account but has had a personalised number plate fitted since she last used the crossing. By the time she realized and updated her account (same car, new registration plate), two penalty notices were already in the post. Any prospects of the penalty being waived, and if so, who does she call?

Anthony 3 June 2021

the length of time should be at least a week and not 24h

Louise 21 June 2021

Well, it turns out my youngest son forgot to pay a return trip when I moved him to Ilford, (01/2020...02/2020) 2 failed £5 payments are now £760!!!! There must be some loophole here, disproportionate does NOT even begin to describe this, supposedly this is legal?! Equates to £190 each way ......!!!

If you're being charged that much it suggests you didn't pay when you first received letters to notify you of the missed payments.

It might be worth saying that the letters from Dart Charge - which you could have used to avoid the fine escalating this far - will have been sent to the address of the vehicle's registered keeper. If the letters didn't reach you because that address was wrong, you could separately be fined up to £1000 for that by DVSA.

That sounds rather extortionate for a relatively petty offence. I expect there would be some ways for this poor man to appeal?

Best go to the Pepipoo webforum and start a thread on this in the forum for Council and decriminalised notices.
http://forums.pepipoo.com/index.php?showforum=30
If tolls are not paid, DART will issue a Penalty Charge Notice, then if this is ignored, eventually the debt will be registered at the Traffic Enforcement Centre, a final notice called an Order for Recovery will be issued, and if no response, bailiffs will be instructed. Experience in the forum of DART is that they are very forgiving and you may be able to get off this, but there is no guarantee. The real question is what happened to the statutory enforcement documents, (PCN, Charge Certificated, and Order for Recovery) ? These are all sent by post to the name and address on the V5C for the vehicle. It strongly suggests this has not been updated following a house move.

Gavin 19 July 2021

I paid online in advance for one crossing but was then automatically charged again for it when I actually made the crossing - I had to request a refund for one of them. We were told that once the bridge had been paid for, the crossing would be free - but then that's politicians for you.

How were you automatically charged? If you have an account so your crossings are automatically covered, you don’t need to pay in advance. 

Roadways Logis… 28 September 2021

Driver forgot to tell office he had crossed once (£3.00) on a Friday recently, so it was not paid.
A PCN came saying "£35 + £3.00 to pay", went on the website and put in the PCN no. and reg and it said the £3.00 needed to be paid, but nothing else about the £35?? When we go back on and put in the PCN/reg it says "this penalty has been paid"!? This is the first time this has happened that we have not paid a crossing charge, so are they not enforcing the £35 fine for that reason? It doesn't say anything on the dart cross website? We are really worried now that a bigger fine will arrive!? Please help!

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