Transport for London and the Congestion Charge

Published by: Mary B on 26th Jul 2017 | View all blogs by Mary B

Transport for London and the Congestion Charge

Did you know you could pay the Congestion Charge without even needing to – and Transport for London will not allow you a refund.


On Friday (the day is important) I drove to London. I used my satnav to direct me to an address in North East London. My route should not have taken me anywhere near the Congestion Charge area.


However, as so often is the case, the satnav had a fit. My satnav is actually my mobile phone running Google Maps, which I, mostly, find excellent. We lost the GPS signal as we drove through the Blackwall Tunnell. I should have just driven straight north on the A12 but as a slave to my satnav I followed directions which seemed rather strange after GPS was re-established. I saw signs to the Isle of Dogs and seemed to be heading towards Tower Bridge – now that’s just not right, I knew that much. I ended up driving through all sorts of tiny back streets and was really, completely lost. I kept seeing signs for the Congestion Charge and I knew I didn’t want to get into that…….at one point I thought I had turned right just before it started, but I couldn’t be sure.


Eventually I navigated myself out of this mess and found my destination. The day went off successfully and by the time I came home the traffic was so bad that Google Maps took me way off east to the M25 and over the Dartford Bridge.

I was busy on Saturday and so it wasn’t until the early evening that I knew I had to pay my Dart Charge. This charge must be paid by the day after using the Dartford Crossing or a penalty is issued. I then spent considerable time trying to determine whether or not I had entered the Congestion Charge area. As I didn’t fully know where I had driven it was impossible to tell. It was also too late to ask for help from the Transport for London office which by this time was closed.

My decision was to play safe and pay the £14 for Friday and then on Monday ask the nice people at TfL whether I had actually gone into the Congestion Zone or not – and if not, well, I’m sure I would get a refund, after all, they can’t charge for something that didn’t happen – can they……..

So on Monday morning I duly called the Transport for London office – and waited for around 15 minutes before getting through to someone. The lady on the other end of the line told me they had no facility to tell whether or not I had driven into the Congestion Charge zone. I would just have to wait and see if I received a Penalty Charge Notice. I told her that it was for that very reason I had decided to pay. “Oh well” she said, in a rather smug voice, “Well, if you’ve paid then that’s your decision and there is no refund available.” Apparently, if I waited 48 hours I could find out if I had driven into the Congestion Zone. I explained to her that I thought the system was very faulty if it took payment from people whose cars had not been into the Congestion Zone. She confirmed that the system had been the same since it was set up in 2003 although they were working on a ‘live system’ because at the moment there is this delay.

I decided this sort of approach was just not acceptable. I told her I was making a complaint and I would like to speak to her manager. After another long wait I was told that her manager was not available and would only tell me the same as she had told me. That might be the case, I agreed, but I wanted to escalate this issue and I therefore wanted to speak to someone with higher authority. She assured me her manager would phone me back. Two days later I am still waiting for that call.

I decided to try Transport for London again today (Wednesday). I called and got straight through to a charming man called Jo. I explained my situation and he was sympathetic. He took some time to explain the tools that are available on their website to check whether you have entered the zone or not. I explained to him that it was difficult to use the tools when you don’t know where you have driven. TfL are quick enough to issue their PCNs (Penalty Charge Notices) but obviously not prepared to help those who get lost or confused.

He gave me the number of the Enforcement Operatives but I knew what would happen when I spoke to them. Sure enough, they are only prepared to confirm that you have driven into the zone and that you will be receiving a PCN for £130. Apparently no one is able to tell me if my car did not go into the Congestion Charge Zone. This is outrageous and totally unacceptable, given the technology that TfL employ. It seems to me they are all too quick to take our money and not so interested in accuracy or fairness.

It is true that if you pay your PCN within 14 days you get a 50% discount, but, as I explained, £65 is a lot to pay out of a state pension……

So, am I mad to expend any more energy on this?

I feel it is an outrageous situation and that the system is biased against those of us who live outside London and don’t know our way around. Also, I find that as you get older it also gets more difficult to take in all the signs when you are lost and panicking……  I believe the signage relating to the Congestion Charge is also less clear than it used to be. There used to be big C’s on the road so you knew exactly when you had driven over into the zone. They don’t appear to exist any longer.

I don’t suppose TfL will be very sympathetic but as pensioners, most of us cannot afford to pay penalty charges of £65 too often, and it bugs me that I might well have paid my £14 for no reason at all, and no one is prepared to help me establish the truth.






  • Phyl G
    by Phyl G 11 months ago
    What a nightmare Mary. I'm lost for words actually. I had no idea. If I still lived in Basingstoke (Doughnut City) as it was so aptly named I would not be driving.There is so little traffic in this area compared.I can drive out of the road that leads to our Estate and sometimes there would not be another vehicle in sight but again the jobs are not here,mainly farming and many are self-employed.
  • Bill W
    by Bill W 11 months ago
    You do have my sympathies Mary.

    No disrespect to Londoners, but I hate the thought of having to drive through that nightmare warren they call London. I've never had a pleasant experience on the roads there. You, Mary, living in close proximity to the Capitol city find the place difficult, then spare a thought for us gormless northerners who get lost as soon as we leave the M1.
    It's long overdue, but huge chunks of the wealth and commerce of London should be relocated elsewhere in other towns and cities, this not only would be fairer for the nation, but it would regenerate other parts of the country and take some of the strain away from London. Of course, it won't happen.
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