HUNDREDS of company car drivers are being fined every day for entering London's congestion charging zone without paying because they do not understand the new system, exclusive new research has revealed.
Fleet News has discovered that up to 388 company car drivers a day are incurring a £40 fine for entering the zone without paying.
Employers will have already paid out at £3 million to pay fines since the charge was introduced, and that is only if they pay early enough. If their systems are slower, it could cost companies an £80 fine for every error.
The figures were revealed following research among 34 leasing companies operating more than 1 million vehicles on behalf of customers.
The survey was carried out for annual FN50 survey of the country's largest leasing companies.
John Maslen, editor of Fleet News, said: 'As well as putting immense strain on resources, it can also lead to disputes between leasing companies and their customers as they try to resolve fine payments.
'One leasing firm said almost every fine it received in the first month, totalling about £16,000, was incorrect and had to be disputed – a lengthy and expensive process.
'The problem has become so bad that most of the FN50 leasing companies list the issue as the biggest challenge they have faced in the past year.'
Interviews carried out by Fleet News revealed that some leasing chiefs believed drivers and fleets failed to understand the charging scheme.
Because they were contract hiring their cars, they, they were assuming the cost of the congestion charge would be covered in their lease.
Others thought that paying the £5 charge would cover them for an entire 24 hour period, rather than the rest of the day on which the money was paid, while other drivers were entering London at night and leaving the next day without realising what time the charges became effective.
One leasing company executive said: 'Congestion charging has been our biggest challenge. This has placed a heavy administrative burden on us, while Transport for London has worked to get its processes right. This was not only on headcount costs but also as an area of customer dissatisfaction. '
Maslen added: 'While the charge has been declared a success because traffic in London has fallen, businesses and fleet operators still remain to be convinced.
'A lot more work need to be done to ensure drivers are not unfairly caught out by the new system, particularly corporate visitors who are trying to think about making their business work, not whether they are going to be caught out for doing their jobs.'