In a blistering attack on Transport for London (TfL), the organisation which manages the congestion charge, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) claims the ‘over-bureacratic, unreasonable and unjustified’ approach to handling appeals is causing financial misery for its members and their customers.
It will hammer home its concerns during a face-to-face meeting at TfL later this month, although it has been fighting to get its message across ever since the congestion charge was launched in 2003.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of drivers face a £100 penalty for failing to pay the congestion charge, discounted to £50 if the bill is settled within 14 days of the offence being committed.
However, the process is very different for drivers in rental cars.
The registered owner of the car is the rental company, so the fine goes to them.
The rental company should then be able to appeal to have the fine transferred to the driver of the car – if the rental is for less than six months – so the driver can decide whether to pay the fine or launch an appeal because they feel they have been wrongly charged.
In reality, the BVRLA says, TfL demands so many details on vehicles and is so rigid in its insistence on 100% accuracy that it is incredibly difficult to successfully transfer the fine.
When a transfer is turned down, 90% of appeals against the decision are refused. And by the time the appeal has failed and the resulting paperwork sorted out, the early payment deadline has passed and the fine has risen to £100.
Rental companies then have little choice but to pay the fine and recharge the driver. The practice could cost businesses and tourists around £50 million in unfairly applied fines over the next five years, the BVRLA warns.
Unless TfL can be persuaded to change its approach, it could lead to legal action by the rental and leasing industry, the BVRLA has warned.
BVRLA director-general John Lewis said: ‘Rental and leasing companies must be allowed to transfer liability of all fines simply and swiftly, allowing them in turn to make representation to TfL if they feel they are being unfairly fined. It seems to us that TfL may almost deliberately be creating a policy of significant time-delays and over-bureaucratic policies that have the effect of denying natural justice to drivers.
‘We object to what seems to be an almost deliberate policy of disregard for drivers’ rights. With the scheme proving successful in clearing the streets and revenues falling short of target, it is better for TfL to fine drivers £50 or even £100 rather than have them pay a charge of £8.’
The scheme brings in £117 million from charges, but £72 million from penalties.
Around 7,000 £100 penalty notices are issued daily for non-payment, with a discount to £50 for early payments. BVRLA members receive 135,000 congestion charge penalties each year, equal to £6.75 million.
A spokesman for Transport for London dismissed the allegations, pointing out that 64% of rental company requests to transfer liability went through without a problem.
He added: ‘It is not true we are denying drivers their rights. Although 90% of appeals are turned down because of issues such as incorrect evidence, that would imply the problem lies in the processes at the rental company.’