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TfL’s Ulez auto pay has turned out to be an auto fine

<span>Caught on camera: but the focus may be on the wrong car. </span><span>Photograph: Yui Mok/PA</span>
Caught on camera: but the focus may be on the wrong car. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

In January, you recommended to a reader who had been chased for nonpayment of the London ultra-low emissions zone (Ulez) charge that they sign up for autopay – the system which automatically debits the charge from the user’s bank account.

In September 2023, I received a fixed penalty charge as a result of driving in the, then unknown to me, Ulez area. At the time I was advised by Transport for London (TfL) to set up autopay to prevent it happening again, which I did.

Despite not having driven in the zone since, I discovered in December that £700 had been taken from my bank account by TfL.

When I eventually managed to speak to a TfL staff member about this, it emerged that it wasn’t my car that had triggered the charges. My car is a Mercedes, and the car that the system had mistaken for mine was an Audi with a similar number plate.

I have since been told that the problem relates to the position of a screw on the Audi’s registration plate. Despite my best efforts I am no nearer to being reunited with my £700. I think you should warn others to be aware that the system is not foolproof, and if you can hasten the return of my money I’d be very grateful.

MB, by email

Related: Car cloning: innocent UK motorists get fines as scams accelerate

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Another week, another complaint about TfL, which is fast getting a reputation for behaving like the worst kind of parking firm. If the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has a spare day or two he could do a lot worse than spending it looking at the way in which Ulez is being managed.

UK drivers are regularly sent fines that are completely out of kilter with the alleged offence, while others have wrongly had their cars seized. The way TfL has treated European drivers is nothing short of a scandal. It is all undermining the Ulez project, which is a positive move to improve London’s air quality.

Even after we raised your case, and two other similar ones, it took several further weeks before your money was returned. It is at least now back in your account, plus a further £50 in compensation.

TfL says: “The Ulez is not about making money and will not generate a surplus in the next few years as compliance increases. Any net revenue received from the scheme is reinvested into running and improving London’s transport network, walking and cycling routes, and London’s roads.”

Meanwhile, the moral of the tale is this: if you have signed up for TfL’s autopay – keep a close eye on your bank statements.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Consumer Champions, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions: http://theguardian.com/letters-terms