Ulez win for expat campervan driver hit by £23,000 fines

“Amazing work”: Cat Agnew, who  lives in Spain,  thanked the  Standard after the  £23,000 fines  were cancelled (Handout)
“Amazing work”: Cat Agnew, who lives in Spain, thanked the Standard after the £23,000 fines were cancelled (Handout)

An expat Briton who was wrongly issued with more than £23,000 in ultra-low emission zone fines has had them wiped after the intervention of the Evening Standard.

Cat Agnew had driven from Spain to London with her husband Ben, their three children and two Jack Russell dogs in their Ulez-compliant campervan last July to spend time with her parents.

But shortly before Christmas a series of penalty tickets and fines began arriving at their home in Spain – because she had not pre-registered the vehicle’s Spanish numberplate with Transport for London.

The fines included a number of alleged breached of the low emission zone – a £100-a-day Londonwide scheme for HGVs and coaches that is different to the £12.50-a-day Ulez, which primarily affects cars, vans and motorbikes.

In total, she was asked to pay 26,269 euros – about £23,150.

The demands came from TfL’s European debt recovery firm Euro Parking Collections. Despite EPC being registered in Islington, she said it wrote to her from Uzbekistan – and told her to pay the money into a German bank account.

This was despite her 2016 Volkswagen California campervan having a Euro 6 diesel engine – meaning it meets the Ulez exhaust emissions rules.

Ms Agnew, who runs a beach houses business on the on the Costa de La Luz, branded the situation “ridiculous”.

She thanked the Standard for “amazing work” in helping to get the fines rescinded.

She said: “Last year we decided to drive to the UK. The only thing we did wrong was not register our car. As a consequence of that, they asked us to pay 26,000 euros – even though we are exempt and they have photos of the car. That is like trying to fleece people out of money.

“Going on to web forums, it seems so many European people just pay up because they’re in shock at the possibility of receiving a large fine.

“If they’re doing it to people like us, they’re doing it to people irrespective of vehicle. It’s a blanket thing. If you drive in and you are not registered, you are treated automatically like a HGV whether you are or not.”

TfL issues hundreds of thousands of Ulez penalty fines to drivers of non-UK registered vehicles each year, the Standard has learned.

It relies upon DVLA records to check UK-registered vehicles – but as there is no single system for non-UK vehicles, owners are required to notify it in advance if their vehicles are Ulez compliant.

A total of 18,962 Ulez penalty tickets were issued to owners of foreign-registered cars between January and September last year, but only 13 per cent were paid. By September, TfL had received £357,227 in revenue from such fines.

Ms Agnew added: “I grew up in London, speak English and could comfortably navigate all of this, but I can’t imagine trying to deal with this if I was a non-English speaker with no family or friends back in the UK to advise me.”

TfL has recently paid EPC, which is based in Islington, between £250,000 and £314,000 a month to collect the charges. The contract with EPC runs until October 2026 and TfL expects its “baseline spend” to be between £5m and £10m.

TfL said it was working to increase awareness of the Ulez ahead of the expansion to the Greater London boundary on August 29. This would include asking ferry companies to pass information to their customers.

A TfL spokesperson said: “The need for compliant foreign vehicles to pre-register to avoid the charge has been in place since the Low Emission Zone was introduced since 2008.

“If a compliant foreign vehicle is not registered but the owner subsequently provides evidence that it meets the standards, all charges are cancelled.

“It is now clear that the evidence does now show that Ms Agnew’s vehicle meets the standards. We apologise for any distress caused and have rescinded any money that was previously owed.”