Criminals copying number plates to avoid paying ULEZ charges
The black-uniformed bailiff who appeared early one morning at Fran Abrams’ front door made it clear he was not going to leave empty-handed.
With his body-cam filming the encounter, this man had been sent by London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Transport for London (TfL) to her rural Suffolk home to extract an ever-spiralling sum of money linked to what started out as an unpaid £80 penalty charge.
Blocking her driveway with his van and armed with a court order for an unpaid debt, the bailiff warned that if the 60-year-old educational consultant didn’t deliver what had become the sum of £559, her ten-year-old diesel VW Beetle would be taken away instead.
Fran Abrams nearly lost her Beetle to a TfL bailiff who turned up on the driveway of her Suffolk home
The fine related to a parking offence on a ‘red route’ nearly 100 miles away in the capital — one of three separate offences for which she had been battling TfL for nearly a year.
Two of the fines were for red route parking violations in Manse Road in Hackney, East London, the third was for failure to pay the daily £12.50 Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) charge for vehicles that do not meet emissions targets.
Have you had your car registration number cloned by ULEZ scammers? Get in touch
If you’ve fallen victim to criminals duplicating your car’s numberplate to evade ULEZ charges and fines?
Send us an email with the subject head CLONED PLATES to [email protected]
The reason for her sheer exasperation? It simply wasn’t her car that had been caught three times on TfL’s cameras. It was a similar looking vehicle with a cloned number plate which replicated hers. She hadn’t been there.
Bizarrely, of her three appeals, the first in Hackney was eventually successful, but the second near-identical parking appeal was refused — leading to frantic but ultimately futile pleas to two county courts and TfL’s bailiffs to drop the case.
Her third appeal, which was against the ULEZ infringement, was also initially rejected, but then disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole that left her in limbo: ‘Ten months have passed since then and I’ve heard nothing further about it,’ says Fran.
The AA and motoring lawyers warn that an ever increasing number of motorists across the country face experiences similar to Fran’s because the current ‘epidemic of car-cloning’ is set to soar if Mayor Khan’s controversial plans to extend ULEZ go ahead — with many more criminals cloning number plates to copy those of law-abiding car owners.
At present, ULEZ is an area within London’s north and south circular roads, but it is due to be extended to cover the whole of the capital from August 29, when it will expand to the borders of Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Surrey.
The ULEZ expansion is being challenged in the High Court by councils affected by the move, including neighbouring counties.
ULEZ will cover the entire capital if Mayor Khan’s controversial plans go ahead
Fran’s full account to me of her ordeal was jaw-dropping, but the arrival of the TfL bailiff on her doorstep at the end of last month proved the final straw that prompted her, in desperation, to call me at the Daily Mail for help.
‘At first I thought it was the police,’ says Fran. ‘He was wearing a black uniform and said he was filming on his body-cam. It all felt quite intimidating.
‘I told the bailiff I wasn’t going to let him take my property. I’d already told his firm, Marston Recovery, that this had nothing to do with me and been advised not to let any enforcement officers into my house, so I told him he couldn’t come in.
‘He said he didn’t need to because he was authorised to take my car, which is worth around £7,500. He’d already blocked the driveway with his van so that I couldn’t drive out.
‘At that point, I gave in. He said I would have to pay him £559 and so I handed over my credit card,’ she adds.
Penalty charge notices: top tips
Get organised: Challenges and appeals against a penalty charge notice (PCN) run to strict timetables.
Keep an eye on the time: You have 28 days to appeal to an independent tribunal after a formal PCN challenge is rejected. If it reaches county courts, it’s usually 21 days.
Join the dots: Don’t expect organisations to join the dots. Each PCN follows set forms and you must be on top of each one individually.
Get it right: Follow processes to the letter, including time limits.
Respond quickly: Communicate asap with relevant organisations for each separate notice to put a hold on debts while an investigation or complaint procedure is carried out.
Get help: If you’re hitting a brick wall with an appeal, seek help from Citizens Advice or a solicitor – the sooner the better.
What to do
Fran had done everything asked of her by TfL in order to appeal and prove her innocence.
This included sending them a statement that she wasn’t in London at the time, evidence of her vehicle’s location when the infringements had occurred and police reference numbers.
She said Suffolk Police even told her that ‘this happened so often they’d stopped recording the offences as crimes’.
Leading motoring law solicitor Jeanette Miller, of Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, (motoroffence.co.uk), who has dealt with similar cases, says: ‘ULEZ triggered an enormous rise in car cloning.
‘Close to 5,000 tickets have been cancelled in the last six months alone, and many more have been paid by innocent victims. The planned extension is set to add to that.
‘Many police forces aren’t even giving the reference number that Fran received because it’s so common. Appeals are made more difficult by this.
‘The process is perhaps deliberately convoluted and littered with time limits that can end with there being no further recourse.’
AA president Edmund King says: ‘This is not just a London issue — it will affect innocent motorists right across the country who will receive penalty charges for something they have not done.’
When the Daily Mail contacted Transport for London with a dossier of evidence provided by Fran, TfL issued a swift apology for the way in which she had been treated.
It also cancelled outstanding tickets and said it would refund the £559 charges, provide compensation for her distress and wasted time and review its methods.
Accepting its failure, TfL later described Fran’s experience as an ‘extreme’ case and that it was ‘speculation’ to suggest such cases would increase with the extension of the ULEZ.
Solicitor Jeanette Miller says: ‘Fran has been very fortunate, thanks to the intervention of the Daily Mail.
‘For those struggling with a similar issue, it may be an idea to contact your local MP and ask them to write a letter, as this will likely make your complaint carry more weight.’
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