A pregnant mum was made to fork out over £400 to bailiffs who knocked at her door and threatened to take her car – over an unpaid toll charge of just £2.50.
Sophia Gaffney, 33, crossed the bridge at 9.57am – three minutes before its free period began – and saw no signs warning her of a charge.
But instead of being asked to pay up £2.50 for her single use of the Dartford Crossing, the Highways Agency sent her a £70 fine through the post two weeks later.
After challenging the penalty for her trip on April 1 last year, she was assured it would be cancelled.
But the mum-of-four was shocked when a bailiff arrived with a court order demanding she pay £425.50 or he would seize her car.
Today Sophia, of Birchwood, Lincoln, said: “I had no choice but to pay.
“I’m five months pregnant and I need the car but it was money I wanted to spend on a new pram and things for the new baby.
“The day after the bailiff came and I paid him in full the customer service team at Highways England told me they are putting it on hold.
“They were supposed to do this whilst he was at my door to stop it but failed to.”
Sophia was told by the bailiff that her £70 fine had increased to £115.50 and she was charged a further £75 compliance fee and £235 enforcement fee.
She said: “I made my first ever crossing at Dartford at 9.57pm, just three minutes before it’s free to use.
“I was heading for a day trip to Paris and I did not see any signs anywhere which explained how to pay.
“I was totally unaware that there was any charge until a couple of weeks later I got a letter giving me 28 days to pay a charge of £70.
“I called them up several times to try to sort this out and each time they said they would but nothing has happened apart from them asking me for more money.
“Then a bailiff came to my house last week with a court order who and he said he wanted £425.50 from me or he’d seize my car.”
In an email to Sofia one February 24, the Highways Agency said: “Enforcement for this penalty charge notice has been placed on hold for fourteen days to allow an appeal to be lodged.
“The normal process to dispute this PCN charge in this situation would be to make a witness statement.”
The collection agent said: “If she appeals and it goes in her favour then she will be refunded – I hope it does go well for her.
“But my instructions were to collect the debt.”
The AA has also previously criticised the charge for the Kent to Essex crossing.
On their website they say: “Free-flow charging may eliminate toll-booth queues and reduce congestion in the short term but most users can’t choose when or where they cross the Thames.
“This is one of the most important motorways in Europe and it needs more capacity, not easier ways to pay.”