French drivers plan legal challenge to ‘massive’ London zone penalties

Drivers of French-registered cars report shock at receiving fines – in some cases for thousands of euros – for having entered the city’s low emission zones

Colin Campbell received fines of €300 after his plates were tracked when driving through London’s ultra-low emission zone

A group of French residents is preparing legal action over fines, some for thousands of euros, for driving in London’s Low and Ultra Low Emission Zones (LEZ and ULEZ).

Some have low-emission cars but still received penalties as they had not pre-registered their foreign-plated vehicles with Transport for London (TfL).

Some others were correctly fined according to TfL’s rules but say the debt collection methods for the Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) were heavy-handed and warnings should have been issued.

The fines were sent out as a batch by debt collection agency Euro Parking Collection (EPC) in November without warning, many dating back months.

TfL consults the UK’s DVLA database to determine whether UK-registered cars are exempt but owners of French-registered vehicles are meant to upload their carte grise vehicle registration to prove exemption or pay fees to drive in the zones.

Fines are sent out for driving a ‘polluting’ vehicle in the zone without paying fees and/or when foreign cars are not registered.

The ULEZ covers the area within the north and south circular roads.

It is different from the larger LEZ (which normally only concerns vans, lorries and other large vehicles, and covers most of Greater London) and the smaller central London ‘congestion charge’ zone.

The ULEZ zone is expanding to cover the same area as the LEZ from August 29. ULEZ fines start at £80 for cars, rising to £160 if not paid in 14 days;

LEZ fines are £250- £2,000 depending on size of vehicle and payment times. Fines then increase by a further 50% if not paid within a month.

Margaux Dubois* received 28 €97 PCNs for driving in the ULEZ.

Pic: Alena Veasey / shutterstock

Was not sent a warning

She said: “I was convinced my car was compliant, that’s my fault. What we are mad about is that they did not send warnings but a stack of fines, demanding we pay right away.”

Ms Dubois created the EPC Official Complaint Group on Facebook, which has 700 members, mostly in France.

Around 80 people provided details of their fines and they collectively owed €410,000. A lorry driver from northern France, who is in the group, told French media he owed €205,000 after receiving 333 fines, a sum which he understands could triple if he delays paying.

About 40 group members have agreed to share their details with a lawyer for the forthcoming legal challenge.

‘I will not pay’

Ms Dubois said: “I will not pay the fines. Perhaps the first, as I recognise I had not properly done my research, but that’s it. “There is also the question of how EPC accessed our registration details.”

They are asking for the fines to be cancelled and their personal data to be deleted.

Mark Nunn, from Alpes-Maritimes, drove to London to visit family over Christmas 2021. In November, he received four PCNs for €1,219.51 each, rising to €3,658.53 if he did not pay within 28 days.

He had avoided the ULEZ as he knew his car was not exempt but the fines were for the LEZ [editor’s note: Mr Nunn appears to have been charged the maximum as if for a large lorry].

“My folks are from London so I know about the LEZ. Somewhere along the line they’ve changed the signage from a heavy goods vehicle, and changed it so foreign vehicles need to register. This has never been advertised or made clear.”

He added: “Even for the ULEZ, it just says you are entering the zone, it doesn’t say to register your vehicle if you are foreign.

‘I can understand how thousands have been caught out’

“I can understand how thousands have been caught out.”

The penalty notices he received are in French, and include a picture of his car and licence plate and the larger fine amount in bold.

“The tone is intimidatory. They are trying to bully people into paying,” he said. Mr Nunn said EPC initially refused to cancel the penalties, saying he had been fined for neglecting to pre-register his vehicle rather than due to his vehicle category.

He said he too is considering legal action as he was unhappy over the “bully boy tactics”, adding that the fines had been a source of "huge anxiety".

However, after we asked TfL about his case we were later told the fines had been cancelled.

Colin Campbell, also from Alpes-Maritimes, received three fines even though his car meets ULEZ emissions standards. “The intention appears to be to frighten French drivers into paying. They are accessing foreign vehicle databases for addresses but not bothering to check for the emissions class.”

He said that TfL are “dressing up the ULEZ as a ‘toll road’ and then omitting information about what the alleged offence is."

Another reader received two fines totalling more than €7,000 for unwittingly entering the LEZ with a camper van on the way to visit his son.

“The traffic was heavy and we were forced to concentrate on the road rather than look at signs high up,” he said. “I question the legality of sending massive fines without any prior notification and, should my appeal be rejected, I am prepared to take the matter a lot further.”

Chris Harris, who lives near Paris, said: “I challenged the fines directly with EPC and after submitting a copy of my carte grise, they have cancelled them.” He had received five fines dating back to December 2021.

“My diesel vehicle is Euro 6-compliant [emissions standards introduced in September 2015] therefore exempt from the ULEZ charges.”

Once an appeal is submitted, EPC says the case is placed on hold, meaning the fine should not increase before the outcome is resolved. ULEZ generally affects pre-Euro 6 diesel vehicles – those manufactured before 2016 – and pre-Euro 4 petrol vehicles produced before 2006.

A TfL spokesman said “An agreement was recently signed that gives us good access to the French driving database. It has made it easier to trace people who we have had in our system for a while. This is why there is the time gap between entry into the zone and receiving a fine.”

However, French road traffic officials said there is no existing vehicle information exchange deal between France and the UK.

We are seeking clarification.

TfL also told us fines may be sent out when foreign vehicles enter the zones without registration, but they can be cancelled on proof that the vehicle was not in the category for a fine.

There is no actual fine as such for not-registering, the body said.

*Name modified on request.

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