Hundreds of unpaid toll charge notices (UTCN) have been waived by Tyne Tunnel operators TT2 as part of a hardship scheme.
The scheme is delivered by debt advice experts PayPlan and was implemented after the Joint Transport Committee, Tyne and Wear Sub Committee urged TT2 to add measures to allow those suffering from the rising cost of living crisis to be exempt from the fines.
There's no threshold requirement that drivers must meet to appeal a UTCN as PayPlan deal with requests on a case-by-case basis. In exclusive data provided to NewcastleWorld after a Freedom of Information request, it has been unveiled that 535 UTCNs have been rescinded under the hardship scheme.
Since April 2022, 198 individuals have been referred to the PayPlan team by TT2 agents to receive free financial advice, assessment and other services - which can lead to charges being waived.
TT2 were also able to provide an idea of how many UTCNs are currently being issued to toll-evading drivers. The group don't record daily numbers, but the most recent data showed that from April to September this year, 268,212 had been sent out.
In a statement provided to the site, TT2 said that after being referred to PayPlan customers struggling with costs had gone on to set up long-term debt management arrangements and others had been passed on to charities including MIND, Samaritans and CALM.
Chief Executive at TT2, Philip Smith, said: “The introduction of PayPlan has enabled us to bolster our support to customers who are experiencing financial difficulties and a recent audit of the system, carried out by Transport North East, shows it is working well. PayPlan has a vast amount of experience of helping people in financial hardship and we are pleased to have them on board as partners to assist any customers who are struggling to pay Unpaid Toll Charge Notices.
“As well as partnering with PayPlan, we already worked closely with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to support vulnerable customers, and we continue to do so. The feedback from PayPlan and CAB is positive and they have reported that our advisors are engaging well and working closely with them to help tunnel users in financial difficulty. Our advisors are trained in how to identify vulnerable customers and how to use discretion to reduce or cancel UTCNs to help customers when mitigating circumstances are presented to them by CAB case workers.
“Thankfully, the number of people not paying their toll on time is falling month-on-month and, therefore, the number of Unpaid Toll Charge Notices (UTCNs) being issued is also decreasing. UTCNs as a percentage of journeys made, are down from 5.39% in the first month of the open-road-tolling system, in November 2021 - to just 3.21% in September.”