Transport for London (TfL) has agreed to compensate van owners thousands of pounds who were incorrectly advised to change their vehicles.
It sent inaccurate information to van owners about compliance with changes to London’s Low Emission Zone, which led to them replacing their vans needlessly, according to local government ombudsman Dr Jane Martin.
In her report, issued today, she says TfL “made several fundamental errors in notifying owners,” including failure to make adequate checks or to give prominent warnings in its letters that vehicle owners should make their own checks.
TfL has since agreed to pay compensation to the five complainants who had contacted the ombudsman, as well as to a further 30 people who complained to TfL about the same matter.
Four van owners and a representative of a scaffolding company that owned nine vans each complained to the ombudsman about the introduction of changes to London’s Low Emission Zone. They said that the information TfL had given them turned out to be inaccurate.
TfL had said that vehicles they owned could not be used in the Zone after January 3, 2012, without paying a daily charge of £100. Failure to pay the charge would result in a penalty of £500.
The advice from TfL was to take action by either purchasing a new van or by modifying their current vans so that they met the new requirements.
The information was wrong. The vans they owned were either compliant or were not within the scope of the scheme. The complainants all replaced their vans when they had no need to do so.
For example, the scaffolding company scrapped and replaced three of its vans in August and September 2011 and part exchanged four others on September 1, 2011. Two other vans were to be replaced in January 2012.
On December 5, 2011, after the purchase of seven vans had been completed, company bosses found out that TfL had, ‘changed its mind about the vans, and they were now compliant’.
The ombudsman accepted that TfL carried out research in an attempt to discover which vehicles would be affected by the changes to the Low Emission Zone and made strenuous efforts to inform owners of the changes.
However, some of the information sent out was wrong and caused vehicle owners unnecessary expense.
Dr Martin said: “Prior to commissioning the DVLA to send out notification letters, it did not complete adequate checks with manufacturers about whether vehicles which were manufactured before January 1, 2002, had been fitted out to Euro 3 standard.
“It was aware that some vehicles of the same type had different unladen weights and this was fundamental to whether they were subject to the LEZ restrictions.
“It has told me that at the time the DVLA wrote to vehicle owners full information on the weights of vehicles was not available, was incomplete or not available from the manufacturers.
“Despite this, it decided to use the heaviest manufactured weight when deciding if a vehicle was subject to the zone. Transport for London believes this decision was reasonable.
“It may have been a reasonable decision, but for those affected, it was wrong and costly.
“Transport for London did not give sufficiently prominent warnings in its letters, leaflets or website that the information it held may be wrong and it was for the vehicle owner to carry out his own checks on whether his vehicle was subject to the LEZ and if so, whether it was compliant.
“Once it discovered that some owners had been wrongly notified about their vehicles it could have made new arrangements through the DVLA to notify them of the error. It failed to take this action.”
The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice in each of the five complaints. She recommends that TfL pays compensation to the five complainants and to the 30 others who have contacted the Authority about the same matter.
TfL has agreed that in general, it will compensate purchasers of new vehicles with 15% of the purchase price of the vehicle.
Dr Martin said: “It is my view this is a reasonable settlement of these complaints.”