Drivers are being ripped off by copycat websites that add extra fees to the ultra low emissions zone charges in London, consumer champion Which? has warned.
As Ulez expands across all boroughs in the capital from Tuesday, Which? has found a series of identical, unofficial websites targeting people trying to pay the charge. This has led to drivers paying more than the £12.50 daily fee.
The consumer rights group said it was up to consumers to make sure they “steer clear of copycat websites that will sting them with unnecessary extra charges” and “instead visit the official TfL website to pay any Ulez charges”.
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has confirmed Transport for London (TfL) is not associated with any third-party websites accepting payments and that it works with search engine companies such as Google to remove unofficial websites.
Which? spoke to a member of the public who inadvertently paid a company that did not appear as TFL on their bank statement. They were driving in Stanmore, north-west London, in July and saw a sign that stated they were entering a low emissions zone. They went online to pay the charge but later realised that the expansion was not due to come in until 29 August.
They had clicked on an advert on Google that they assumed took them to an official website to pay the charge. After filling in their personal and financial details, they discovered the company had taken £17.50.
Which? said it was concerned by how high in search results some of these companies were appearing when you searched on Google for “pay for Ulez”. Which? said it is often only after customers check the terms and conditions that they are told a £5 service charge is added for processing the fee.
Lisa Webb, a consumer law expert at Which?, said: “It’s disappointing that rip-off copycat websites are squeezing extra money out of people paying Ulez charges, leaving them out of pocket in return for zero benefit.
“Search engines must take more responsibility for ads that appear on their platforms. Google needs to stick to its own terms and conditions by ensuring only official websites can advertise on its platform for official services.
“Unfortunately, as it stands, it is up to consumers to make sure they steer clear of copycat websites that will sting them with unnecessary extra charges, and instead visit the official TfL website to pay any Ulez charges.”
A TfL spokesperson said: “Payments for our road user charging schemes should only be made through the official Transport for London website. Unfortunately, internet search engines don’t always suggest the official TfL Pay to Drive web page at the top of their search results. This means that people may be offered a link to an unofficial payment site, which can often overcharge. We are sorry to hear of any customers that may have been caught out in this way.”
skip past newsletter promotion
Our morning email breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it matters
TfL said it was working with Google, Advertising Standards and Trading Standards to remove these websites from the internet. “We advise drivers who have been impacted by overcharging by a third party site to contact Trading Standards,” it said.
A Google spokesperson said protecting users is a “top priority” and the company has “strict ad policies”. They added: “We enforce our policies vigorously, and if we find ads that are in violation we remove them. We continue to invest significant resources to stop bad actors and we are constantly evaluating and updating our policies and improving our technology to keep our users safe.”