The Dartford Crossing: how to pay the Dart Charge toll and avoid a fine

The Dartford Crossing is one of the busiest stretches of road in the UK, an it spans the River Thames between Essex and Kent, and is a major bypass of Greater London. Not only does it cater for resident in the south-east of England, it"s also a major part of the UK road network that helps to connect Britain to Continental Europe, and is vital for business and holidaymakers alike. 

However, there have been plenty of changes to the Dartford Crossing over the years and one of the biggest was the removal of the toll booths and a switch to cashless payment in November 2014, with an aim to reduce congestion. The crossing, whether you"re heading northbound through the tunnels, or southbound over the QEII bridge, operates the Dart Charge system of electronic payment, and uses automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) to register every vehicle that uses the crossing.

In 2016, there were over 99 million chargeable journeys over the Dartford Crossing. This guide explains how to pay the Dartford Crossing toll, how much it costs and what happens if you get a fine.

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Dartford Crossing History

The Dartford Crossing is part of the M25 orbital motorway around London, although it predates the motorway by over 30 years. The first tunnel under the River Thames (which today is the most westerly bore) was started in the 1930s, but the outbreak of World War II postponed construction and it wasn"t opened until 1960. By then, Essex and Kent County Councils had managed to successfully lobby the Ministry of Transport to establish a toll for using the crossing - this has remained in place ever since, although today it"s referred to as a charge rather than a toll.

The second tunnel was announced in 1970, but construction wasn"t completed until 1980, after funding from the EEC guaranteed its completion. When it was opened, the combined capacity of both tunnels was 65,000 vehicles per day. The M25 was linked to the Dartford Crossing in Essex in 1982, with the Kent side joined up four years later, by which time 79,000 vehicles per day were using the two tunnels.

It took less time for the Queen Elizabeth II bridge to be constructed. Work was started in 1988, and it opened in 1991. The bridge was built by a private consortium, and at one time the tolls from the crossing were supposed to be in place until the construction of the bridge had been paid for. But a Transport Act in 2000 changed the toll to a charge that could continue to be levied, and from 2003 users have been paying a crossing charge rather than a toll.

The last major update for the Dartford Crossing was the removal of the toll booths, which were located on the Kent side of the Thames. These were removed in 2014 in an effort to reduce congestion at peak hours, and now Crossing users have to pay by alternative means covered below. The effectiveness of this change is open to question, especially as soon after the toll booths were removed, work started on improving Junction 30/31 of the M25, resulting in queues back through the Dartford Tunnel, and cancelling out the effect of removing the booths.

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While the Dartford Crossing has been amalgamated into the M25, it"s actually classified as the A282, which means traffic that isn"t permitted on motorways is allowed to use it. Either way it"s a major route for traffic heading from the UK to Europe via the Channel Tunnel and the busy ports of Dover and Felixstowe, and the average number of vehicles using it each day is 130,000, more than double the number of 1980.

Dartford Crossing charges

Any vehicle that uses the Dartford Crossing has to pay a fee. Back when it opened in 1960, the charge was two shillings and sixpence (12.5p), which was roughly the equivalent of £2 in 2015. Essex and Kent Councils were given authority to raise tolls from 1967, and the charge for cars in 1984 was 60p.

In 2008, the charging structure changed, with prices rising to £1.50 for cars, although charges were dropped between the hours of 10pm-6am the following morning. Four years later in 2012, the charge increased to £2 for cars, while the introduction of the Dart Charge and the removal of the booths in 2014 saw the crossing charge for cars rise to its current price of £2.50.

The Dartford Crossing charges vary depending on what you"re driving, while setting up a pre-paid online account gets you a discount on the cost every time you cross. The charges are as follows:

Pay per crossingPre-paid account
Two-axle goods vehicles£3.00£2.63
Multi-axle goods vehicles£6.00£5.19

Charges apply from 6am-10pm every day, including holidays. Outside of these hours, the Dartford Crossing is free to use for all vehicles.

It"s also worth noting that the current crop of pick-up trucks are classified as two-axle goods vehicles, so pay the higher £3.00/£2.63 charge.

How to pay the Dart Charge

As you approach the Dartford Crossing from either direction, there are plenty of road signs that inform you about ways to pay now that the booths have been removed. These start to appear well before the previous junctions, and if you"re in a lane approaching the crossing with a large "C" painted in the road, then that means you"re in a charge area.

Obviously if you"re crossing over the River Thames or find yourself in a long tunnel with a 50mph speed limit, then you"re using the crossing, and if it"s between 6am and 10pm, then you"re going to have to pay.

If you"ve used the Dartford Crossing, then you have until 12midnight of the following day to pay the crossing charge. Motorists have three ways to pay for using the tunnel or bridge: online, over the phone or at a shop with a Payzone terminal.

Pay online

The Dart Charge website is the simplest way to pay. Enter the registration of your vehicle online, then you are given the option to pay for the number of crossings you have done.

One benefit of the Dart Charge is that you can pay for crossings in advance, as any crossing payments you make are valid for up to 12 months if they remain unused. So for example, if you are planning a round trip that will use the Dartford Crossing twice, then you can pay for two crossings for your vehicle. But if you don"t use any of the crossings for whatever reason, they are then credited against your car"s registration for 12 months.

If you want to check whether a crossing has been paid for, you can check for paid crossings, by cross-referencing your payment receipt against your car"s registration on the website. This gives a breakdown of dates and times when crossings have been recorded, so you can see if you need to pay for any additional crossings you may need.

Pre-pay account

Set up a pre-paid Dartford Crossing account, and you can get discounts on your crossings. For cars it"s a 33 per cent saving, although it"s not quite as big a saving for two-axle or multi-axle vehicles.

For a pre-pay account, you just need to register your details and a vehicle, top-up your account with £10, and you"re on your way. With an account you get a full breakdown of your crossing history, your payments (you can top-up manually or set an auto top-up that credits your account when it dips below a certain amount), and your monthly statements.

You can add up to 20 vehicles to the account, so it"s perfect for fleet operators, although it"s so simple to use it"s worth just setting up an account for the savings, even if you only have one car. If you top-up manually, you will automatically get an email informing you when your balance has dipped below £10 as a reminder to top-up.

Pay over the phone

You can pay over the phone using the automated payment system at 0300 300 0120. This works in the same way as paying over the phone for parking, and you can manage your account in the same way as you can online. For the hard of hearing, the Textphone service is available at 18001 0300 300 0120.

Pay by post

You can pay for a crossing in advance by sending this form to the following address: Dart Charge Customer Services, PO Box 842, Leeds LS1 9QF.

Pay in person

If you can"t pay online or don"t have a debit or credit card, then you need to visit a Payzone outlet. These are usually located in newsagents - identifiable by the Payzone logo - so there should be one near you - check at - and they will accept cash payments. Again, you"ll need your car"s registration, you can pay in advance, or you have until 12midnight of the following day to pay.

If you want to pay as soon as you have crossed, there is no easy way of doing so, because the nearest Payzone outlets are off the M25. If you"re heading northbound, there"s no point in going to Thurrock Services at Junction 31, because there is no facility to pay there. The nearest Payzone locations are as follows:

Northbound (after crossing)

Whyte Convenience
19 London Road
JL House
RM19 1RJ

Southbound (after crossing)

Riverview Newsagents
13 Riverview
Henderson Drive

Local residents

Tunnel users who live in the Dartford and Thurrock council areas can apply for a Dart Charge discount. For £10 a year you can get 50 crossings, and any more than this are charged at 20p per crossing. An annual payment of £20 gives you unlimited crossings.

Eligible drivers need to provide two proofs of residence in the Thurrock or Dartford council boundaries, plus proof of ownership or use of a vehicle. The offer is limited to one vehicle per application, and goods vehicles are only eligible if they are privately owned.

What if I"ve got a Dart Charge fine?

Highways Agency figures have revealed that a staggering 1.5m motorists were sent an automatic penalty charge notice in 2015, after using the Dartford Crossing and not paying the Dart Charge in time.

If you do not pay the charge, you will be subject to a £70 fine. However, this can be reduced to £35 if you pay within 14 days. If you do not pay the fine, it will be increased to £108 along with the original crossing charge. Additionally, anyone who doesn"t cough up on receipt of the demand will find the fine can be enforced through the courts.

"First offenders" are given 14 days to pay the original crossing charge, and if they do the fines - which can rise to £105 - are waived. However anyone who doesn"t cough up on receipt of the demand will find the fine can be enforced through the courts.

But why are so many penalty charges issued? Simple, in 2014 the Highways Agency scrapped the toll-booths on the Dartford Crossing to ease congestion. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras are now used to log drivers" journeys instead, in much the same way as ANPR cameras are used by the police to search for untaxed vehicles, or used by Transport for London to regulate the capital"s Congestion Charge.

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It"s often easy to forget to pay the Dart Charge, and some drivers may not have easy access to the Internet, particularly those travelling away from home. The crossing"s ANPR cameras have also previously been criticised by drivers for misreading letters and incorrectly sending out charges, too.

Complaints about the ANPR system have included allegations that it has incorrectly charged vehicles registered for a Dart Charge account, has not been able to read foreign number plates, and various errors within the accounts system.

Have these toll changes affected you? Let us know in the comments below...