The Dartford Crossing charge: what, how and why you pay it

The Dartford Crossing charge: what, how and why you pay it
If you’re unlucky enough to use the eastern section of the M25 on a regular basis, you’ll be all too familiar with the Dartford Crossing charge.

But for the rest of us - especially new drivers - it can cause a bit of a headache.

Here we explain everything you need to know about the charge, including how to pay for it and what happens if you don’t.

BREAKING NEWS October 2019

The Dartford Crossing was designed to handle 136,000 vehicles travelling between Essex and Kent. Today, it regularly carries 160,000. Highways England has responded to this by announcing that the toll, or Dart Charge, will remain permanent.

The Government claims that the payments help manage demand rather than pay for maintenance and infrastructure. Driving groups and local MPs have struggled with this view, especially as promises had been made to abolish the toll once the bridge was paid for.

RAC Head of Roads Policy, Nicholas Lyes said: “Drivers who use the Dartford Crossing are likely to feel short-changed considering the cost of construction has since been paid back. Our view is that tolls should be reviewed and, if affordable, abolished completely. 

“The Government was able to do this with the Severn Crossing so why not the Dartford Crossing? The only justification for maintaining a charge, which could be lower than current prices, would be for routine maintenance and inspection, all of which surely could be done in-house by Highways England and its teams.”

Local MPs and driving groups agree, pointing to Scotland’s abolition of all tolls in 2008 and the removal of tolls at the Severn Bridge. Roger Lawson, Campaign Director for the Alliance of British Drivers said: “It’s purely a way for the Government to extract money from road users.”

What is the Dartford Crossing charge/toll?

The Dartford Crossing consists of two tunnels (carrying northbound traffic) and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge (carrying southbound traffic).

The bridge was opened in 1991, a few years after the official opening of London’s M25 orbital motorway.

Before then, all traffic went through the two tunnels - the first of which opened in 1963, at a cost of around £13 million.

To fund the expense, motorists passing through the tunnel had to pay a toll - originally two shillings and sixpence.

Increased traffic meant another tunnel was opened alongside the original in 1980, by which time 65,000 vehicles were passing through the two tunnels every day.

Until 2014, drivers passing through the crossing (either through a tunnel or over a bridge) had to stop at a toll booth and pay the fee (by this time it was now £2 for cars).

With 160,000 cars a day using the crossing, this could result in huge delays - particularly during rush hour and other peak times.

A solution was introduced in November 2014.

The new Dart Charge saw the toll booths being abolished, requiring drivers to go online or phone up to pay the toll.

Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology is used to police crossings.

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How much is the Dart Charge?

The current rates for the Dart Charge are:

VehicleOne-off paymentAccount holder payment
Cars (including trailers), motorhomes, passenger vans and buses with fewer than nine seats£2.50£2.00
Goods vehicles with two axles (including vans and small trucks£3£2.63
Larger multi-axled goods vehicles£6£5.19

There are reductions available for regular users with prepaid accounts, while locals in cars or small commercial vehicles can get unlimited crossings for £20 a year, or £10 a year for 50 crossings.

The charges for single journeys can be paid within 12 months in advance, or by midnight the day after you cross.

The fees only apply between 6am and 10pm - if you cross overnight, you don’t have to pay.

Do note, however, unlike London’s Congestion Charge, the Dart Charge applies seven days a week, including Christmas Day and other bank holidays.

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How do you sort payment for the Dartford Crossing charge?

The easiest way to pay the Dart Charge is online, using the official website.

This accepts payments using debit or credit card and can be done within a few minutes.

Alternatively, phone the Dart Charge hotline on 0300 300 0120 between 5am and midnight, or send advance payment in the post to: Dart Charge Customer Services, PO Box 842 Leeds LS1 9QF.

Is there any way to avoid payment?

The only way to legally avoid payment is to travel over the crossing between the hours of 10pm and 6am, when the Dart Charge doesn’t apply.

Alternatively, if you’re on a long journey using the M25, it might make sense to use the western side of the motorway which avoids the crossing (e.g. if you’re travelling from the M1 to the M20).

This does get congested, though - especially close to Heathrow, where the major M3, M4 and M40 motorways join the M25.

Using the RAC route planner can give you an idea of what to expect during your journey.

If you do go the eastern way, you’ll struggle to find an alternative crossing.

There’s a foot ferry upstream between Tilbury and Gravesend, while heading into London the nearest crossing is the Woolwich ferry (which is free to use and open to cars).

Alternatively, head a little further west and you’ll be able to use the Blackwall tunnel.

What happens if you don’t pay the Dart Charge?

If you use the Dartford Crossing and don’t pay the Dart Charge, you’ll be liable for a £70 penalty charge sent to the address your vehicle is registered to.

This’ll halve if you pay it within 14 days, but increases to £105 if you don’t pay.

You’ll also have to pay the original fee.

If you feel that you’ve been unfairly fined, it is possible to appeal - and reports from 2015 suggest appeals have a fairly high success rate.

As an automated system, the cameras might occasionally misread number plates.

Some motorists have received warning letters telling them to pay the crossing fee within 14 days - but if you know you’re crossing, it’s safer to just pay up in advance.

Are there any exemptions to the Dart Charge?

Yes - if you don’t have to pay road tax because you’re disabled, you don’t have to pay the Dart Charge either.

If you have a blue badge but still pay road tax, you have to pay for the Dartford crossing too.

Moped, motorbikes, trikes and quad bikes are also exempt.

While cyclists aren’t allowed on the crossing, there are free shuttles for cyclists wanting to cross.

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READ NEXT: Congestion Charge: a simple guide

Dartford Crossing FAQs

  • Why is the Dart Charge becoming permanent?

    The Dart Charge is in place to manage demand rather than pay for infrastructure. The Crossing was designed to handle 135,000 vehicle crossings a day, but currently it is not uncommon for 160,000 vehicles to make the trip. Research from 2001 indicates that lifting the toll could lead to a 17% rise in traffic.

  • Is there a toll on the M25?

    Strictly speaking there are no tolls on the M25. The Dartford Crossing is part of the orbital route but not a part of the motorway. The Dart Charge applies on the A282 between M25 junctions 31 and 1A.

  • Can you pay for the Dartford Crossing in advance?

    It’s possible to pay the Dart Charge 12 months in advance. You can also register your vehicle and payment details for a pay-as-you-go service. This means you can automatically pay the Dart Charge each time you use the crossing.

    Dartford and Thurrock borough residents have the option to pay £20 a year to use the crossing as many times as they like. Alternatively, they can pay £10 for 50 crossings and 20p for each additional crossing.

  • Are there any concessions for the Dart Charge?

    Drivers registered for a Dart Charge account pay a reduced fee. Current rates are listed above.

    Dartford and Thurrock borough residents have the option to pay £20 a year to use the crossing as many times as they like. Alternatively, they can pay £10 for 50 crossings and 20p for each additional crossing.

    No payment is required if you’re driving a vehicle exempt from vehicle tax because you’re disabled.

  • Are the Dartford Crossing cameras always on?

    The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras at the Dartford Crossing capture images and record vehicle registrations for every journey. Some drivers complain that they have been incorrectly charged or that foreign number plates haven’t been read properly. It’s important not to rely on loopholes in the system and to pay the charge on time and every time.

  • What happens if you pay the Dart Charge late?

    If you fail to pay the Dart Charge by midnight of the following day of your crossing, you will have to pay a fine of £70. This will halve to £35 if you pay it within 14 days but increase to £105 if you don’t pay. You’ll also have to pay the original fee.

  • What happens if you forget to pay the Dart Charge?

    If you forget to pay the Dart Charge before or on the day of crossing you have the option to pay by midnight the day after you cross.

  • Is the Dartford Crossing free at night?

    The Dartford Crossing is free of charge between 10pm and 6am. Charges apply every day – including weekends and bank holidays.

  • Was the Dartford Crossing supposed to be free?

    In 1999 the Government announced the Dartford Crossing would be free by the end of 2003. This changed in 2001 when the Government backtracked from the agreement. Fees were increased in 2014 when the Dart Charge system was introduced, despite the original debt being repaid in 2002.

  • Will the Dartford Crossing be free?

    The Government has no plans to make the Dartford Crossing free. Its response to a now-closed petition says: “Government has no plans to remove the road user charge at the Dartford Crossing which exists to manage demand. Without charges, traffic volumes would increase and additional congestion would occur.”

  • Is the Dartford Crossing free for disabled people?

    If you’re driving a vehicle exempt from vehicle tax because you’re disabled, you won’t need to pay the charge. There’s no need to inform anyone about this as the Dart Charge system checks automatically.

    If you have a Blue Badge but still pay road tax, you have to pay the Dart Charge.

  • Who owns the Dartford Crossing?

    The Dartford Crossing is owned by the UK Government. Highways England manages the crossing on behalf of the Department for Transport. Connect Plus Services (CPS) operates and maintains the crossing on behalf of Highways England. CPS are responsible for managing infrastructure and construction at the crossing, and enabled the Dart Charge to go live.

    French firm Sanef has managed the collection of Dart Charge payments since 2013. Its contract is due to end in 2020. Highways England is currently looking for a new Dart Charge operator, with a contract of eight-a-half years on offer and the option to extend by two years.

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