FRESH concerns over the appeals process at the Tyne Tunnel have been raised as drivers claim the decision to uphold £60 fines is not being independently carried out.

Drivers using the tunnels have said it "depends on who you get" on whether a fine is thrown out and that it is up to bosses to set their own rules.

It comes as more than 6,000 people have now signed a petition calling on reform after thousands of drivers were caught after the tunnels went cashless in November.

Read more: Man's petition on Tyne Tunnel fines passes 6,000 - with new signatures every two minutes

Last night, drivers and politicians called on the introduction of an independent body to assess appeals in order to make using the tunnel "fair." 

The Northern Echo: The Tyne Tunnel Picture: GOOGLEThe Tyne Tunnel Picture: GOOGLE

Currently, those who receive a fine for what is described as an "Unpaid Toll Charge Notice" are able to appeal directly to the operator, TT2.

Unlike other toll roads such as the Dartford Crossing, which operates an appeals system through the Gov website, the final decision is made by the tunnel operator. 

But for campaigner Gary Spedding, who launched the petition, drivers are being placed at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting their fines.

Read more: Tyne Tunnel suffers huge backlash over 'absurd' system after thousands get £60 fine

He said: “Not having an independent appeals process means that drivers can’t have confidence in the internal process and TT2.

"It means decisions are being left in customer service advisors to make a decision and go off whatever information and policy sheets that they have to work off."

'Depends on who you get'

Mr Spedding, who has set out a five-point plan which includes the introduction of an independent process, claimed there is no consistency on how fines are thrown out.

Explaining that it was down to "customer services" to determine the outcome, he said that drivers - including himself - were offered varying levels of treatment as a result.

The Northern Echo: Gary Spedding Picture: CONTRIBUTORGary Spedding Picture: CONTRIBUTOR

He said: “It depends on who you get, going through to a nice advisor or someone who is dead set on the rules to pay.

"I have had fines cancelled because I have got through to a lovely woman who went above and beyond, but other people have had others say no."

Such concerns were echoed by the Labour MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck who called for a "robust appeals process" at the tunnels.

'A robust appeal process needed'

She told ITV Tyne Tees: "Everyone wants to be able to use it - and feel confident that the system will be fair and if it is not fair, then there is a robust appeal process

"At the the minute that's not happening and that is what is causing the anger."

The Northern Echo: Picture: UK PARLIAMENTPicture: UK PARLIAMENT

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Ms Lewell-Buck said that her office had become "inundated" with complaints from concerned constituents after receiving a fine.

She said: "I’ve heard from people who would rather sit in traffic and the long way round, we have got a climate emergency and people are going to be taking the long route.

"People have told me this is affecting their mental health and some have said they have been threatened with bailiffs all for the price of a £1.90 fare."

Also calling for a change to the timing given to drivers to pay their toll - and to make the wording "clearer," she said that she would lobby Government to change this.

Unlike the appeals process, the timeframe and wording is dictated by a set of byelaws which were introduced when the tunnels first opened.

According to Ms Lewell-Buck, TT2 bosses say they cannot amend the timing or wording unless the byelaws are adjusted.

The MP raised this last night in the House of Commons where she received verbal assurances from Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg that he would take up the issue of byelaws with the "relevant department."

She previously hit back after raised concerns with the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps only to be told it had "nothing to do with them."

She said: "If it’s a small case of a byelaw, I, myself and other MPs will lobby Government and change it. They can’t just keep side stepping it, it is causing lots of problems."

'We are satisfied a fair system is in place with independent scrutiny'

In response to concerns relating to the appeals process, tunnel owner Transport North East said that the contract it has with operator, TT2 must follow an agreed set of rules to determine how appeals are decided and said appeals are regularly reviewed by an independent auditor.

A spokesperson said: "The contract with TT2 states that staff dealing with appeals must follow a set of agreed rules that determine which appeals should be allowed. 

"Appeal staff must follow the rules in place and TT2 has no discretion to change these rules without Transport North East’s agreement. 

Read more: What Tyne Tunnel owners say after backlash over £60 fines and appeals

"We agreed with TT2 that it could temporarily relax some rules in the weeks following "go-live" of the new system so that it could help customers to make the transition to the new system under certain conditions, and as a result the level of successful appeals during the first few weeks of operation was unusually high.

“There is an Independent Auditor in place that will regularly review appeals on a sample basis to ensure that the process is being followed correctly, and independent watchdog Transport Focus will conduct periodic reviews of the rules themselves. 

"We are therefore satisfied that a fair system is in place with a good level of independent scrutiny."

'Allowing us to uphold more appeals'

TT2, did not provide a further comment, but previously said it had wprked with owners, Transport North East to implement transitional rules to help allow it uphold more appeals in favour of drivers.

It said: “We anticipated an initial spike in UTCNs and so in agreement with Transport North East we have implemented some transitional rules as people got used to new ways of paying.

"This has the benefit of allowing us to uphold more appeals and reflects on TT2’s commitment to working with our customers.

“TT2 is obliged to reduce the number of UTCNs, as we will be penalised and face a fine from the tunnel owners, TNE in the future if we fail to do so."

You can read Transport North East's full statement by clicking here.

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