Bailiffs arrived at her door after she forgot to pay the £2 toll to cross the bridge to Runcorn and the subsequent penalty charge.
Bailiffs have apologised to a woman from Toxteth in Liverpool who had to pay nearly £700 for a single trip over the Mersey Gateway despite being told enforcement action against her had been suspended.
Tracey Mors, 58, sought help from her MP in October when bailiffs arrived at her door demanding £510 after she forgot to pay the £2 toll to cross the bridge to Runcorn and the subsequent penalty charge.
Her then MP, Dame Louise Ellman, approached the Mersey Gateway authorities on her behalf and, in an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, was told the matter would be put on hold while it was reviewed.
However, a month later bailiffs returned asking for more money, leaving her in debt and unable to pay for food, gas or electricity.
The bailiffs, Marston Holdings, subsequently admitted they had failed to tell Ms Mors that they had concluded their review and found that the debt was valid before resuming enforcement action and said they would apologise and refund the enforcement fee.
Ms Mors, whose ordeal began when she forgot to pay the £2 toll in March, said: “It’s very, very distressing, they’ve put me in so much debt. They shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”
After forgetting to pay the penalty charge or challenge it in time as well, bailiffs from Marston Holdings arrived at her door at the beginning of October, clamping her car and demanding £510 to cover both the fine and the cost of recovering it.
Ms Mors, 58, said: “I was in shock. I only had £320 in the house, I had to give them that.”
The bailiffs set up a payment plan that would see her pay £20 each Friday until the rest of the debt was settled. She made the following week’s payment but missed the second week and, despite offering to pay the £20 on the Saturday, claims she was told she now had to pay the remaining £150 in full.
In the meantime, having used all her benefit money to pay the bailiffs, she had been left unable to afford food or utility bills and gone to stay with a friend until her next benefit payment came through.
With no money to pay the outstanding £150, Ms Mors contacted her MP for help.
Ms Mors said: “She was horrified by how much it had gone up.”
In an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, a member of the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board told Dame Louise: “I will arrange for the matter to be looked into and the enforcement action is suspended whilst the matter is being reviewed.”
Neither Ms Mors nor Dame Louise heard anything further until a month later the bailiffs returned, telling Ms Mors that she now owed not £150, but £360.
She said: “They said to take no notice of the MP. They said ‘If you don’t pay it now, we are taking the car.’”
She finally found someone who would lend her the £360 to clear the debt, but once again has had to move in with her friend until her next benefit payment comes through.
She said: “There’s no justifying it, to take that off someone on benefits and leave them with nothing.”
“Nobody can believe it when I’m telling them. They said you could’ve gone to Jamaica for that. Instead I ended up in Runcorn.”
A spokesperson for merseyflow said: “Ms Mors’ debt was correctly passed to our enforcement agents after she didn’t pay the original toll charge on time and didn’t make a representation within the 28 day legal limit of receiving her Penalty Charge Notice.
“Our message to anyone who gets a PCN is please don’t ignore it.
“You should take action as soon as possible because if the debt is passed on to an enforcement agent, then it will increase significantly.”
A spokesperson for Marston Holdings said: “Unfortunately, in this case, whilst the debt was reviewed and was valid, we recommenced enforcement action to recover it before informing her that the review had concluded.
“We have contacted Ms Mors to apologise and offer her a refund of the enforcement fee.
“We thank Ms Mors for bringing this to our attention, enabling us to review our processes regarding cases placed temporarily on hold in order to prevent this from happening again.”
On hearing the news, Ms Mors said: “That’s a start at least, but I’m still not happy.
“It still cost me £500 to cross that bridge.”