Toll charges from past summers return to haunt British holidaymakers to Portugal

Speed way: Motorways across Portugal have improved significantly over the decades (Simon Calder)
Speed way: Motorways across Portugal have improved significantly over the decades (Simon Calder)

Some British holidaymakers to Portugal are receiving demands for payments of more than £100 for infractions said to have been carried out on the nation’s toll motorway network. They are being sent to motorists who rented vehicles a year or more ago.

Once debt-recovery charges are added, the original tolls on one case seen by The Independent increased11-fold.

Most of the alleged infractions took place on the A22 motorway which parallels the Algarve shore.

On this highway, along with the A28 along Portugal northern coast, tolls are levied using number-plate recognition. Usually travellers renting cars will arrange with the hire firm for these charges to be paid and added to the final bill.

But reports suggest the system has not worked as it should, with unpaid tolls returning to haunt UK motorists who were unaware they had not been charged correctly.

Vialivre – which operates the toll collection systems – warns: “If, at the end of the legally established period, the user does not settle its pending toll fees and their administrative fees, an administrative offence is committed.”

The firm has engaged a London debt-recovery agency, Euro Parking Collection (EPC), to contact drivers.

One letter seen by The Independent says: “This Penalty Charge Notice has been sent to you as the registered keeper/hirer of the vehicle identified below, at the time of the contravention.

“The contravention occurred due to the fact that the vehicle in question used the lane reserved for electronic toll collection, without a valid tag or subscription.

“As a result of the original toll fee not being paid by the relevant due date, this Penalty Charge Notice has been issued to the registered keeper, with additional charges.”

The notice is accompanied by a photograph showing the car – and a bill that is more than 10 times the original cost of the tolls.

On an example seen by The Independent, the tolls total £11.84 at an unspecified euro-to-sterling conversions. They apply to journeys made in June 2022.

A Portuguese administration fee of £32.08 increases the cost by 280 per cent. EPC then adds a £88.88 charge of its own, making the final bill £132.80 – over 11 times the original cost of the tolls.

Sharon Cleator, who has worked in tourism on the Algarve for many years, said: “It appears that no attempt whatsoever has been made to collect the missed tolls.”

The AA says on its website: “We’ve heard of drivers ignoring fines when contacted directly by the enforcing authority, only to be contacted later by one of these agencies with a much-increased penalty charge.

“If you believe you could have committed the offence you should pay the fine. If you ignore it, not only will the fine increase, but you can expect travel difficulties if you try to return to the same country.”

The Independent approached EPC several times for a response for publication, but was told it could take up to eight weeks.