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Southeastern recovered £2.5m in unpaid fare penalties in year following fine increase

Additional reporting by Alex Langridge

More than 5,000 fare-dodgers a month are being hit with bumped-up £100 fines by Southeastern for not buying a rail ticket.

In exclusive data given to KentOnline, the train company revealed it received nearly £2.5m last year from penalty fares given to commuters who failed to purchase a valid ticket.

Southeastern has recovered £2.5m in unpaid fare penalties
Southeastern has recovered £2.5m in unpaid fare penalties

From the 50,000 penalties handed out in 2023, £2,538,628 was recovered by Southeastern from customers caught attempting to travel without paying.

This figure is double that of the previous year, despite fewer fines being issued.

A further £1,264,977 was also received in 2023 from 18,000 cases taken to court – 260 of those were caught smoking or were abusive towards rail staff and customers.

The recent data follows a penalty increase from £20 to £100 which was introduced in January 2023.

If the passenger pays within 21 days the fine will be reduced to £50, plus the cost of a single journey.

Head of external communications, Andrew Commons, said the higher fines were brought in as a deterrent to stop the small minority of customers who try to travel without paying.

It is understood around 97% of Southeastern customers pay for their journey.

Andrew added: “It seems it has worked as a deterrent. We are fundamentally issuing fewer tickets.

“We do not want to issue any penalty fares. The ideal would be that all customers pay their fares in the same way that all customers should pay for their shopping at the supermarket.

“We would like to get to a place where it is not needed.

“If you compare last year to the year before it appears the increased penalty fares have worked as a deterrent with fewer issued despite the number of customers increasing.”

Despite the large sum, Andrew explained as the firm is publicly owned the money received goes to the government to help reduce the cost to taxpayers of running the railway.

Tony Clayton said if a fare can be paid people will pay for it. Picture: Sevenoaks Town Council
Tony Clayton said if a fare can be paid people will pay for it. Picture: Sevenoaks Town Council

He added: “We do not make a penny out of this, it is just the right thing to do to provide a level playing field.

“All the money we receive goes to the government as you would expect to invest in the ongoing upkeep and maintenance of the railway.”

However, concerns have been raised over some train stations where there are multiple unmanned platforms where ticket machines are vandalised and cannot be used.

The chairman of the Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association, Tony Clayton, said: “If the fares are simple and they can pay, they will pay but if it is complicated they are more likely to dodge them.

“If you are going to fine that much it needs to be clear and understandable to use.”

He added it is often cheaper to buy a return to Tonbridge than Sevenoaks but this deal can only be offered at a ticket office meaning customers can miss out and pay different fares to others.

Southeastern says the money benefit taxpayers
Southeastern says the money benefit taxpayers

Southeastern is also continuing to tackle those who do not follow the rules so staff and customers can work and travel in a safe and respectful environment.

They will also be rolling out Body Worn Video to its staff to reduce incidences of anti-social behaviour, which will also help in court.

Passenger services director, David Wornham, said: “The vast majority of customers always buy a ticket and understand that doing so is a basic requirement for travelling by train. Fares help to fund the upkeep and maintenance of the railway as well as helping to fund new investments, too.

“Southeastern is a publicly funded, not-for-dividend operator and therefore taxpayers and farepayers alike should rightly expect us to do everything we can to ensure all customers are held to the same rules.

“Southeastern does take a common-sense approach to ticketless travel and every case or incident is judged on its individual merits. Some incidents are genuine errors but in a very small number of cases, customers are determined to cheat the system.

“Anyone with any questions regarding their fares and tickets can speak to a member of staff or visit our website to find out more.”

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