DRIVERS will not get refunds for Mersey Gateway fines following a landmark legal ruling.

A local Government watchdog has quashed the possibility of drivers gaining refunds for their Mersey Gateway journeys based on the alleged “illegality” of the  tolls.

It comes after a man, who has not been named in court papers, lost a battle to be refunded for £40 worth of penalties he paid under a road charging order that was later found to be legally invalid.

The driver, referred to as Mr B in the report on the case, complained to a local government watchdog after Halton Council refused to repay two Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) he paid when his partner failed to pay the £2 toll.

Mr B believed he was entitled to a refund in light of a landmark Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT) ruling which said tolls on the Mersey Gateway bridge were not legally enforceable.

The TPT said last year that Halton Council, the charging authority, had not specified the price of the fee clearly in its Road User Charging Order (RUSCO) and only provided a range of what the price would be likely to be (e.g £0-£2.50).

Adjudicator Mr Edward Solomons said that failure to specify the charges in the RUCSO amounted to a procedural error on the part of the Council, and said five motorists were not liable to pay penalty charges.

The mistake was found to be in breach of the Transport Act 2000, giving hope to hundreds of other angry motorists who thought they might be entitled to penalty refunds.

But the Local Government and Social Ombudsman (LGSO) has found no cause of injustice to Mr B – or any other driver in his situation.

In a report on its findings, the watchdog said that procedural errors did not cause any injustice to drivers because the bridge was always intended to be tolled.

Essentially, they have argued that had the original order been correct, the driver would be paying tolls and penalties anyway.

The report says: “There is no suggestion here that the original order was defective because it was fundamentally unfair or unworkable.

“The new order gives effect to exactly what the council always sought to achieve, which is a charge for crossing the bridge.

“If the apparent fault had not occurred, there would in any case have been a valid order in place, and everyone passing over the bridge would have been liable to pay the toll in exactly the way that was envisaged.

“The bridge was clearly operating as a toll bridge, the charge was on display for motorists to see, and people chose to use this route in the full knowledge that a charge was payable.

“They paid that charge, or were subject to penalties for not paying the charge, in line with everyone’s expectations about how the system was intended to work.“

The report concludes that it would not be appropriate or proportionate to  recommend the council refund any drivers affected on the basis of 'possible administrative errors that did not cause anyone to be misled or be treated unfairly'.

Explaining his findings, Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:“We have issued this report because of the significant local interest in the case, and to highlight the way we will look at any future complaints that might come to us.

“Although we have made no finding on whether the council’s toll was administered correctly, we can say this has no bearing on whether the man should have been charged.

“Clearly in this case, the motorist had an expectation that he must pay a fee to cross a well-advertised toll bridge, or face a penalty for not paying.”