UPDATE: due to the issues I had with online payment and they understood there was no deliberate intention to evade the fare the UPN has been cancelled.

In case you're unfamiliar with an Unpaid Fare Notice (UFN) this is how LNER describes them:

An Unpaid Fare Notice is issued to anyone who travels without a valid ticket and can’t pay for a new ticket or excess fare (whichever is applicable). They don’t require you to pay an extra charge, penalty or fine - just to pay a normal ticket price for that journey, because a valid ticket wasn’t presented.

In order to complete the Unpaid Fare Notice with details of your journey, an authorised member of staff will ask you for your name and address. In order to avoid administration fees being added (which are non-refundable), you need to pay the UFN within 21 days of the date of issue. If you refuse to provide your name and address, or give false details, you’re committing a criminal offence, which could lead to prosecution.

It's what many people confuse for a fine or a penalty fare but it's what's issued on-board the train if you need to purchase a ticket and don't have the means to pay. I've been aware of UFNs for many years but this is the first time I've encountered them myself.

I was issued a UFN on Friday 14 December on the 19:30 from London to York (train terminates at Edinburgh on Friday's only, rest of the week terminates at Newcastle).

The issue was I was booked on the 19:00, I specifically chose that one as it's the last Evening Meal (the trains with a chef on-board) service of the day. I booked that as I thought I might have arrived at King's Cross too late for my preferred choice the 18:18, but in fact I made it to the station before 18:00 so waited in the First Class lounge.

One of the staff in the lounge told me the 19:00 was going to arrive late, but I decided to leave the lounge and wait on the bridge for the train. The 19:00 flashed up on the displays by the escalators for platforms 4 and 5 so I went down and boarded what I thought was my train. It was already ready for service and had Edinburgh as the destination on the door. I jumped on the train, noticed the electronic reservations were blank but thought that was just an issue with the system and although 19:00 passed I didn't worry as I knew it was running late.

The reservations appeared on the displays and it had my seat down as someone going to Berwick, I mostly suspected a glitch in the new reservation system, but at this point a member of staff walked through the train. He was the guard so I asked if it was the 19:00 and he said that's already left (I think it was around 19:10 at this point but not sure, I know it was still quite a while for the 19:30 to depart). He said he needed to prepare for departure (understandably) and would come back and sort out the situation after departure. I had hoped for some discretion, or at least he could have said he'd charge me the full fare so I could then pop to the ticket machines and get something cheaper.

When he came back after departure he looked up the 19:00 and found it left from platform 5 which is next to my departure platform. My first thought was I saw it on the board, came down the escalator, saw Edinburgh on the door and didn't double check with the boards on the platform.

So this technically meant I was on this train without a valid ticket although I had no intention to be a fare evader and this caused me additional inconvenience - I missed out on the evening meal service I had been looking forward to and also arrived in York later than planned.

When the guard came back he charged me the full fare (I think, but I can't seem to add up what was charged with any of the fares on brfares.com) the guards card reader can accept contactless mobile payments (Apple and Google Pay) for any amount so I tried to use Amex with Apple Pay. Turns out the machines are not set up correctly to accept Amex contactless and you need to use chip & PIN and I never had the physical card to hand. Using my debit card risked getting me overdrawn before Christmas so I asked for a UFN. This was the first time I ever received one and surprisingly it doesn't list on it what type of ticket they're charging you for. 

At the time I accepted it as my fault the intention was to pay the UFN and then appeal to see if I could get something back, after all it's not the best idea to annoy a regular passenger.

Now I'm not so certain...

When I got back to London on Sunday I popped back up to the bridge and looked at the layout of the departure screens. The one for platform 4 is above the one for platform 5, I have a fairly good recollection (but nowhere near 100% sure as I wasn't memorising my steps) that the 19:00 appeared on the section of the board for platform 4. As I've used King's Cross a lot since the current layout was introduced in 2012 I would have pretty much gone into autopilot when the platform is displayed knowing the layout well.

It would be good if LNER takes a look and sees if the wrong platform information was briefly posted. As I was told in the lounge that the 19:00 was late arriving in they may have intended to use the 19:30 as the 19:00 as it was ready for service, then they may have decided on the train on platform 5 but someone but the boarding message live before changing the platform. If that is the case I really should get my UFN cancelled and delay repay for the delay getting into York. 

If I'm wrong and the mistake was all mine I'd have hoped that a company would not penalise a customer who made an innocent mistake. I didn't cause any financial loss to LNER, the train was very lightly loaded so it wasn't impacting anyone.

Also when I asked the guard if he could exercise discretion he said he had to charge people in the other carriage too and it would be unfair to give me special treatment. I didn't ask whether they got on the wrong train too (I should have done) or were they people who just had the wrong tickets?

Is the UFN void?

I've had two people tell me that the UFN has been filled in incorrectly which may void it. It lists a headcode for a train I was not on. Also despite me giving him my passport to record my details he got my name wrong. My middle name was my surname and my surname wasn't anywhere on the document.

Hassles of paying

Even if you want to appeal you're still supposed to pay by the deadline. The company that provided the collection service, RPSS, which is actually owned by Southeastern, has a website where you can pay. They don't accept Amex though. So a few days ago I tried to pay with 4 different cards, a mixture of Visa and MasterCard and everytime I got back an error saying that this card type was not supported.

There was also a forn where you can lodge your appeal online. I had written up my appeal in as much detail as I've written this article and then when I submitted it the form reset and went back to the beginning losing what I had originally typed. By this point I'd lost patience with the process.

Conclusion

The UFN process was a hassle for me to go through but it must be even worse for people who are overcharged and have financial difficulties. Having to pay up before you can appeal may mean some people may enter financial hardship. There should be a quick pre-appeals process where if it looks like you have a case you can hold off paying until the appeal concludes.

Also for those with honest mistakes I don't like the wording on the UFN, it had listed me as having no ticket and then warned what a serious offence travelling without a ticket is.

It would be good if the process was brought in-house so LNER had more control of the process.