London-based garages offering courtesy cars to customers could be burdened with further costs once congestion charging begins in the capital on 17 February, the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI) has warned.

If a customer using a garage's courtesy car enters the central zone and does not pay the charge, it will be the garage that will be liable for the penalty fine.

Dionne Cunningham, head of the RMI's legal department said: “Although the Greater London (Central Zone) Congestion Charging Order 2001, which sets out the legal basis, is not specific as to whom the charge will fall upon, the procedure is clear.

“Transport for London (TfL) will raise the penalty against the registered owner of the vehicle, which will be the garage.

“It will be for the garage to prove they were not using the vehicle on the relevant day, and that TfL should reissue the penalty to the customer who was driving.”

However, this may not be a simple process, Cunningham said.

“Records of who was using the vehicle will have to be accurate if a garage wants to challenge a penalty.”

Customers could help garages avoid this problem, but Cunningham expects few to do so.

“It will be possible for the user to amend their congestion charge payment to include the courtesy car, but in reality the administration process and costs will mean that few will.”

Cunningham believes that garages will need to look at their current arrangements.

“Businesses should review their terms for the provision of courtesy vehicles and ensure that they have appropriate recourse against customers who incur penalties.”