When travelling on public transport, you must ensure that you have a valid ticket.

A penalty fare can be issued if you:

  • travel without a valid ticket in all fares zones
  • travel with an incorrect ticket in all fare zones
  • travel in first class with a standard class ticket
  • travel on a child rate ticket when you are overage
  • travel beyond the destination stated on your ticket
  • trespass on a National Rail or Transport for London (TfL) service
  • do not correctly validate an uploaded or capped season ticket
  • do not correctly validate a Pay As You Go Oyster card or contactless payment card
  • cannot show a ticket or validated Oyster or contactless payment on demand

In some cases, an unpaid fares notice may be issued and if you have travelled beyond the validity of your ticket you may be required to pay the excess fare.

There are different appeal processes and stages to manage penalty fares, depending on which transport operating company you were travelling with when you received the notice. The information needed to appeal or pay a penalty fare is printed on the penalty fare notice itself. Therefore, please ensure you keep it and read it carefully.

What happens if I get caught without a ticket on a bus?

It is the responsibility of all passengers to ensure that they have the correct ticket for their journey. Failure to present a valid ticket on a bus when challenged by a driver or inspector is in breach of the Public Service Vehicle Regulations and is a criminal offence. Therefore, if you are caught without a ticket or an incorrect ticket on a bus by a TfL revenue inspector they may either issue you with a penalty fare or you may be prosecuted instead.

If you are stopped without a ticket but not issued a penalty fare, you should expect to receive a letter outlining where and at what time you were stopped. This letter will ask you for any comments relating to the issue and provides you with an opportunity to outline any problems you may consider are relevant to your case. TfL will decide how to proceed with this matter and this may include prosecution action.

London TravelWatch is not able to provide legal advice on such issues, and we would always recommend that you immediately seek legal advice from your solicitor or local Citizen’s Advice Bureau in the event of a threat of prosecution.

Appealing against a Penalty Fare

To ensure that the process is unbiased, all first stage penalty fare appeals are sent to an appeals body which is independent of and separate from the transport provider (with the exception of Tramlink). Please do not send your appeal to the rail operator or TfL at this stage.

If you think you have been issued with a penalty unfairly, you can appeal in the first instance to Penalty Services Ltd, the Appeals Service or Tramlink. There is a strict time limit for when your appeal can be received.

Regardless of which type of penalty fare method is used, administration charges may be added if you do not adhere to the specified timescales. You could, therefore, find yourself having to pay much more than the initial penalty fare. Paying the penalty fare on time will also prevent any further action, such as debt collection or prosecution for non payment, being taken.

Penalty fare appeals processes

There are three stages in the penalty fare appeal process. If the timeline allowed is strictly adhered to, you can access all three stages and the penalty fare will not increase in this time.

The process is different depending on who issued the penalty fare so please read all documents carefully.

Unpaid Fares Notices

Not all transport operators run penalty fares schemes. In these situations (usually with long distance train services) if you are travelling without a ticket or have an incorrect ticket for your journey, an unpaid fares notice would be issued instead. This is the standard/first class single fare available at the time of travel; please note that this will not be the cheapest fare available as no Railcard discounts (or advance fares) will be given.

If you think the unpaid fares notice should not have been issued, you have a right to appeal. You must appeal in writing and your appeal must be received by the relevant appeals body within the period specified on the unpaid fares notice – usually within 10 days. You need to give the date and time of travel and the reason why you think the unpaid fares notice has been incorrectly issued. Failure to adhere to these time frames could mean that administration charges are added.

A failure to pay the unpaid fares notice may result in legal proceedings being taken against you

London TravelWatch would always advise that you pay the unpaid fares notice as soon as possible to avoid any administration charges and then deal with the appeal separately.


Where a rail operator and Transport for London (TfL) believe that you have deliberately evaded paying your fare, refused to accept the penalty fare, or do not have the means to pay the single fare, they may decide to start the prosecution process for fare evasion. The methods of processing prosecution cases can differ depending on which rail company or type of transport you were travelling on. It is therefore important to follow the advice provided.

London TravelWatch is not part of the penalty fare or prosecution appeal process and we cannot change the decision made by the appeals body. However, if you have concerns about the way your appeal has been handled, please contact us.

If your penalty fare appeal is upheld and you still believe it is unfair, contact London TravelWatch and we will review your concerns.


Frequently asked questions about penalty fares