It seemed like one of life’s rich ironies when Carol Smith had to put the customer transaction for congestion charging through the PayPoint terminal

13 times.

“Eight times is the norm,” she says, “and it’s the same with telephone top-ups. Error 2061 pops up.” This apparently means no lines available or, erm, congestion.

On this particular occasion the customer, a regular, was very understanding and wandered off, promising to come back later. Carol’s business, The Bridge Garage, trades in Shrewton, the nearest village to Stonehenge, so the customer wasn’t about to hurtle off into London’s rush hour. In fact he has a residence in London and thus only has to pay £2.50 for the congestion charge meaning Carol would, eventually, make point-bonk-zero profit on the transaction.

“The problem with congestion charging is that you have to text in the car registration and date and time and there is no repeat button,” she says (I’m amazed she hadn’t taken an axe to the machine by now).

As you may have surmised, congestion charging is not a huge part of the business, but Carol says phone top-ups often come with the same problem: “I’d appreciate it if we could get a Vodafone transaction to go through first time!”

The customer care line had told Carol that she wasn’t the only one with the problem but when I spoke to head office on her behalf they accepted that this was above and beyond the norm.

PayPoint marketing manager Peter Binns reckoned it might be an intermittent fault, possibly with the line (both congestion charging and telephone top-ups are online actions) and possibly in the store itself. He promised to get an engineer onto it.

In defence of PayPoint he says: “The overall picture is that four million transactions a week go through our agents and the majority go through okay. It’s a pretty resilient system.”

Hopefully the problem is now sorted but customer care should take better note of retailer complaints and pass on those requiring further action to the appropriate department upstairs.

And, in case you were wondering, there are retail outlets offering a congestion charging service throughout the country to commuters, visitors, tourists and sundry others. This will presumably grow as other authorities adopt the surcharge system for their own city centres, so it’s worth taking a look at as an add-on service.