Thameslink fined me for sitting in wrong seat even though I had a ticket

<span>Photograph: PA Images/Alamy</span>
Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

Can you please help me as I am currently being prosecuted by Thameslink for mistakenly sitting in a first-class carriage? I am an international student from South Africa and fear my scholarship could get revoked over this.

I had a valid second-class ticket and simply made a mistake. Rather than kicking me out, the ticket inspector quickly became rude and very antagonistic. Another passenger even offered to pay the fine for me, as they could see that he was badgering me, but the inspector had said he wanted to make me personally pay, even though I didn’t have the £88 he demanded.

I submitted an appeal but have concluded that the train company did not read it and simply issued me with a court order. My local MP and Goldsmiths students’ union have both written to Thameslink, but it has not responded seriously, and when I told staff that the court order was dated before the appeal, the person on the phone responded that “it is not our problem”.

Can you help? This is hanging over me and having a huge impact on my mental health.

CD, London

And train companies wonder why they are so unpopular in this country. I could understand this sort of treatment if you were travelling without a ticket, but this just feels like an overzealous revenue inspector grabbing an easy hit to go towards hitting his target.

I asked Thameslink to take another look at this case and suggested the pragmatic solution would be to let you pay the original (over the top) penalty of £88. However, the rail firm has refused this and said it wants double that amount to end the matter. In a statement it says: “Having looked into this matter carefully, we are confident that our revenue protection and prosecutions teams have acted properly and followed procedure correctly.” It also rather unhelpfully advises you get some legal advice.

This leaves you with a dilemma – either borrow the £163 it wants, or adopt the distinctly high-risk strategy of pleading your case in court. The penalty seems so disproportionate, and there is such a backlog in the courts right now, you may be back home before this case is heard. You say you were not later offered the chance to pay the £88 penalty as the train firm claims.

This happened to a colleague who thought she was sitting in a decommissioned first-class carriage and, like everyone else facing such a claim, she paid up just to bring the matter to an end. Welcome to the UK!

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Consumer Champions, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions