London Congestion Charge: everything you need to know

If you’re driving in London you may need to pay a £15 fee. But who has to pay and when does the charge apply?...

Nissan Leaf in the congestion charge zone

The London Congestion Charge is a daily fee levied on vehicles travelling through the centre of the capital. In June 2020, its cost was increased to £15 a day (up from £11.50) and the hours of operation changed from 7am to 6pm weekdays to 7am and 10pm every day except Christmas Day. 

The costs and operating times were increased partly to combat increasing traffic and pollution levels in the city after the first coronavirus lockdown ended, and also to help Transport for London (TfL) recoup money it had lost in fares during the pandemic. The increase was reported to be temporary but no end date for it has been announced yet. 

What is the London Congestion Charge?

It’s a fee that was introduced in 2003 to reduce traffic and emissions in inner-city areas. In the first three years of its operation, traffic dropped by 15% and congestion fell by 30%. When traffic volumes in the zone were measured in 2018, they were a quarter lower than they had been a decade earlier. 

London Congestion Charge fines rise to £160

The Congestion Zone covers 1.3% of Greater London, stretching from the City in the east to Marylebone in the west, and from Lambeth in south London to Finsbury north of the River Thames. It covers an area of eight square miles in total. 

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) currently covers the same area, but from 25 October 2021, the ULEZ is expanding to the area inside – but not including – the North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205).

Who has to pay the London Congestion Charge? 

The drivers of most cars have to pay the Congestion Charge. The only exemptions are for the following groups of people: residents who applied for a discount before 1 August 2020; drivers with disabilities who have a Blue Badge; local authority, charity and NHS workers providing certain pandemic support services, and vulnerable patients. The residents’ discount is 90% and the other groups don’t have to pay the charge at all. 

Hyundai Kona Electric 2021 front tracking

There’s also a 100% cleaner vehicle discount for drivers of pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids that emit no more than 75g/km of CO2 and have a minimum pure electric driving range of at least 20 miles. However, from 25 October 2021 only fully electric or hydrogen-powered cars will qualify for the reduction, and from October 2025 it will be removed for electric cars. 

How do I pay the London Congestion Charge? 

If you want to pay for a single journey into the Congestion zone you can do so online at the TfL website, via the TfL app or by calling 0343 222 2222. If you pay the day before your journey, the fee is £15, but it rises to £17.50 if you pay on the same day or by midnight up to three days afterwards. If you leave it any longer than that you’ll be liable for a Fixed Penalty Notice fine of £160, although that's reduced to £80 if it’s paid within 14 days. 

If you’re travelling into the Congestion Zone regularly, you can set up an Auto Pay account so the money is taken from your account automatically. If you are in an exempt group or drive a car that qualifies for a discount, you need to register with TfL in advance via the website. There’s an annual fee of £10 for registering your vehicle with TfL and for setting up an Auto Pay account, but doing so gives you the benefit of a £1 discount on the daily fee. 

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