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London congestion charge

London is a mecca for cars, lorries and every other type of road vehicle. In an effort to make it a more comfortable and healthier place to navigate, the London congestion charge was introduced and is probably unavoidable if your car has an exhaust pipe.

If you’re visiting central London, you can add the London congestion charge signs to the list of local landmarks. Here's what you need to know.

London congestion at night

 

What is the London congestion charge?

The London congestion charge, or C-Charge, was introduced by the then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone in February 2003. At the time it was considered an imposition by some drivers who felt the sting of already paying enough in car tax and car insurance.

But most drivers recognised the benefit of a scheme designed to reduce congestion and associated evils, such as the toxic fumes that pollute the city. Speaking 1 year on from its introduction Ken Livingstone said:

“Before the introduction of the charge, London’s roads were clogged with slow-moving traffic and congestion was costing business £2 million a week.”

He added:

“Fewer vehicles in the zone, coupled with improved bus services and faster, more reliable vehicle journeys, makes London a far better place to work, live and visit.

Nearly 2 decades on and the congestion charge is a part of the normal ebb and flow of traffic in London. It’s active from:

  • Monday - Friday: 7am to 6pm
  • Saturday - Sunday: 12pm to 6pm
  • Bank holidays (excluding Christmas and New Year's Day): 12pm-6pm

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How much is the congestion charge for London?

If you drive into the London congestion charge zone you need to pay a fee of £15 by midnight on the day of travel. If you forget, you’ve got until midnight on the third day after travel to pay the later payment fee of £17.50.

Fail to pay by this take and you get a Penalty Charge Notice.

 

Do I need to pay the congestion charge?

Not everyone on wheels needs to pay the congestion charge. Until December 2025 electric cars (EVs) and hydrogen full cell vehicles aren't subject to the charge. After then, any private cars can expect to pay the charge.

That said, certain vehicles are exempt. These include:

  • Motorbikes (including with sidecars), mopeds and other 2-wheeled powered vehicles
  • Emergency service vehicles, including ambulances and fire engines
  • Specific NHS vehicles
  • Vehicles driven by people who have a disability that means they’re exempt from paying car tax, and have a ‘disabled’ taxation class
  • Accredited breakdown vehicles
 

Who can get a London congestion charge discount?

You could be entitled to a congestion charge discount if you meet certain requirements.

If your main home is within the congestion charge resident’s discount zone and you’re on the electoral register you may be entitled to a 90% discount. You can check whether your home is in the zone by putting your address details in and viewing the London congestion charge map.

Of course, the charge doesn’t apply if you keep your car outside of the congestion charge zone, even if you live within it.

 

How to pay the congestion charge

The easiest and most convenient way to pay the London congestion charge is to set up Auto Pay.

This system automatically takes a payment each day you drive into the congestion charge zone (during ‘live’ hours, such as 7am to 6pm on working weekdays). It does so by using vehicle registration identification software, which triggers a request to your bank or credit card company for payment. It costs £10 a year to register for Auto Pay.

If you’re an occasional visitor to the capital, you may prefer to pay only on those days you drive into the congestion charge zone rather than set up Auto Pay.

You should note that you only pay once per day and can drive in and out of the zone as many times as you need. Take care if you’re close to midnight, as you might drive into a new day’s congestion charge.

All you need to do is remember to pay by midnight on the day of travel to be charged £15. Otherwise the fee rises to £17.50 for 3 days to midnight, and escalates thereafter.

 

How much is the congestion charge fine?

The full fine for driving within the London congestion charge is £160, which you should be informed about via a Penalty Charge Notice. The fine is reduced to £80 if you pay up within 14 days.

Pay up between 14 and 28 days and you're subject to the full fine. A Charge Certificate should be issued for £240 if you don’t pay the full fine after 28 days.

At this point, you have 14 days to pay the £240. After this period an Order of Recovery is be sent out, with the fee rising in line with debt registration fees and associated costs. Should you still not pay up, the road leads to bailiffs being sent to your door to recover the debt and their enforcement fees.

 

Do electric cars have to pay the congestion charge?

Fully electric cars and those running off a hydrogen cell fuel system are currently exempt from the congestion charge. To be classed exempt they need to meet the Euro 6 emission standard. They should emit no more than 75g of carbon dioxide per kilometre and have a battery range of at least 20 miles.

Plug-in hybrids were also exempt until October 2021. The rules will change again in December 2025, when electric cars and hydrogen cell cars won’t be eligible for a discount or exception.

 

Other charges for driving in London

The commitment to cleaner air and reducing London’s carbon footprint doesn’t stop with the congestion charge. There are 2 other schemes that some motorists need to be aware of. These are:

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)

The Ultra Low Emission Zone was established to help cut harmful nitrogen dioxide by around 30% across London. About 80% of vehicles don’t emit enough of the noxious fume to result in a charge. But the rest may be subject to a £12.50 daily charge for driving within the zone. This zone covers everywhere within the North (A406) and South Circular (A205) Roads.

Both petrol and diesel cars are subject to the ULEZ regulations, along with motorbikes, vans and other lighter vehicles. The scheme runs 24-hours a day every day of the year except Christmas Day.

How old is your car?

Compliance is dictated by emissions and not the age of a vehicle, so you should check your vehicle, But, as general rule:

  • Petrol cars are generally likely to meet the ULEZ minimum emission standards if they were first registered with the DVLA after 2005.
  • Diesel cars are likely to comply with the standards if they were first registered with the DVLA after September 2015.

It’s worth noting that there is no discount off the ULEZ charge for residents living within the zone.

The Low Emission Zone (LEZ)

The Low Emission Zone standards cover larger vehicles, such as lorries, buses and coaches of over 3.5 tonnes.

If your vehicle doesn’t meet the LEZ standards, charges range from £100 to £300 a day depending on the type of vehicle.

The zone size is larger than that for the ULEZ, pretty much covering Greater London. As with the other charges, the scheme is enforced by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. Charges apply 24-hours a day 365 days a year, and payments can be made online or via Auto Pay.