London Congestion Charge – What You Need to Know

We know that the UK's capital city can often be a difficult place for motorists to get to grips with – one of its trickier aspects is the surcharge that must be paid when driving through the most congested areas. Take a look at our essential guide and find out all you need to know about the London Congestion Charge.

London Congestion Charge
London Congestion Charge

What is the London Congestion Charge?

The congestion charge is a fee that applies to the majority of motor vehicles passing through the busiest part of London. It’s intended to reduce traffic in the centre of town, to cut down on noise and air pollution, and to raise funds for transport infrastructure.

When it was first introduced in 2003, the policy was the largest traffic reduction scheme ever implemented in a major capital city, and London officials had been partly inspired by the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) toll system in Singapore. Data from 2013 suggests that the congestion charge led to a decrease in traffic in central London by at least 10% over a decade, and over £2 billion had been raised for the capital’s transport governing body, Transport for London (TfL).

Where does the London Congestion Charge apply?

Many motorists who live and work in London never have to pay the congestion charge, while visitors and tourists may find themselves paying every time they drive into the capital. It’s a charge that only applies to the central areas of London within the congestion zone, where the city’s traffic is usually at its highest.
The boundary of the congestion zone is the Inner Ring Road. All vehicles using roads within this central ring boundary will have to pay the congestion charge, though it doesn’t apply to motorists who are only using the ring road itself. The roads that comprise the boundary of the congestion zone include:

  • Pentonville Road
  • City Road
  • Old Street
  • Commercial Street
  • Mansell Street
  • Tower Bridge Road
  • New Kent Road
  • Elephant and Castle
  • Kennington Lane
  • Vauxhall Bridge Road
  • Park Lane
  • Edgware Road
  • Marylebone Road
  • Euston Road

There are also a number of smaller roads that fill the gaps to complete the ring. Road signs clearly indicate when you’re approaching the congestion zone, so pay attention to these and you shouldn’t have too many difficulties recognising where it begins, even if you’re not familiar with London’s roads.

When does it apply?

The congestion zone doesn’t always require you to pay a fee, as the congestion charge only applies:

  • Between the hours of 7 am and 10 pm (07:00 – 22:00)
  • Seven days a week (except December 25)

So, if you’re only driving through the congestion zone between 10pm and 7am the next day, you don’t have to pay the charge. Another exception is Christmas Day. As a special holiday, when traffic tends to be relatively light in the centre of town, the congestion charge is waived on this day. The congestion charge was also temporarily suspended during the earliest days of the Covid-19 lockdown, in spring 2020.

How much is the Congestion Charge?

The fee for driving within the congestion zone is currently £15 per day, as of March 2021. It was increased from £11.50 in June 2020, and initially started at just £5 back in 2003.

This £15 charge applies if you pay in advance, or if you pay the fee on the day of travel. If you’re unable to do this, you can pay up to midnight on the third day after you drove through the congestion zone. For this, you’ll have to pay a slightly higher fee of £17.50.

If you’re unable to do this, your vehicle registration number will be flagged by TfL’s surveillance system, and you’ll receive a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). This will require you to pay a significantly higher fine for non-payment of the Congestion Charge.

Are there any discounts or exemptions?

Not all motor vehicles are subject to the congestion charge during the applicable dates and times. There are several exemptions, which exist for a number of reasons. These include:

  • Motorbikes, mopeds and scooters
  • Vehicles used by people with disabilities (Blue Badge holders)
  • Emergency/NHS vehicles
  • Accredited breakdown assistance vehicles
  • Vehicles with more than nine seats

What about eco-friendly vehicles?

Another important exemption to take note of comes under the Cleaner Vehicle Discount, which was formerly known as the Ultra-Low Emissions Discount (ULED). As an incentive to reduce pollution, any eco-friendly vehicle with a low-emissions engine is eligible for a 100% discount on the London Congestion Charge. The conditions for the vehicle are:

  • It meets Euro 6 standards (low levels of noxious substance emissions)
  • It gives off no more than 75g/km of CO2 emissions
  • It has a minimum zero-emission range of 20 miles

This applies to many PHEV plug-in hybrid cars, which can run on electric power for a limited time. On October 25th 2021, the law will change so that this exemption only applies to cars which run exclusively on electric battery power or hydrogen fuel cells. Then, on December 25th 2025, this Cleaner Vehicle Discount is due to be discontinued completely.

What is the ULEZ?

To further discourage the use of vehicles that are not eco-friendly, the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) was introduced in London in 2019. This zone covers the same area as the congestion zone. Motorists who enter the zone may be subject to a further surcharge, on top of the Congestion Charge. It applies to the following vehicles:

  • Motorbikes failing to meet Euro 3 standards (usually vehicles manufactured before 2007)
  • Petrol cars and vans that fail to meet Euro 4 standards (most pre-2006 vehicles)
  • Diesel cars and vans that don’t conform to Euro 6 standards (most vehicles pre-2015)
  • Buses, coaches and lorries that fail to meet Euro 6 standards

If you enter the ULEZ in one of the vehicles in the top three categories, you have to pay £12.50 per day. The fee for buses, coaches and lorries is £100 per day. Unlike the congestion charge, the ULEZ charge applies 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

How can I pay?

Several payment methods are available for the London Congestion Charge. You can use the Transport for London online portal to make your payment using a credit or debit card, or make the payment over the phone. It’s possible to pay up to 90 days before the day you intend to drive into the congestion zone.

It’s also possible to set up Auto Pay through the TfL website. This system keeps track of how many times you are subject to the Congestion Charge, and then charges you automatically once a month, via your debit card, credit card or direct debit.

Now you know all the essential information about the London Congestion Charge, you’re a lot less likely to face any unnecessary charges. Just plan in advance any time you’re likely to be driving through the city, and try to avoid the congestion zone if possible. If you can’t take a different route, make sure that you pay the congestion charge beforehand to keep your costs to a minimum.

Latest advice articles

Latest best of articles