Home » The US Embassy Owes London Over $18 Million In Congestion Charges

The US Embassy Owes London Over $18 Million In Congestion Charges

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In the busy city of London, congestion charges are one of the ugly facts of life. If you want to drive downtown, you need to pay a hefty toll for the privilege. As it turns out, some diplomatic missions have decided they’re above such things, much to the ire of local government officials.

Transport for London (TfL) is the agency responsible for congestion charges. It’s had enough of foreign embassies ignoring the matter, and it’s decided to take action. The first step has been to publicly shame the worst offenders, and I’m sorry to say that the United States is at the top of the list.

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The US Embassy in London has racked up a full £14,645,025 in congestion charges, which comes out to a lofty $18.6 million US dollars at the current exchange rate. That’s enough to top out the list of offenders, ahead of the Embassy of Japan, which owes $12.8 million. India comes in third place, with the Office of the High Commissioner owing $10.8 million.

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The top 26 worst offenders. You can view the full document here.

This isn’t a trifling matter as far as the Brits are concerned. The agency is rattling the can for these countries to pay up. With the total bill now exceeding $182 million USD, it’s pushing for legal action in the International Court of Justice. “We and the UK Government are clear that the Congestion Charge is a charge for a service and not a tax,” states the agency. “This means that diplomats are not exempt for paying it.”

If you have any idea how mad they are, the next sentence will leave you with no doubt. “The majority of embassies in London do pay the charge, but there remains a stubborn minority who refuse to do so, despite our representations through diplomatic channels,” says the agency. For the polite and proper British, that kind of harsh language is seldom heard outside of a football riot.

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The congestion charge isn’t cheap, for the record. The standard charge is £15 ($19 USD) for travel in the zone. It applies Monday to Friday from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM, and from midday to 6:00 PM on weekends. Motorbikes and emergency service vehicles are exempt, among others. EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles receive a 100% discount, but only until 25 December 2025. What a wonderful Christmas present that will be—cough up fifteen pounds, please!

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Congestion charges are enforced by roadside cameras. If you watched Top Gear in its golden era, you probably heard Clarkson rant about the fees on multiple occasions.
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Electric cars are free from the congestion charge until late 2025.

If you thought that wasn’t punishing enough, driving in London actually gets worse. The Ultra Low Emission Zone applies across an even bigger swathe of London, and it comes with more brutal charges. In this region, there’s a £12.50 ($16 USD) charge that applies 24 hours a day, every day except Christmas. It applies to most petrol cars pre-2006, and most diesels pre-2015. It makes it incredibly expensive to drive older vehicles in greater London, an area home to over 9 million people.

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ULEZ charges have proven deeply unpopular with Londoners, though they typically only apply to drivers of older vehicles.

We’re Not Gonna Take It

This is no new matter. In fact, many of the countries have been racking up charges for decades without paying. The current tally covers charges all the way back to the beginning of congestion charging back in 2003.

You might think that the US would pay up, given the special relationship between the two countries. However, the Embassy of the United States of America is quite insistent that it will not cough up a dime.

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If you’re doing business in London, it’s pretty hard to avoid the congestion charge.

In fact, the embassy released a statement on the matter all the way back in 2005, in the typical passive-aggressive nature of diplomatic communications.  “As the FCO is aware, the Embassy takes the view that Transport for London’s Congestion Charge is a tax that, under international law, should not be imposed on the United States Government, its diplomatic and consular agents, or its military force.” The US refutes the UK position that the congestion charge is a “charge for a service,” noting that “no specific service is rendered in exchange for payment.”

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This argument is typically used by diplomats to avoid paying for parking, too. A report from 2016 indicated the the city of New York had $16 million of unpaid parking tickets on the books from UN officials. However, that article also notes that UK officials had paid their dues in this respect to the US. The money doesn’t seem to be flowing the other way.

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The congestion charge zone isn’t huge, but it covers the prime area of central London within the Inner Ring Road.

The charges racked up by the US are likely so high because the embassy was formerly located in Grosvenor Square, right in the congestion charge zone. The embassy moved in 2018 to its new location in Nine Elms, London, outside the designated area. However, regular embassy business would still see US officials traveling into the congestion charge zone.

Not every country is so impertinent. Denmark and Sweden are reportedly fully paid up. As for my home country, the Australian High Commission has a bill of just £760 ($966 USD). The Autopian contacted the Australian High Commission for its position on the congestion charge and whether it intends to pay the bill. I was told that my proud home nation respects the charges and pays its bills on the regular every month.

Ultimately, don’t expect the US to pay up anytime soon. While the hotheads at Transport for London will be getting quite indignant about the matter, it’s unlikely to come up between the two countries given there are more pressing matters to deal with of late.

Image credits: TfL, Chan Lee via Unsplash License

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Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
1 month ago

Last edited 1 month ago by Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
1 month ago

Last few times I went to London I wondered who would ever want to drive in the centre of that. You could get along quite happily ignoring there’s anything beyond the M25 except Stansted & Gatwick.

I don’t see the advantage over taking the tube, bus, or even a cab.

Kenneth Steadman
Kenneth Steadman
1 month ago

This is nothing new – look up how much NYC is owed due to the UN unpaid parking tickets or embassies in DC

Mitchell Leitman
Mitchell Leitman
1 month ago

Australia House is located in the outback (Aldwych). That’s at least few hundred metres away from centre of London where Canada House is (Trafalgar Square) (yes, I know I’m ignoring the City) and I don’t see Canada in that list. The Australians have it easy!

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
1 month ago

Australia’s high commission is further from a tube station than Canada’s.

Canada’s old Embassy at Grosvenor Sq in Mayfair was probably less convenient in inclement weather being that it would have been a longer walk to the underground.

MY LEG!
MY LEG!
1 month ago

I have a hard time summoning anything but contempt for the UK (read: just England) trying to impose rents on the senior partner in the “anglo-american special relationship.”

Feels like your little brother two grades down that starts fights and then runs to you to resolve the mob of youngsters after him, then demands you pay him the $5 you owe for lunch.

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
1 month ago

There should be a charge like this in every major US city. Then the Americans can get even and charge UK embassy employees in the same way. Would also be good for the environment if the charges collected were used for public transit and putting in more bike lanes.

Lardo
Lardo
1 month ago

They should take the individual drivers to the ICC…oh wait, the USA is not a member.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 month ago

Will London accept debt in lieu of money? China’s not complaining, we’re good for it, eventually, probably

Colin Althen
Colin Althen
1 month ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Debt is issued in USD we can print it anytime we want so technically we are always good for it.

Bill
Bill
1 month ago

Considering the huge budgets that governments run on, and the relatively small sums involved it is in diplomatic terms incredibly petty. Quite amusing but there is not much they can do other than print this list.

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