Congestion and Emission Charges Explained

You will be all too familiar with the Congestion Charge if you live in London or drive around the capital regularly. Every time you head into central London, it’s £15 – and it applies to most vehicles. While you might know about the basics of the Congestion Charge, there’s probably still some stuff you don’t know, and we haven’t even got started on the emission charge yet. That’s why this guide is all about the congestion and emission charges and what you need to know, so you don’t get caught out of pocket.

Congestion Charge

What is the Congestion Charge?

The Congestion Charge applies between 7am and 10pm seven days a week, 364 days a year (you get a break on Christmas Day). Drivers need to pay it every time they drive within a specific area of central London (mostly within Zone 1), and it applies to most vehicles. The primary areas it covers include:

  • Mayfair
  • Marylebone
  • Green Park
  • Westminster
  • Barbican
  • City of London
  • Euston
  • St. Pancras
  • Lambeth
  • Waterloo
  • Newington
  • Southwark
  • Borough

How much does it cost?

Currently, the Congestion Charge costs £15 every time you drive in one of its zones. If you pay three days after driving in the zone, the price rises to £17.50.  Previously, it was £11.50 and only ran Monday to Friday between 7am and 6pm. However, Transport for London (who operate the Congestion Charge) raised prices in 2020 to combat the amount of money TFL lost due to the pandemic.

Are there any exemptions?

Anyone living in the Congestion Charge zone receives a 90% discount as long as they can prove they live there. However, this service has been temporarily suspended for new residents in the wake of Covid.

Blue Badge holders receive a 100% discount from the Congestion Charge, while disabled drivers exempt from road tax also don’t need to pay the Congestion Charge and do not have to register. Some electric cars and plug-in hybrids get a Cleaner Vehicle Discount. 

How can I pay the Congestion Charge?

You can pay the Congestion Charge online using the TFL website, either up to 90 days in advance, on the day of travel or by midnight the next charging day. Along with online payments, you can also use Auto Pay, telephone and text message if you’ve registered online. 

Emissions charge

What is the emission charge?

Air quality is becoming a larger issue with each passing year, and the UK is committed to reaching Net Zero emissions. One way to combat this is with the emissions charge, which is a levy for certain cars driving within a Low Emissions Zone. The aim is to discourage certain vehicles from driving on the road. 

The London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive. There are also zones in Brighton, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Glasgow, Leeds and Birmingham. However, London is the only one where everyday vehicles are affected. In other cities, it only applies to buses. 

Where is the emission zone?

Introduced in 2008, the LEZ covers most of Greater London, along with parts of the M1 and M4 motorways. It operates 24 hours a day, and you will need to pay both the Congestion Charge and LEZ if you’re in central London and your car isn’t exempt. 

Are there any exemptions?

Currently, LEZ only affects larger vehicles, such as pre-October 2006 lorries over 3.5 tonnes, coaches over five tonnes, larger vans, minibuses and motorised caravans. From October 2021, however, it will expand to the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to include a range of older cars and smaller vans that don’t meet current-day emissions standards. 

How much does it cost?

The current minimum charge is £100 per day, with the highest charge costing £200 per day for vehicles weighing between 1.205 tonnes and more than five tonnes. However, from October 2021, cars, vans and other vehicles that don’t meet the new Ultra Low Emission Zone guidelines will need to pay £12.50 every time they enter a zone. 

Paying the charge

Before driving into central London it’s important that you check your vehicle status. The chances are that you will need to pay the Congestion Charge, and you may even need to pay ULEZ if you have an older motor. Either way, it’s handy knowing the facts, so you don’t get caught out by one of these charges.