London Congestion Charge: what is it, which cars pay and which are exempt?

All the facts about the £15 charge for driving into central London including a map, how to pay and how to check if you need to...

Congestion Charge

The London Congestion Charge now costs £15 a day and operates on weekdays, weekends and bank holidays between the hours of 7am and 10pm. The charge used to be just £11.50 and only operated on weekdays, but a funding agreement between Transport for London (TfL) and the Government saw it rise to £15 and stretch to 7am to 10pm, seven days a week from 22 June 2020. On 21 February, the hours will reduce to between 7am and 6pm on weekdays and 12pm to 6pm at weekends.

Those who need to pay the charge must pay in advance, or by midnight on the day they entered the zone, although absent-minded motorists can pay £17.50 if they remember to pay by midnight of the third day after driving into the charging area. Residents' discounts, which see those living within the zone pay just 10 per cent of the Charge, are being reinstated from 21 February after previously being scrapped.

London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the upcoming changes “strike a balance between reducing traffic and congestion and supporting London's economy and residents”, but added that it was “vital” not to “encourage a car-led recovery and replace one public health crisis with another due to filthy air”.

About the Congestion Charge

Since 17 February 2003, motorists wanting to drive into London at peak times on weekdays have had to pay a Congestion Charge for the privilege. Failure to pay the Charge results in a fine of £160, reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days.

The scheme is enforced by Transport for London (TfL), and is a separate to the ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emission Zone) which operates in a larger area.

Guide to Clean Air Zones

Read on to learn more about the Congestion Charge, including what it is, which vehicles are affected and how to pay it.

What is the Congestion Charge?

The Congestion Charge is a £15 daily fee that motorists have to pay if they want to drive into central London. As its name suggests, the purpose of the congestion charge is to reduce congestion in the city centre - something that was first examined in a UK Government report in 1964.

The charging zone applies to the area within the London Inner Ring Road, including the City of London and the West End. Out of Greater London’s total population of around 8.9 million people, approximately 136,000 live within the Congestion Charge zone.

Congestion Charge reimbursements are available for local authority workers, as well as charity workers providing "certain pandemic support services in the zone". NHS patients who are vulnerable to coronavirus can also claim reimbursements.

London Congestion charge zone map

Below is a map of the congestion charge zone. You can find out if a specific address is in the congestion charge zone by inputting the postcode on the TfL website.

Which vehicles have to pay the Congestion Charge, and which are exempt?

If you drive a combustion-engined car - including hybrids - you will have to pay the Congestion Charge if you drive into central London during its hours of operation.

All alternatively-fuelled vehicles used to be exempt from the Congestion Charge but, in December 2018, TfL announced that these exemptions were to be phased out. Since 25 October 2021, only zero-emission vehicles - such as EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles - have been exempt from the Congestion Charge. From December 2025, however, even drivers of zero-emission cars will  be required to pay.

The following groups of people and vehicles are fully exempt from the Congestion Charge or eligible for a discount:

  • Residents of the Congestion Charge zone (90 per cent discount)
  • Blue Badge holders (fully exempt)
  • Accredited breakdown vehicles (fully exempt)
  • Vehicles with nine or more seats (fully exempt)
  • Motor tricycles less than one metre in width and two metres in length (fully exempt)
  • Roadside recovery vehicles (fully exempt)

How to pay the Congestion Charge

If you regularly drive into central London during the Congestion Charge’s hours of operation, you can set up an Auto Pay account. Doing so demands a £10 annual registration fee, but you’ll receive a £1 discount on the daily charge.

You can also pay the Congestion Charge on the TfL website, the TfL app or over the phone by calling 0343 222 2222

If you’re buying a used vehicle and you want to check to see if it has outstanding congestion charge fines you can email TfL at this address. OutstandingCCPenaltyCharges@TfL.gov.uk

What's your view on the congestion charge? Join the debate in the comments...

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