A report released by the TfL (Transport for London) indicates that London’s foreign embassy staff are refusing to pay over £75 million in congestion charges. The Congestion Charge was first introduced in February 2003 and since then 71 countries have each accumulated over £100,000 of debts. The total amount of debt, updated to the 14 January 2014, is £76.9 million.
Steven Jury of Motors.co.uk had this to say: “Despite the important nature of the many international delegates visiting London on official business, the congestion charge should be viewed as a custom that should be respected by other countries rather than a needless frivolity that doesn’t apply to their representatives.”
The top offender is the American Embassy, whose outstanding fees currently total more than £8 million. The Embassy of Japan is the second worst with £5.6 million and the Embassy of the Russian Federation resides third positions with £5.1 million. Embassy staff from: Germany, India, Nigeria, Poland, Sudan, Ghana and Kazakhstan collectively owe more than £40 million in un-paid fees.
The UK Government and TfL have made it clear that the Congestion Charge is a fee for a service and not a tax. This means diplomats cannot claim exemptions and so should have to pay. TfL’s general manager, Paul Cowperthwaite, confirmed that the pursuance of all unpaid fees and related penalty charges continues to be sought after. He is keen for the issue to be laid before the International Court of Justice for their judgement.
Clearly, a shortfall of £77 million to improve London’s transport systems means that many initiatives may have to be postponed or the money has to be found from elsewhere. This places unexpected pressure on already tight budgets.
The average motorist may well be discouraged by the report’s findings as the Congestion Charge Scheme introduced a blanket fee with no exemptions. Everybody, particularly in London, has to pay the same fee and to find that so many people can avoid or defy this levy, creates unfairness at the very least.