US Embassy clashes with Sadiq Khan's TfL over £14.6m congestion charge bill


The US Embassy in Britain has responded to accusations from Sadiq Khan's Transport for London (TfL) regarding nearly £15 million in unpaid congestion charge debt.

TfL reported that diplomats from various countries collectively owe £145.5 million in congestion charges since the charge was introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone in 2003.

The American embassy is the largest debtor, with an outstanding amount of £14.64 million, followed by Japan (£10.07 million), India (£8.55 million), and Nigeria (£8.40 million).

Diplomats argue that they should be exempt from these charges, viewing them as a tax, which under the Vienna Convention, they believe they are not obligated to pay. However, TfL maintains that both it and the UK Government view the congestion charge as a service fee, not a tax, thus making diplomats liable for payment.

A spokeswoman for the US Embassy in London stated to MailOnline, "In accordance with international law as reflected in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, our position is that the congestion charge is a tax from which diplomatic missions are exempt. This stance is shared by many other diplomatic missions in London."

The US Embassy, which relocated from Grosvenor Square to Nine Elms in 2018, finds itself in direct conflict with TfL, chaired by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL has been actively seeking to escalate the matter to the International Court of Justice and has engaged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCDO) on this issue. The FCDO believes that diplomatic missions have no legal grounds for exemption and equates the charge to parking fees or tolls, which diplomats are expected to pay.

TfL's data release comes ahead of New York City's plan to introduce a similar congestion charge, set to begin on June 30, where drivers will be charged $15 (£12) to enter midtown Manhattan.

TfL commented, "We and the UK Government are clear that the Congestion Charge is a charge for a service and not a tax. This means that diplomats are not exempt from paying it. 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."

The congestion charge, currently £15 daily, applies to those driving in central London between 7 am and 6 pm on weekdays and between noon and 6 pm on weekends and bank holidays. Failure to pay on time results in a £90 fine, which doubles if not paid within 14 days. The charge was initially set at £5 per day in February 2003, increased multiple times, and reached its current rate in June 2020.

Other significant debtors include China (£7.93 million), Russia (£6.00 million), Poland (£5.27 million), Ghana (£5.00 million), Kazakhstan (£4.65 million), and Germany (£4.64 million). In contrast, Togo owes the least, at just £40.

This diplomatic debt issue has persisted, with figures showing diplomats owe nearly £150 million since the charge's inception. Additionally, MPs have revealed that between 2019-2022, diplomats have been implicated in 15 significant offenses, including sexual assault and drunk-driving.

TfL continues to press for unpaid congestion charges and related penalties, seeking UK Government support to recover these debts. The situation highlights the ongoing tension between diplomatic privileges and local governance regulations. Photo by Loco Steve from Bromley , UK, Wikimedia commons.

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