How do I avoid the congestion charge in London?
Whilst Transport for London spearheaded the congestion charge plans in a bid to tackle congestion and reduce rising co2 emissions, the plans are now being rolled out across most major towns and cities in the UK.
Find out which towns and cities currently have to pay, or are due to have to pay congestion charges, here. You can also find out more information using the governments' Congestion Charge Zone checker, here.
With London being further along than most cities in the UK, it's helpful to look at how the current plans have affected UK motorists and how we can try and minimise the impact on our pockets.
This guide is here to make people aware of the options that may be available to you regarding the London congestion charge. For example, did you know Blue Badge holders can apply for a discount? As can residents living in the congestion charge zones. Continue reading for further advice on congestion charge exemption.
What is the congestion charge in central London?
The congestion charge used to be £11.50 from 7 am to 6 pm on weekdays with bank holidays free. As of June 2020, Transport For London changed the charging regulations due to the impact of changing traffic levels caused by the Covid 19 pandemic.
Now, the charge has gone up to £15 a day between the hours of 7 am and 10 pm, with weekends included and Christmas Day as the only free day. As these changes were implemented as "temporary," they may well change again so it's a good idea to keep an eye on the Transport For London website so you know the up-to-date charges for travelling into or through the centre of London.
Top 4 tips on how to avoid the congestion charge in central London
1) Know where the congestion charge zone is
Whenever you travel into London you should keep an eye on where you’re heading in relation to where the congestion charge zone is. You can use the London Congestion Zone Map.
Consider your route - if your destination isn’t within the charging zone, could you alter your route to avoid the centre of London? If it’s not too much out of the way, it’d be a good way to save yourself £15 a day.
2) Plan the timing of your trip carefully
The congestion charge zone is in operation 7:00-18:00 Monday-Friday and 12:00-18:00 Sat-Sun and bank holidays.
If you’re going to be staying in London, it’s worth thinking about what time you will arrive. It’s likely that once you’re in London, you’ll be using public transport or walking so might not need to drive apart from arriving and leaving.
This can make it quite straightforward to avoid the charge if you look at the congestion charge times. For example, you could plan to arrive late at night – after 10 pm – and perhaps to leave late as well when your trip is over. If you can manage on public transport for the duration of your stay this eliminates your need to pay the congestion charge at all.
Although sharing a ride with someone won't eliminate the congestion charge, it will at the very least half it. You could arrange to travel to London with colleagues or friends depending on the reason for your trip and share any of the travelling costs including the congestion charge. The more people you have in the car, the cheaper it'll be for each passenger when the charge is split equally.
4) Know the discounts and exemptions
When driving into London you may always just opt for your car and assume you must pay the full congestion charge. It's worth checking the discounts and exemptions though, as there are ways you could then get around paying. If you drive a motorbike, for example, you'd be completely exempt from paying the charge.
What happens if I live in the congestion zone?
If you live in the congestion charge zone in London, you can apply for a discount. If you qualify as a resident of the charging zone you can receive up to 90% discount. If you have just moved into the zone and are waiting for your proof of residency you can start the application process now and then complete it later when your proofs are available.
Are plug-in hybrid cars exempt from congestion charges?
Unfortunately not. 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. As this policy is continually changing, it is worth researching to see if your vehicle is classed as one of the EV or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that needs to pay.
Are blue badge holders exempt from congestion charges?
Not all blue badge holders are exempt from congestion charges. You can, however, apply for a 100% discount on the Congestion Charge if you are a Blue Badge holder.
Below are listed the discounts and exemptions applicable to the congestion charge (more details can be found on the Discounts and Exemptions page on the Transport for London website):
Discounts are available for the following reasons:
- Residents’ discount
- Blue badge holders
- Accredited breakdown
- Vehicles with 9+ seats
- Cleaner vehicle discount
- Motor tricycles
- Roadside recovery vehicles
Exemptions are available for the following reasons:
- Two-wheeled motorbikes, sidecars, and mopeds
- Emergency services vehicles
- NHS vehicles exempt from vehicle tax
- Vehicles used by disabled people exempt from vehicle taxVehicles for more than one disabled person exempt from vehicle tax
How do I pay the Congestion Charge?
You can choose how to pay the charge from these options:
- Auto pay - set up automatic payments with a £10 annual registration fee.
- Pay online.
- Pay by phone on 0343 222 2222.
Knowledge is key
It’s clear that local councils are still navigating their way through the implementation of congestion charge zones. With London leading the way, we can most likely expect other cities to follow suit and we are able to take learnings from their strategies, and make some predictions for the future.
What has become apparent is that research and planning must be done prior to your trip in order for London motorists to save money on your journey. It is also worth keeping an eye on updates from Transport for London as the plans continually change. This applies to both London residents and tourists. We also recommend following their Twitter page for live updates and advice.
If you are about to embark on a long journey down to London in the car, amidst rising fuel prices, you might want to follow these incredibly easy steps to reduce your fuel consumption.You’ll also find a link to a handy app that tells you live fuel prices for your local petrol stations, so you can save even further.