It remains a continuing scandal that, nearly six years after it was first introduced, many embassies in London are still refusing to pay the Congestion Charge. Their justification for this stance – that the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations frees them from the obligation to pay taxes – is an entirely spurious argument, since the CC clearly qualifies as a user charge rather than a tax. Refusing to pay it is no different from refusing to pay the charge for driving across a toll bridge, for example, and no embassy anywhere is claiming they are exempt from that.
The precise cost of this Congestion Charge evasion to Londoners was unclear, so I tabled a question at Mayor’s Question Time in November asking for a breakdown of the amounts owed by the various London embassies. The report (Word document here) supplied by Transport for London contains some shocking statistics.
Top of the non-payment league is the US embassy. Its diplomats have driven through the Congestion Charge Zone 26,165 times without paying. The embassy owes £209,320 in unpaid charges and a staggering £2,735,245 in unpaid fines.
The total figures for money owed by payment-dodging embassies are even more eye-watering. Altogether, diplomatic staff have made 220,540 journeys through the CCZ without paying, resulting in £1,764,320 in unpaid charges and £23,120,389 in unpaid fines.
This situation is totally unacceptable. It is not for embassies to pick and choose which rules they obey and which they don’t. While we are belt-tightening during these difficult economic times, Londoners are having to carry these skinflint diplomats on their backs.
The Mayor needs to stand up to these freeloaders, and insist that they begin paying the Congestion Charge and clear their outstanding debts. It’s not on to have such large sums of money being lost to TfL, particularly at a time when fares are being increased above inflation by the Mayor and transport projects cut.