Embassies criticised over unpaid £7million congestion charge bill in 2012

12:00 11 January 2013

The battle between TfL and the embassies has rumbled on. File picture: PA Archive

The battle between TfL and the embassies has rumbled on. File picture: PA Archive

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Money owed by diplomats and foreign embassy officials in unpaid London congestion charge fines has almost halved since the Western extension was axed.

Unpaid congestion charge fines

Issued to embassies and diplomatic missions

2009: 105,746 (£12,687,900)

2010: 100,444 (£12,023,480)

2011: 71,419 (£8,492,667)

2012: 63,882 (£7,217,835)

Issued to non-GB registered vehicles

2009: 7,955 (£954,600)

2010: 9,876 (£1,185,240)

2011: 7,625 (£915,120)

2012: 26,472 (£3,176,760)

Issued to all vehicles

2009: 244,833 (£29,807,682)

2010: 237,394 (£31,434,272)

2011: 251,007 (£34,584,747)

2012: 224,974 (£27,127,663)

But Transport for London (TfL) was still owed £7.2million in 2012 despite efforts to get embassies to pay for driving in the centre of town.

A total of 63,883 fines were issued to embassy drivers last year, down on the previous year’s 71,419.

In 2009, a year before the Western extension was scrapped by Boris Johnson, TfL was owed £12.7m, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Another £12m went unpaid in 2010, before it slipped back to £8.4m in 2011 because some embassies were no longer based in the congestion charge zone.

Embassies which owe the most (in order)

US Embassy

Embassy of the Russian Federation

Embassy of Japan

High Commission for the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany

Office of the High Commissioner for India

Embassy of the Republic of Poland

Office of the High Commissioner for Ghana The Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan

Kenya High Commission

TfL and the government have been engaged in a long-running dispute with the embassies over their refusal to pay the charge.

Diplomatic leaders maintain it is a direct tax which is in breach of a convention of diplomatic relations.

The US Embassy owes the most in outstanding unpaid fines, followed by Russian Embassy and the Japanese.

Nick Fairholme, TfL’s director for congestion charging and traffic enforcement, said they were pushing for the matter to be taken up at the International Court of Justice.

The organisation has taken legal advice and is waiting for the foreign office to get back to them with their view

He said: “TfL and the UK Government are clear that the congestion charge is charge for a service and not a tax. This means that diplomats are not exempt from paying it.

“Around three quarters 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.”

“Problematic”

In total, TfL was owed £27m by all drivers who failed to pay the charge up until November last year.

More than £3million of this was racked up by non-UK registered drivers in 2012, the largest total in the last four years. The increased number of drivers in the capital during the Olympics is thought to have played a part in the rise.

Mr Fairholme added: “Recovering unpaid penalties incurred by vehicles registered outside the UK can be problematic and is a well-known issue for traffic authorities such as TfL.

“Nevertheless, we work hard with our European debt recovery agency to recover penalties in relation to non-UK registered vehicles where it is possible to do so.”

A US Embassy spokesman said it had no intention of changing its position.

He said: “We conscientiously abide by all UK laws, including paying fines for all traffic violations, such as parking and speeding violations.

“Our position on the direct tax established by Transport for London in 2003, more commonly known as the congestion charge, is based on the 1960 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which prohibits the imposition of this sort of tax on diplomatic missions.

“Our position is wholly in accordance with that agreement to which the United States and the United Kingdom are both signatories, and it is a position shared by many other diplomatic missions in London.”

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