US Embassy responds to Sadiq Khan’s TfL refusing to pay £14.6m London congestion bill because he has a ‘diplomatic exemption’

The US Embassy in Britain has responded to Sadiq Khan’s Transport for London after being accused of owing almost £15m in congestion charges.

TfL revealed diplomats from all countries owe a total of £145.5 million in payments on the role since it was introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone in 2003.

The US embassy is the worst offender, with a debt of £14.64 million, ahead of Japan at £10.07 million, India at £8.55 million and Nigeria at £8.40 million.

Diplomats say they should be exempt because they see the charge as a tax, which would therefore mean they would not have to pay under the Vienna Convention.

But TfL has insisted that the UK Government agrees that the scheme is a “charge for a service and not a tax” and that diplomats are therefore “not exempt”.

Now a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in London has issued a statement on the dispute, telling MailOnline: “In accordance with international law reflected in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, our position is that the charge for Congestion is a tax from which diplomatic missions are exempt.

The embassy of the United States of America in the Nine Elms area of ​​London (file image)
Mayor Sadiq Khan, pictured at the Vatican last Thursday, is chairman of Transport for London (TfL).

“Our long-standing position is shared by many other diplomatic missions in London.”

The statement has put the US Embassy, ​​which moved from Grosvenor Square to Nine Elms in 2018, on a collision course with TfL, which is chaired by London Mayor Mr Khan.

What is the congestion charge in London?

The congestion charge is a daily charge of £15 for those driving within a specific zone in central London.

It applies from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

There is no charge between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, inclusive.

Those who do not pay the charge on time face a fine of £90, which increases to £180 if they do not pay within 14 days.

Mayor Ken Livingstone introduced the charge to £5 per day in February 2003, later rising to £8 in July 2005, £10 in January 2011, £11.50 in June 2014 and £15 in June 2020. .

The zone was extended westwards in 2007 before Boris Johnson abolished it when he became mayor in 2011.

TfL said it has been pushing for the matter to be addressed at the International Court of Justice and has raised it with officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCDO).

MailOnline understands that the FCDO expects diplomatic missions and international organizations based in the UK to pay the congestion charge.

Officials there believe there is no legal basis to exempt diplomats from paying it and the charge is comparable to a parking fee or toll that diplomatic missions and international organizations are required to pay.

It comes ahead of New York City’s plan to introduce a congestion charge starting June 30 that will force drivers to pay $15 each time they enter midtown Manhattan.

In a statement accompanying the diplomatic debt data, TfL said: “We and the UK Government are clear that the congestion charge is a charge for a service and not a tax. This means diplomats are not exempt. to pay it.

‘The majority of embassies in London pay the fee, but there remains a stubborn minority who refuse to do so, despite our representations through diplomatic channels.

“We will continue to investigate all unpaid congestion charges and notifications of related penalty charges and are pushing for the matter to be brought before the International Court of Justice.”

MailOnline also understands that TfL wants support from the UK government to recover outstanding congestion charge debt and related penalty charge notice payments.

A Transport for London map shows the congestion charge zone which began in 2003.

A TfL spokeswoman added: ‘We are clear that foreign diplomats and consular staff are not exempt from paying the congestion charge.

“We continue to pursue all unpaid congestion charges and related penalty charge notices.”

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The congestion charge involves a daily charge of £15 for driving within a central London area between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday, and between midday and 6pm at weekends and public holidays.

There are discounts and exemptions for various groups of people and vehicles, such as residents, taxis and fully electric cars.

The plan is separate from the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), expanded by Khan last August, which is implemented on a different basis.

Embassies and high commissions tend to rent vehicles when visiting London, meaning almost all vehicles would meet Ulez standards.

Other embassies in the top ten for congestion charge debt include China at £7.93m, Russia at £6.00m, Poland at £5.27m, Ghana at £5.00m, Kazakhstan at £4.0m. .65 million and Germany with £4.64 million.

Diplomats owe £145.5m in congestion charge debt since scheme began, TfL said

Outside the top ten, other countries include Sudan with £3.94 million, Kenya with £3.26 million, Pakistan with £3.13 million and South Korea with £2.64 million.

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France’s debt is £2.55 million, Cuba’s is £2.47 million, Tanzania is £2.30 million, Spain is £2.19 million, Algeria is £2.19 million and South Africa is £2.19 million. 1.98 million.

The cleanest record belongs to Togo, which owes just £40, followed by Dominica and Finland, both with £120. Turkmenistan, Panama, Macedonia and Monaco cost £130.

The figures refer to unpaid fees and fines accumulated by diplomats between the launch of the congestion charge in 2003 and the end of last year.

Ministers revealed in Parliament last September that foreign diplomats in London owe almost £150m in congestion charges, but the full breakdown by country has now been made public.

Figures provided to MPs at the same time showed that 15 serious and significant crimes, including sexual assault and drink driving, were allegedly committed by diplomats or people entitled to diplomatic immunity between 2019 and 2022.

Japan’s embassy in London comes second with a congestion debt of £10m.

Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs David Rutley said at the time: “We consider that there is no legal basis for exempting diplomatic missions and international organizations from the London congestion charge, which is comparable to a parking fee or toll they must pay. pay”.

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The congestion charge was imposed by Mr Livingstone at £5 a day in February 2003.

It was then increased to £8 in July 2005, £10 in January 2011, £11.50 in June 2014 and £15 in June 2020, a level at which it remains today.

TfL faced a financial crisis during the pandemic when revenue plummeted as journey numbers collapsed due to successive lockdowns.

It is receiving a series of government bailouts and the most recent £250m funding deal was agreed with the Department for Transport last December.

In February 2020, the then foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, issued a written ministerial statement revealing that his officials had written to “a number of diplomatic missions and international organisations” to “press for payment” of money owed in relation with the congestion charge, parking fines and business rates.