London Congestion Charge exempt cars: do electric cars pay to enter the CCZ?
Do electric cars have to pay the London Congestion Charge? We explain the ins and outs of this daily levy for entering the UK capital's Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ)
The London Congestion Charge was introduced in 2003 and serves to deter people from driving unnecessarily into the middle of the UK's capital city – a defined area called the 'Congestion Charge Zone', or CCZ for short. It's intended to reduce both traffic congestion and local air pollution. This is not to be confused with the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) introduced in 2019, which has since expanded and is set to expand again in 2023.
When driving in London, you'll know you're about to enter the CCZ when you see a sign displaying a white 'C' on a red circle and the words 'Congestion Charge'. The zone currently covers an area bordered roughly by the A501 inner ring road to the north, Hyde Park and Victoria to the west, Vauxhall Bridge at its southern tip, and Tower Bridge to the east. While the ULEZ is set to grow, there are currently no public plans to expand the Congestion Charge zone.
2020’s Covid pandemic lockdown saw the zone temporarily suspended, but the charge was brought back at a higher rate of £15 a day and with expanded operating hours from June 2020. Since February 2022, the Congestion Charge has applied from 7am to 6pm on weekdays and from midday to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.
While low-emission vehicles previously escaped the Congestion Charge, these days only fully zero-emissions cars are exempt. But that won't be the case forever, as current plans see that exemption expire in December 2025. Note that exempt cars do not automatically escape the charge – they have to be registered as such beforehand with Transport for London (TfL).
What cars are exempt from the London Congestion Charge?
Until 2025, all purely electric cars, vans and other vehicles are Congestion Charge-exempt, because they have zero tailpipe emissions. This means if you drive a fully electric vehicle and register it with Transport for London (TfL) you won’t have to pay the Congestion Charge. Hybrid vehicles – even plug-in hybrids capable of running on pure-electric power for some distance – are not exempt.
How does the London Congestion Charge work?
You only have to pay the charge once a day. That means you can drive in and out of the Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) many times on the same day without facing further penalties. You pay the charge online, on Transport for London's website.
You can also pay the charge in advance, or wait until the next day to pay. However, doing the latter adds £3.50 to the total, bringing it to £18.50. Fail to pay by midnight the following day, and you’ll be served with a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). This fee has gone up recently to £180, though if you pay within 14 days, this is discounted to £90 – still a hefty sum, so if you think you’ll be entering the CCZ, it’s wise to pay as soon as possible. It is possible to appeal a PCN under certain conditions; for example, if you’ve already paid the charge, or your car is exempt and the PCN was served in error. A full list of conditions can be found on the TfL website.
What other exemptions are there?
Residents living within the Congestion Charge Zone can apply for a 90% Residents’ Discount from Transport for London, meaning they'll pay £1.50 every day they drive in the zone. You need to supply documents to prove your residency as well as the fact that you're the owner, registered keeper or authorised user of the vehicle in question. The discount costs residents £10 a year.
Blue Badge holders don't have to pay the Congestion Charge at all. However, as with all the other exemptions, it’s vital that the vehicles used by a Blue Badge holder – a maximum of two per badge – are first registered with TfL in order to qualify for exemption. The Blue Badge discount too still costs £10 and must be renewed in line with the Blue Badge expiry date, though if you renew within 90 days of the expiry date, no further charge is due.
Other vehicles facing no charge are those with nine or more seats, breakdown and recovery vehicles, and motorcycles.
What about other low-emission zones?
The London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was introduced in April 2019, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week (except Christmas Day) in the same boundaries as the Congestion Charge Zone at the time. Petrol cars and vans that don't meet at least the Euro 4 emissions standard (and motorcycles that don’t meet Euro 3) have to pay £12.50 to enter the ULEZ area, while diesel cars and vans that don't meet at least the Euro 6 standard are liable for the charge.
This means that while Euro 4 and 5 petrol cars get away with not paying the ULEZ charge, Euro 5 diesels and earlier have to pay it. As a rough guide, diesel cars and vans registered before September 2016 aren't Euro 6 compliant. If in doubt, use TfL's online vehicle checker to see if you need to pay. The ULEZ expanded on 25 October 2021 to encompass the entire 'inner London area' (i.e. the zone bounded by the North and South Circular Roads), and will expand again on 29 August 2023. The new zone is considerably larger than before, extending out as far as the M25 in some places. Given the number of London residents this will affect, the Mayor of London has set aside £110 million towards a scrappage scheme, in an effort to either get people into a cleaner vehicle, or help them retrofit an older one.
As with the CCZ, there is a £180 penalty charge if you haven’t paid the ULEZ fee by midnight of the day after your visit, with the same early payment discount of £90. There is a grace period until 24 October 2027 for vehicles registered to disabled and wheelchair access owners, as well as a handful of other concessions for certain vehicles; it’s worth checking the TfL website if you think your vehicle might be eligible.
It’s worth noting too that historic vehicles of more than 40 years old are also eligible for exemption, alongside their exemption from MOT testing and zero-rate VED.
What are other UK cities doing?
Birmingham, Bath, Bristol and Bradford are just four examples of UK cities that have successfully introduced clean-air zones, while Oxford has implemented a zero-emission zone (ZEZ) for its city centre. It’s free to enter Oxford’s ZEZ in an electric car, but hybrids that emit less than 75 g/km CO2 are charged £2 a day, vehicles that meet Euro 4 petrol and Euro 6 diesel standards are charged £6, while those that don’t meet any of those standards incur a £10 charge every time they enter. Charges for each clean-air or zero-emission zone are likely to be different, so best to check before you set off.
Several other cities have considered clean air zones but as of yet, the cities above are the only ones to implement these schemes.
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