As a delivery driver, you are likely to need to travel to different areas to visit clients or to collect and make deliveries. When involves travel in and around London, you are likely to come into contact with the Congestion Charge zone. But, what does that mean and how does it affect you and your business? We’ve created this beginner’s guide to give you the in’s and out’s of the Congestion Charge with tips on avoiding hefty fines or fees eating into your profits.
What is the Congestion Charge Scheme?
The Congestion Charge is a fee for driving in Central London during certain times of the day. It was introduced in 2003, with the aim of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution in the capital city by getting drivers to think carefully before they make a journey.
As you enter the Congestion Charge zone, you will see signs displaying a red circle containing a large letter “C”.
Where is the Congestion Charge Zone?
The congestion charge zone covers a vast area, which borders around Kings Cross in the North, Whitechapel in the East, Vauxhall in the South and Paddington in the West. All roads within the Congestion Charge Zone are monitored by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. You can use this interactive map to view the entire perimeter of the Congestion Charge zone.
The ANPR cameras read your vehicle number plate as you enter, drive inside and leave the congestion zone. Your number plate will be matched a central database, where checks will be made to see if you have paid the charge. If you have paid the fee or are exempt from paying, the images of your vehicle will be removed from the database. If you haven’t paid or don’t pay by midnight on the third charging day after your journey, you will be issued a Penalty Charge Notice.
When does the Congestion Charge apply?
The congestion charge applies seven days a week between 7 am and 10 pm, except Christmas Day.
How much is the Congestion Charge?
Once you have paid the charge for the day, you may drive within the zone as often as you want within that charging day.The Congestion Charge is currently £15 per day if you pay in advance or on the same day. The charge was increased from £11.50 in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic; this increased fee is expected to stay in force for some time. There has been no confirmation as to whether the fee will be reverted or when this can be expected to happen.
If you pay up to midnight on the third charging day after the day of travel, the fee is £17.50. If you do not pay by this deadline, you will be issued a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN).
How do I pay the Congestion Charge?
There are three ways to pay the Congestion Charge. You can pay online or by phone, but the easiest way to make a payment and avoid receiving a Penalty Charge Notice is to pay via Auto Pay.
This comes with an annual registration fee of £10 but means that you don’t have to faff around with remembering to make the payment each time you enter the charging zone. The system will record the number of days your vehicle travels within the charging zone per month. You will then be charged automatically via debit, credit card or direct debit each month.
Who has to pay the Congestion Charge?
In most cases, if you are responsible for a car, van or lorry using the zone, you will have to pay the Congestion Charge. Drivers of vehicles that emit 76g/km CO2 or more, which is the vast majority of drivers, will be responsible for paying the fee.
Drivers of foreign-registered vehicles also need to pay the charge.
There are some discounts and exemptions available. Those eligible still need to pre-register regardless of being exempt from paying the fee.
What about the Emission Zone Charges?
While the Congestion Charge Scheme is in place to encourage drivers to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, you may also be affected by the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and/or the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) charges on top of the Congestion Charge.
Your requirement to pay one or both of the other charges depends on your vehicle’s emissions. All fees can be paid simultaneously, and Transport for London will work out what fees you need to pay based on your number plate.
With more delivery drivers using vans and larger vehicles for their business, it is essential to check if your vehicle will be affected by these additional charges.
You can check online to see if your vehicle meets the emissions and safety standards required to drive in London or if you will need to pay the fee.
What if I get a Penalty Charge Notice?
You are required to pay the Congestion Charge before midnight on the third charging day following the day of travel. If you do not pay by the deadline, you will receive a penalty charge notice of £160.
If you pay within 14 days of the date of the PCN, the fee will be discounted by 50% to £80. If no payment is made within 28 days, you will receive a Charge Certificate, which will increase the charge by 50% to £240.
How does this affect me as a delivery driver?
Now that you know the basics of the London Congestion Charge, you may be asking how this affects you as a delivery driver. Well, simply put, if you are going to be travelling in and around London, it is always worth checking the TfL website to see if you need to make the payment. Suppose this is something you will be regularly doing, set up Auto Pay, so you don’t have to faff with paying the charge each time or risk the possibility of getting a PCN if you forget to make the payment on time.
If you are self-employed and incur the Congestion Charge through the use of your vehicle for business purposes, it is an allowable expense on your Self-Assessment tax return. It’s up to you if you can pass this charge on to your customer, or if they factor that extra cost into your contract with them. It’s worth checking as this can add up and may make some contracts not profitable.