TRANSPORT FOR London is calling for the non payment of more than £82m in congestion charge fines by foreign diplomats, to be taken up at the International Court of Justice.
Diplomatic immunity allows diplomats and their families to be exempt from taxes, as well as from certain “minor” criminal and civil laws. For this reason, certain embassies refuse to settle their congestion charge bills. However, in an on-going dispute, TfL says that the congestion charge is a service, not a tax, and so diplomatic immunity does not apply.
According to figures released this week, the worst offender is the US Embassy, which has amassed more than 70,000 fines worth £8,775,965 since the daily charge was levied in 2003. The Japanese Embassy’s fines were in excess of £6m, followed by the Russian Embassy, which is located outside the congestion charge zone in Kensington Palace Gardens, with a claimed debt of £5,222,380.
“We and the UK government are clear that the congestion charge is a charge for a service and not a tax,” said Paul Cowperthwaite, TfL’s general manager for congestion charging. “This means that diplomats are not exempt from paying it.
“Around two thirds 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.”
In addition, last year 5,662 parking fines issued to diplomatic missions and international organisations went unpaid. The High Commission of Nigeria topped the table with £74,557 of unpaid fines. This greatly surpasses the £30,690 of fines accumulated by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, which came second. Zambia (£22,700), the Cote d’Ivoire (£14,115) and Uzbekistan(£13,375) were also among the top five.
This is not the first time TfL has complained about the non payment of fines by diplomats. In 2011, Boris Johnson said he planned to tell Barack Obama, the US president, of the millions his UK representatives owed in fines.
Top five foreign embassies with outstanding congestion charge debt
- US Embassy £8,775,965
- Embassy of Japan £6,006,215
- Embassy of The Russian Federation £5,222,380
- High Commission for the Federal Republic of Nigeria £4,920,385
- Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany £3,992,900