Foreign embassies fall foul of London’s traffic congestion charge

The congestion charge is levied against motorists for driving in certain parts of the city and costs Dh62 per day.

DUBAI // The UAE embassy in London has outstanding traffic-congestion charges of more than Dh50,000.

However, that pales when compared with the amount unpaid by the United States embassy, which owes Transport for London Dh52 million. The congestion charge is levied on motorists for driving in certain parts of the city and costs Dh62 a day.

“The UAE is usually very good at paying the congestion charge,” said a spokesman for Transport for London. “That said, to date there are 70 outstanding congestion charge penalty charge notices totalling £8,195.”

A spokesman for the UAE embassy was not available for comment.

Transport for London is currently owed Dh476 million from embassies for non payment of congestion charges. It has posted on its website a list of the 74 worst offenders, who owe more than Dh619,000. The UAE is not among them.

Behind the US is Japan, which owes Dh36m, Russia, which owes Dh32m, Nigeria, which owes Dh29.3m, and Germany, which owes Dh24.5m.

The issue is a contentious one. Many embassies see the congestion charge as a tax, and therefore declare themselves exempt.

When Barack Obama visited the UK in 2011, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, asked the US president directly for a cheque for defaulted congestion charges.

The US embassy in London has a statement on its website saying that while it is willing to pay parking or speeding charges, it refuses to pay congestion charges because it believes they constitute a tax.

“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,” the embassy statement says.

“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.”

Transport for London, however, has rejected the view that the congestion charge is a tax, claiming that it is a charge for a service.

The authority is pushing for the matter to be ruled on by the International Court of Justice.

“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.

mcroucher@thenational.ae

Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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