Outstanding congestion charge bill nears £90m

London’s embassies owe £84 million in unpaid congestion charges Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has told Parliament.

Topping the league of indebted missions with a bill of £9.4 m was the US Embassy with more than 80,000 fines, followed by Japan (£6.4m) and Nigeria (£5.3m).

These embassies, along with more than half the resident diplomatic missions in the UK, refuse to pay because they consider the charge to be a tax and therefore in breach of the Vienna Conventions.

A total of 76 missions owe more than £100,000, up from 68 missions in 2014.

The FCO claims the charge is legal under international law because diplomats are paying for the benefit of reduced congestion.

Diplomatic missions also racked up 5,300 parking fines, totalling more than half a million pounds (£536,289). After consultations. the FCO recovered £214,154 of the debt, leaving £322,135 in unpaid fines, down 6.4% on last year’s figure of £344,176. The Nigerian High Commission owes the most (£49,235), a third less than their bill of £74,557 in 2013.

Missions owe more in council tax
The Foreign Secretary also reported that in 2014 missions owed £726,076 in outstanding non-domestic rates, to pay for local services. This is up 7% from 2013, but £72,137 of this is owed by Iran, which is in the process of reopening its embassy in the UK, and Syria, which is not currently represented in the UK.

Criminal activity up
Fourteen serious offences were allegedly committed by diplomats in 2014. Twelve of these were driving related, one was for the possession of a firearm and a third was for cyber crime. The list excludes four offences of conspiracy to cheat HMRC out of £4.8m in VAT and excise duty between 2009 and 2012, for which four former Gambian diplomats were convicted in 2014.

For a community numbering 22,500, 14 alleged offences represent a small proportion. Apart from the fraud committed by staff at the Gambian and Ugandan missions, the alleged offences committed by the diplomatic corps is on a downward trend following the FCO’s decision to ‘name and shame’ missions.