How to register your electric car for the London Congestion Charge

Nicki Shields


You'll no doubt be aware an electric car can save you cash in a whole heap of ways – fuel, servicing and road tax to name a few, and of course if you're running an EV as a company car there's lower benefit-in-kind to fork out.

However, for those EV drivers who drive in and out of London there's potentially an enormous cash saver to take advantage of, and that's exemption from the Congestion Charge.

Transport for London (TfL) operates the zone from 7am to 6pm every weekday and from midday to 6pm on weekends. The cost is £15 per day and it's in operation every day of the year, apart from Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Even if you travel into London for half the days of the year, that’s over £2,700 in fees.

Electric cars, having zero emissions, are exempt so you can travel in and out of the capital without handing over any cash whatsoever. However, you guessed it, it’s not that straightforward.

Here at Electrifying, we don't want you to be handing over your hard-earned cash for something that you should be getting for free. In this guide we'll explain how you can avoid costly London Congestion Charge fines and breeze in and out of the capital for zero dosh.  

Register, register, register

Most drivers assume that electric cars can travel completely free through the restrictive London zones whereas petrol, diesel and even hybrid car owners have to pay.

But that’s not quite true. Drive an electric car into the heart of the capital without registering it with TfL first and a fine for £160 will plop onto your door mat. It will be reduced to £80 if paid in 14 days, but that’s still going to hurt.

You see, TfL doesn’t want to make it easy. And while the cameras which police the less strict ULEZ boundaries will read the registration number and realise your car is electric automatically, the computers which guard the smaller Congestion Charge refuse to do the same.

It means you have to register your car as zero emission before you drive inside the zone. It costs a tenner too, which is cheaper than the daily fee, but you do have to pay this annually and re-register your car. Presumably to check that it hasn’t become a V8 diesel truck in the preceding 12 months.

How do you register?

It’s not quite as simple as you might think. Before driving you will need to log on to TfL’s website – here

Now bear in mind that TfL says it ‘aims’ to approve your application in 10 working days, so this isn’t something you are going to be able to do safely on the day you are driving in. If you do want to try it and hope there is a miraculous approval time, then we'd suggest that you use a little loophole…

What’s the loophole?

Keep this secret but you can drive in and then not pay until midnight that day. So, if it is a working day, you can wait to see if your application is approved before stumping up.

If you fall asleep or forget, you can pay an extra £2.50 – so £17.50 in total - by midnight of the third day after travel and still not get a fine. Another little tip – if you are borrowing or hiring the car, or have maybe just bought it second hand then it might have already been registered – so you might get a few months free. You can check on TfL’s database on the “Check your vehicle” section of the website here.

If you're out of luck and the vehicle isn't already registered, you will need to create an account. You will need to select either a business or a personal driving account, and then apply for a Cleaner Vehicle Discount. It used to be known as the Ultra-Low Emissions Discount – exciting, isn’t it?

You will need to scan your car’s V5C registration document – or just take a picture of the inside page – to prove it is an electric car. 

What if the car isn't mine?

You might be in a hire car that belongs to a leasing company, or you might be driving a borrowed car. In this case you may need to set aside some time for the bureaucracy.

If you’re a tourist from abroad and using your electric car to visit the UK, things are more complicated still.  TfL still requires you to upload an image of your car’s registration document and it must clearly show that the vehicle is registered as fuel type "Battery Electric" or "Hydrogen Fuel Cell". 

Do I have to do this online?

If you’re not totally au fait with electronic stuff, you can send copies by post or email later on. This might actually be easier than trying to use the TfL website too – it does seem to be a little bit unreliable in our experience, so make sure you have a bit of patience…

Once you are done, you pay your £10 with a credit or debit card and await your approval email. You can relax in the knowledge that you won’t need to go through this palaver for another year.

Sounds too good to be true?

Aside from the bureaucracy it is a good deal, but there's some bad news. This system will only be in place until the end of 2025. After that, TfL will be scrapping its annual registration scheme, and introducing access charges for electric cars too.

Until then, make the most of your free pass and enjoy knowing that drivers of petrol and diesel cars are having to fork out £15 per day! 

2013 Nissan Leaf congestion charge sign Sort your paperwork out and you can travel around the London Congestion Charge without a care in the world. Apart from the traffic wardens...

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