Lifestyle Guides

Avoid road tolls and charges


There are 38.9 million vehicles registered for use on UK roads as of September 2019. And according to government statistics, a whopping 740,000 of those were registered for the first time in 2019. 

Governments across the UK and Europe have introduced a number of charges in a bid to encourage motorists to use quieter routes and to help ease congestion. Toll roads and congestion charges are two measures.

What are toll roads?

In short, a toll road is any stretch of road, bridge or motorway you must pay to use. They were first introduced as a way of creating alternative routes in particularly congested areas of the country, so motorists could choose to pay for a quicker way to get to their destination. 

The price you’ll pay depends on the road or crossing, as well as the vehicle you’re driving. Heavy goods vehicles cost more than regular cars. Check GOV.UK for more information on how much your toll will cost. 

The money you hand over is used for the upkeep and maintenance of the road, as well as road improvements. It also helps pay for the construction of new roads.

Where are toll roads in the UK? 

The M6 Toll Road is the UK’s first major toll road and it has been easing traffic in the West Midlands area since 2002.

As well as this, there are numerous toll charges on bridges and A roads across Britain, including: 

  • M25 Dartford Crossing 
  • Humber Bridge 
  • Tyne Tunnels

Do I have to pay with cash at a toll road?

No, you can usually pay with card, cash or with a toll tag. Paying with a tag often means your fare is reduced, but there’s also a monthly payment for hiring one for your vehicle so it’s only worth doing if you’ll use the route regularly.

An exception to this rule is how you pay to use the Dartford Crossing. Instead of paying at the barriers, you must now pay in advance or by midnight the following day. This can be done online, over the phone or by post.

Can I avoid paying at a toll road?

There are two ways to avoid paying toll road charges: 

  1. Find a different route 
  2. Use public transport 

In the case of the M6 Toll, the alternatives are either to use the regular M6 or the nearby A roads. However, as these are all liable to peak time congestion, the choice is often pay up or hold up. 

For other tolls, satnavs include an option to avoid toll roads, which will make it easier to find an alternative route. This can sometimes mean taking a longer route, so you’ll have to decide what’s more important to you in the short term – saving money or saving time. 

What is the congestion charge?

Different to a toll road, a congestion charge is a set daily limit that a commuter must pay when driving in a specific area. Paying the charge allows you to drive in and out of the congestion zone as many times as you need to that day. 

Cameras read your vehicle’s number plate as you enter and exit the congestion zone and checks it against the database to see if you need to pay or not. 

Where are there congestion zones in the UK?

There are two cities with congestion charges in the UK. The best known is in London, where cars pay £11.50 per day. This charge is applicable between 7:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday (although it’s not in operation from 25 December to 1 January). It was first brought in during February 2003. 

When your car is recorded in the congestion zone, it’s checked to see if you need to pay. If you’re exempt or you’ve already paid the charge, the record of your vehicle is cleared from the database. Otherwise, you have until midnight the following charging day to pay. 

The charge is only payable on weekdays. In other words, if you drive in the congestion zone on Wednesday, you must pay by midnight on Thursday, but if you’re driving on Friday, you have until midnight the following Monday to pay.

If you don’t pay in time, you’ll be issued a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) and fined £160. If you pay the fine within 14 days, it’s reduced to £80 but it increases to £280 if you don’t pay within 28 days. 

As well as this, Durham has a Road User Charge Zone on the Durham peninsula. This costs £2.00 per day, and applicable 10:00-16:00, Monday to Saturday (excluding bank holidays). You must pay this in advance or by 18:00 on the day you use the chargeable road. 

How do you pay a congestion charge?

In London, there are two ways to pay. The first is Auto Pay, which is a useful option if you regularly need to pay the congestion charge. It works via Direct Debit, credit or debit card, and cuts the daily congestion charge by up to £1. 

You also have the option to pay online either in advance or by midnight the following day. 

In Durham, you can pay in person at the Parking Shop or call them on 0191 384 6633.

Are there any exemptions to the congestion charge?

London has a number of exemptions and reductions to the congestion charge. For example, anyone living in the congestion charge zone qualifies for a 90% discount.

Cleaner vehicle discount (formerly the Ultra Low Emissions Discount (ULED))

To qualify for a 100% cleaner vehicle discount, your vehicle must:

  1. Meet Euro 6 standards
  2. Emit no more than 75g/km of CO2
  3. Have a zero emission range of at least 20 miles

From 25 October 2021, only battery electric vehicles will be eligible for the cleaner vehicle discount. The cleaner vehicle discount will be discontinued from 25 December 2025 meaning all vehicle owners will need to pay to enter the Congestion Charge zone during charging hours.

Blue Badge Holders

Blue Badge holders in the European Economic Area can register for a 100% discount even if they don't own a vehicle or drive. 

You can register up to two vehicles that you’d normally use to travel within the Congestion Charge zone – this could be your own vehicle or one you travel in. 

Great car insurance options for the whole family