Pollution levels have risen across London over the years, and successive governments have introduced programmes to try and tackle the problem. The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is the latest attempt, presented by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan in 2019. Initially, the scheme was confined to central London but is due to expand considerably and affect many more motorists. If you intend to drive your vehicle within the zone area, how will you pay your ULEZ charge and what other information do you need to know?
What Is ULEZ?
If you drive a specific type of vehicle that the government classifies as a "polluter," you have to pay a fee to access certain areas. While modern, petrol-engined vans and cars should be exempt due to their onboard technology, most diesel-engined versions are not. The vehicle will need to comply with Euro standards, and you can check to see if your particular van, car, motorbike, lorry or bus is involved here.
What Happens to the ULEZ Zone in 2021?
Until October 25, 2021, the ULEZ Zone covers central London in an area that is broadly between the city of Westminster, Camden, Tower Hamlets and Southwark. The Congestion Charge Zone also covers this area, but this is an entirely different fee.
After October 25, 2021, the regulators will expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone to cover the entire area bounded by the North Circular and South Circular Roads. This change means that it will affect tens of thousands of additional motorists, who will have to pay a daily fee whenever they drive their vehicle in this area.
If you only drive your car in these areas overnight and have, consequently, avoided the Congestion Charge before, you may be disappointed. The ULEZ charge applies 24 hours per day and seven days per week throughout its entire coverage area.
How Much is it to Pay the ULEZ Charge?
Drivers of cars, motorbikes and small vans must pay £12.50 per day, while operators of larger vehicles, buses, coaches and lorries will have to pay £100 per day for the privilege of driving within the ULEZ zone.
Is My Vehicle Exempt?
Any vehicle that meets the latest, rigorous emissions standard will be exempt from the charge and for many, this will be a great incentive to upgrade.
Certain historic vehicles may be exempt, but it will need to be more than 40 years old and be taxed within the historic class to be eligible.
Disabled drivers and passengers may also get a reprieve. If your car qualifies for a tax break here, then you will be exempt until October 2025.
Private hire vehicles will be exempt if modified for wheelchair access, subject to certain conditions. Those that the government designates as wheelchair accessible and that carry out private hire bookings fall into this category. They'll only be exempt when they carry out a booking for a PHV operator licensed by Transport for London, however. The vehicle may also need to be within the disabled or disabled passenger vehicle tax class. Note that this category is affected by the sunset clause, and the exemption will expire altogether on October 26 2025.
How Do You Pay the ULEZ Charge?
You can pay for the privilege of driving in this area in advance or no later than midnight, three days after the journey. If you choose, you can pay up to 90 days in advance.
You may choose to pay online by visiting the ULEZ charge page. You need to create an account first but can also pay the central London Congestion Charge here. The system will identify your vehicle by its number plate.
If you intend to travel a lot and want to make life easier, enrol in Auto Pay. This will automatically bill your account for the number of charging days within the ULEZ Zone (and Congestion Charge area as well, if applicable). You will need to set up a direct debit or link your account to a card of some type. TfL will charge you £10 per year for the privilege of using this approach.
TfL also has an app, and once you have downloaded it, you will be able to set up Auto Pay. You can check to see if a particular postcode is in a charging zone, pay any penalties or view any outstanding balance.
If you do not have access online or choose to use the old-fashioned method, you can call TfL on 0343 222 2222, between 8 AM and 8 PM, Monday through Friday.
Are There Any Resident Discounts?
Some residents were eligible for a Congestion Charge discount. TfL did offer them an additional ULEZ exemption, designed to give them time to upgrade their vehicle. This program has been closed to new applicants, however, and will go away entirely when the programme expands in October 2021.
What about Alterations or Refunds?
amend the start date of the charge, or change the details of the vehicle. You'll have to pay £2.50 to do so,
request a refund against annual or monthly bills, so long as you do so before the charging start date,
request a full refund or a partial amount for any unused days in the future.
You need to provide your number plate and the receipt number and will need to pay a £10 administrative charge as a flat fee.
If you are too ill to travel on board public transport, you may be able to claim back any charge incurred by driving in the zone on your way to an appointment. You need to claim this back through your local NHS hospital.
Beware the ULEZ Penalty
A network of cameras is on the lookout for dodgers. Expect to pay a penalty of £160 if you receive a notice, but this can be reduced to £80 if paid quickly.
Tens of thousands of people will have to account for additional fees when they drive within London. Many people will view this as a clear incentive to upgrade their vehicle to one that complies with the latest Euro standards. However, many others will need to pay the ULEZ charge instead to avoid any costly fines per occurrence.