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What Do You Need to Know about ULEZ?

London is one of the most polluted cities in Europe. It has the third-worst air quality after Paris and Moscow, according to one study by the Wuppertal Institute. It is no surprise that the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, decided to take action when he introduced a radical plan to lower those numbers. But what is ULEZ and why could it soon be part of everyday life for most Londoners?

ULEZ stands for "Ultra Low Emission Zone", and it is a radical and far-reaching policy. Its designers expect the polluter to pay for their action and, in theory, anticipate that it will drive older and less efficient vehicles off the road.

Transport for London introduced the scheme in April 2019 in a narrow area of central London. Affected motorists now have to pay a daily charge to drive within the zone, should their vehicle not meet stringent ULEZ emission standards.

The authority plans to expand the zone to encompass a much larger area, bordered by the North Circular Road (A406) and the South Circular Road (A205). These changes will come into effect on October 25, 2021, and according to the AA, could force an additional 350,000 motorists to take action.

What Vehicles Are Affected?

  • diesel-engined cars and vans that do not meet Euro 6 Standards

  • buses and lorries that do not meet Euro VI Standards

  • petrol-engined cars and vans that do not meet Euro 4 standards

  • motorbikes that do not meet Euro 3 standards

If you have such a vehicle and drive it into the zone, you will need to pay the charge. This applies 24 hours per day, seven days per week (except for Christmas Day).

What Are These Euro Standards?

The European Union introduced stringent pollution standards as early as 1992. There are six different categories, and owners will need to comply based on their vehicle's year of manufacture.

The latest standard (6) calls for a significant reduction in oxides of nitrogen (NOx). The standard mainly affects diesel engines, features exhaust gas recirculation and other techniques. On some vehicles, a special additive is injected into the exhaust to convert toxic NOx into water and nitrogen.

What Cars Are Exempt?

Broadly speaking, most petrol-engined vehicles registered before 2005, and most diesel-engined vehicles registered before 2015 are affected. Drivers with vehicles registered after those respective dates should be exempt, but others may also be able to avoid the charge.

If your car is registered in the historic tax class or is more than 40 years ago, then it could be ULEZ-exempt, despite not meeting the emission standards. Vehicles that have a disabled driver or passenger and are within the appropriate tax class may also be exempt.

While electric cars are entirely exempt, hybrid vehicles do not receive any special treatment. They must still comply with the relevant Euro standard.

Using the ULEZ Checker

TfL has a handy tool to check if the programme covers a vehicle. You can enter your registration mark and country of registration here.

Where Is the ULEZ Zone?

Transport for London has a postcode checking tool. You can use this tool to find out if you will be driving within the zone by entering the postcode or searching a map.

The first zone covers a small area of central London, loosely between Tower Hamlets, Camden, the City of Westminster and Southwark. Regulators will expand this zone to cover the area within the North and South Circular Roads in October 2021.

Congestion Charge and ULEZ -What is the Difference?

The government introduced the Congestion Charge in 2003 to reduce congestion and traffic volumes in central London. This charge comes into effect between 7 AM and 10 PM every day, except Christmas Day. The Ultra Low Emission Zone currently affects the same area as the Congestion Charging Zone, and you may need to pay both charges if you enter the zone during affected times. Remember, ULEZ is due 24/7.

How Do You Pay?

The price to enter is:

  • £12.50 for cars, small vans, and motorbikes.

  • £100 for lorries and buses.

You will have to pay the charge no later than midnight on the third day after your journey, or you will risk getting a penalty charge notice. You can register for Auto Pay which will automatically bill you each month for any ULEZ charges and Congestion Charges. Alternatively, you can pay online or by using the app provided by Transport for London. If you do not have access online, you can also settle by phone.

Are There Any Incentives?

If you are on a low income, you may be able to apply to the government for some support. If you receive working tax credit, any universal credit or other benefits you can apply for a grant of up to £2,000, to help you replace your car. To be eligible, you will need to live within one of the 32 London boroughs affected.

How Is ULEZ Enforced?

TfL has a network of enforcement cameras in place and is in the process of expanding. These cameras will use number plate recognition to check whether the driver has paid the daily charge. If not, regulators will assess a fine. The standard fine is £160, which they will cut in half if the driver pays the bill within 14 days.

Has the Programme Been Successful So Far?

Within six months of its introduction, nitrogen dioxide levels within central London had fallen by 36%, according to TfL reports. By some estimates, there were more than 13,500 fewer polluting vehicles within the centre each day. Further, 77% of all the vehicles within the zone on any given day do meet the latest ULEZ emission standards.

In Summary

If you live in London, you should prepare for the expansion of the ULEZ programme. The government would prefer that you upgrade your car so that it complies with the relevant Euro Standard and will therefore be exempt. Alternatively, you may need to budget for those daily journeys within the expanded zone.