In 2019, London became the first city in the world to establish a dedicated Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) for vehicles. It was a scheme announced in 2015 by then-London Mayor Boris Johnson.
In October 2021, significant changes to the system were introduced including a large expansion of the zone and an end to residents’ exemptions.
On August 29, 2023, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, expanded the Ulez to cover the whole of Greater London.
What is a Ulez?
A Ulez is an “ultra-low emission zone”. Drivers entering the area are charged for doing so if their vehicle does not meet certain emissions standards.
How much is the London Ulez charge?
Drivers pay a £12.50 charge (or £100 for lorries, buses and coaches) per day for entering the London Ulez if their vehicle doesn’t meet the emissions standards. That’s on top of the £15 Congestion Charge for the very centre of London, which currently applies to most cars, so many motorists could have to pay £27.50 per day passing through that zone.
Why was the Ulez introduced?
The Ulez is designed to encourage people to drive less-polluting cars or use other methods of transport, such as walking, cycling or taking public transport. This was expected to substantially improve the air quality in the area.
A report four months after its introduction found that around 13,500 fewer polluting cars were being driven into central London every day, compared with six months earlier. This equated to a decrease of around 36% in levels of roadside nitrogen oxides, which are harmful to health.
Air pollution causes seven million deaths a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the Royal College of Physicians concluded that traffic fumes are contributing to the early deaths of an estimated 40,000 people in the UK.
In December 2020, a coroner ruled that air pollution made a “material contribution” to the death of nine-year old Ella Kissi-Debrah — it was a landmark ruling that for the first time listed air pollution as a cause of death.
A report by Imperial College London commissioned by the mayor’s office found that in 2019 the equivalent of between 3,600 and 4,100 deaths in Greater London were estimated as being attributable to air pollution, and that the adoption of more stringent measures such as an expanded Ulez would increase the life-expectancy of a child born in 2013 by around six months.
Expanding the Ulez London-wide will bring cleaner air to five million more Londoners, according to the mayor. It’s also estimated that the expansion will result in a reduction of NOx emissions from cars in outer London of nearly 10%, as well as a nearly 16% reduction in PM2.5 particulate emissions, leading to a 1.5% overall reduction in PM2.5 emissions London-wide.
However, statistics from the Mayor’s Office have been the subject of much scrutiny, partly due to what has been described as a close relationship between it and Imperial College’s environmental research group, which published the 3,600-4,100 deaths figures. A thorough investigation by The Times highlighted more concerns, though concluded people with lung conditions and poor health would ultimately benefit from the Ulez and its expansion regardless. Khan told the newspaper he would be on the right side of history.
How many cars are affected?
When the Ulez came into force on April 8, 2019, it was estimated by the London Assembly that up to 60,000 vehicles per day would face the charge. The expanded zone from August 2023 means that 160,000 cars will be affected initially, according to the Mayor’s Office, with Khan expecting that to drop to 46,000 as owners switch to less polluting cars.
However, the RAC obtained figures from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) suggesting that nearly 700,000 cars registered in Greater London are non-compliant, equating to 25 per cent. A further 160,000 vans and lorries do not meet the standard.
This caused many affected to worry that they could not afford to replace their non-compliant cars with new ones, however it’s worth noting that electric vehicles and brand new models are not necessary – there are affordable petrol and diesel models that comply (see below).
Is my car exempt from Ulez?
Drivers of older, more polluting petrol and diesel cars are affected but you don’t need a zero emission electric car or even a hybrid in order to escape the charge.
Petrol cars with engines that are compliant with Euro 4 emissions regulations, which were introduced in 2006, avoid the Ulez charge.
Diesel-powered cars will only be exempt if the engine complies with the Euro 6 vehicle emission rules, which came into force much more recently, in September 2015; if your diesel car is older than that, it’s possible it will be subject to the Ulez charge.
However, some cars complied with these emissions standards prior to the rules being enforced, which means some older cars may still escape the charge. To be sure, visit the online Ulez checker from Transport for London and enter your number plate.
Do any other types of vehicle escape the Ulez charge?
Though Transport for London “would prefer you use a vehicle that meets the new emissions standards” as outlined above, some older, more polluting cars are also exempt from the Ulez charges under very specific circumstances.
Drivers of cars more than 40 years old can apply for an exemption from the Ulez. It’s a rolling exemption, so in 2023 vehicles built before 1983 are eligible to apply for historic vehicle tax class.
This does not apply to commercial use vehicles such as food trucks. All vehicles built prior to January 1, 1973 (including food trucks and other commercials) can, however, receive an exemption.
Other exemptions are also made for types of vehicle used for specialist purposes such as agriculture or the military.
No taxis registered for use in London will be hit by the Ulez penalty. In order to be licensed as a London taxi, the vehicle can’t be more than 15 years old, and all new licensed cabs “must be capable of producing zero emissions”. A new plug-in black cab went on sale in 2017— read our LEVC TX review here.
Do residents have to pay the Ulez charge?
Prior to October 25, 2021, people who live inside the Ulez did not have to pay to drive non-Ulez-compliant vehicles within the zone, though they now must pay a full fee to do so. This does not apply if the vehicle remains parked for the day.
“Designated wheelchair-accessible private hire vehicles” will also be exempt from the Ulez penalties until October 26, 2025.
Is there an exemption for disabled drivers?
With the expansion of the zone, disabled Londoners and community transport providers whose vehicles are registered with the DVLA as having disabled or disabled passenger vehicle tax class have an extended grace period which exempts them from paying the Ulez charge until October 24, 2027. This is valid as long as their vehicle doesn’t change tax class.
Drivers over the state pension age can apply for the extended grace period even if their vehicle if not registered with the DVLA as being for disabled drivers, though they must be in receipt of Attendance Allowance AND hold a Blue Badge.
Can I make my car Ulez compliant?
It may be possible to retrofit your non-compliant car or van to meet the requirements, either by changing the engine or upgrading the exhaust, but the cost of doing so and then re-certifying your car so that it is recognised as compliant by the DVLA is unlikely to make it worthwhile.
The best options if you need to travel into the Ulez are to go by other means (cycling, public transport, taxi, etc.) or sell the car and buy one that is compliant (you don’t have to buy new, remember — you just need to buy a car that meets the emissions standards).
It may be possible to part exchange your old car or scrap it via a dealer, and with the expansion of the zone the London Mayor also announced a £110 million scrappage scheme, which he said will help Londoners “on lower incomes, disabled Londoners, micro businesses and charities to scrap or retrofit their non-compliant vehicles in exchange for a grant or free annual bus and tram passes.”
Is there a Ulez scrappage scheme?
With the Ulez expansion, Sadiq Khan announced an improved scrappage scheme to help residents switch to compliant cars.
Up to £2,000 for a car or £1,000 for a motorcycle is available.
In the case of wheelchair-accessible vehicles there is a £10,000 scrappage payment or £6,000 to retrofit the vehicle to bring it up to Ulez standards. There is also the option to accept a lower payment and receive one or two adult-rate annual bus and tram passes.
It’s not only cars that can avail of the scrappage scheme. Businesses and sole traders can claim £7,000 for each non-compliant van taken off the road, up to a total of three vehicles.
Charities can apply to receive £9,000 for minibuses, again, up to three vehicles.
The cost of the scrappage scheme is estimated at £160 million and will be paid from City Hall’s reserves.
You can find out more about the online scrappage application here on the Transport for London website.
The best way to check whether or not your vehicle is exempt from the Ulez charge is to enter its registration number (number plate) into the Ulez vehicle checker at the Transport for London website.
How big is the London Ulez?
In October 2021, the Ulez expanded to cover all areas within the North and South Circular roads. Previously, the Ulez had covered the same area as the London Congestion Charge. However, the Ulez is to be expanded again from August 2023.
Ulez expansion in 2023
In November 2022, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan confirmed that the Ulez would be expanded, saying that “around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs,” adding, “That’s why this expansion is so important — we need to clean the air for everyone.” The health benefits and related statistics have been subject to much scrutiny.
The new Ulez area matches the old Low Emission Zone, stretching as far as the M25 in places.
Residents just outside the zone may find that regular journeys involve travelling into the expanded zone. Areas such as Bromley, Croydon, Dagenham, Romford, Enfield, Twickenham and Kingston upon Thames all fall within the proposed expanded Ulez from 2023.
Popular attractions such as Hampton Court Palace and Chessington World of Adventures also sit inside the expanded zone, meaning that visitors arriving by car could be liable for the Ulez fee.
Travelling into the expanded Ulez with a vehicle that doesn’t meet the standards would mean incurring the £12.50 daily charge, including for residents.
Some residents and councils have reacted angrily to the news of the expansion, though there’s no sign at present that the plan will be dropped or delayed.
On what days and between what hours does Ulez operate?
Unlike the London Congestion Charge, which is in force between 7am and 10pm, seven days a week, the Ulez operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only exception for both the CC and Ulez is Christmas Day.
This £12.50 fee daily rate resets at midnight, so if you enter at 11.59pm and exit two minutes later, you’ll be charged for two days (£25).
What’s the penalty for not paying the Ulez charge?
If your car isn’t exempt and you don’t pay your ultra-low emissions zone charge on time, you will be subject to a £160 penalty. This will be halved to £80 if you pay for the fine within 14 days.
Is the Congestion Charge zone also expanding?
There was speculation in October 2020 that the Congestion Charge zone, which currently covers an area in central London, would be hugely expanded in order to recover money that Transport for London lost during the coronavirus pandemic.
Government Ministers, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, had proposed expanding the £15 per day charge to the North and South Circular roads, which would have affected around four million Londoners.
However, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that he had “succeeded in killing off” the proposal. As part of the agreement made with central government, though, London will need to raise extra money in future years, meaning that the temporary changes that were made to the congestion charge in June 2021 (raising the price to £15 per day and expanding hours to 10pm) are likely to be made permanent.
- If you found our guide to the London ULEZ helpful, read about how sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030
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