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Ultra Low Emission Zone: What does ULEZ mean for motorists?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone is being expanded beyond central London to cover much of the capital.

An Ultra Low Emission Zone sign in London

What does ULEZ mean?

Transport for London (TfL) introduced the Ultra Low Emission Zone in April 2019 to encourage people to use greener methods of transport in the capital. From October 25th 2021 it will be expanded to cover inner London. The new ULEZ zone will be roughly within the boundary of the North and South Orbital roads.

This means that if you drive a car with high levels of emissions, you’ll face an extra charge to enter the designated area.

Since the announcement, motorists have been left confused as to why the charge has been introduced on top of the congestion charge.


What is the ULEZ?

According to Transport for London, road transport is the biggest source of harmful emissions.

The most damaging pollutants are generated by road transport in central London, where the congestion zone operates.

TfL believes that the charge will reduce the number of cars that cause pollution in the capital and improve air quality for its residents.

It estimates that around 40,000 vehicles will be affected every day, as they don’t meet the new emissions standards.


Is my car ULEZ compliant?

If your vehicle doesn’t meet the low emissions standards you’ll be charged £12.50 to enter the ULEZ. Heavier vehicles, including lorries over 3.5 tonnes, will be charged £100.

TfL has an online checker that you can use to see if you need to pay to drive your vehicle in the ULEZ. At a glance, the main vehicles that’ll be affected are:

  • All motorbikes, including mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category) that don’t meet Euro 3 emissions standards
  • Euro 4 petrol cars and vans
  • Euro 6 diesel cars and vans
  • All heavy vehicles, for example lorries, buses, or coaches that don’t meet Euro 6 emissions standards

You can also check where the zone operates using TfL’s postcode tool.


What happens if my vehicle doesn’t meet the emissions standards for the ULEZ?

Unlike the congestion charge, the ULEZ charge applies  24 hours a day, seven days a week except for Christmas Day.

The charge runs from midnight to midnight. If you decide to drive in the ULEZ area before midnight and then again after midnight, you’ll have to pay the charge twice. This is on top of the regular congestion charge.

If you fail to pay the charge, you’ll have to pay a penalty of £160. It’ll be reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days though.

If you’re a resident in the congestion charge area, you’ll get a 100% ULEZ discount until the 24th of October 2021. A full list of discounts and exemptions can be found on the TfL website.

TFL has also put measures in place to accommodate drivers who are looking into alternative ways of travel. Some of these include a bus fare freeze and encouraging cycling or walking.


What is the ULEZ scrappage scheme?

The idea behind ULEZ is to encourage more environmentally friendly forms of transport. And with the scheme expanding, more Londoners may be considering upgrading to a less polluting car.

The ULEZ scrappage scheme offers Londoners receiving certain benefits the opportunity to claim a grant of up to £1,000 for scrapping an older, polluting motorbike or moped. For cars the grant will be up to £2,000. Payments can be used to buy a vehicle that is ULEZ exempt.

One of the options open to motorists are electric cars

Insurers are also offering specialist electric car insurance policies for EV models. However, you don't strictly need a specialist insurance policy for an electric car. Most car insurance policies should cover a car regardless of its fuel or energy type. 

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How do I pay for the ULEZ?

There’s a variety of ways you can pay the ULEZ, including:

  • Auto pay – Auto pay and Fleet Auto Pay take payment for the ULEZ automatically. Fleet Auto Pay is useful for business owners as you can register more than five vehicles within the charging zone. You’ll also receive a reduced daily charge for using this service.
  • Pay manually – Pay online on the TfL website.
  • By phone - You can call 03432 222 222 (TfL call charges apply) and make the payment over the phone.
  • By app – The TfL Pay to drive in London app helps you to pay your congestion charge, ULEZ and Low emission zone charge. You can pay any penalties through the app too. 


ULEZ future and expansion

There are no plans as yet to expand ULEZ any further in London but Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones are being rolled out in other cities in the UK.

Bath currently has a Clean Air Zone where vehicles including buses, taxis, HGVs and minibuses need to pay a charge to enter. Birmingham has a Clean Air Zone that also charges cars. Portsmouth is expected to introduce a Clean Air Zone in late 2021

As ULEZ expands and more cities start up similar low emission zones, is now the time to ditch your diesel car?  Read more about the pros, cons and future of diesel vehicles.