As our cities get busier, emissions from vehicles have been creeping up. London is fighting back, working to improve air quality, address health issues and leave a cleaner environment for the capital’s future generations.
To that end, the Mayor of London has introduced the Ultra Low Emission Zone over a large swathe of Central London. It sits alongside the existing Congestion Charge Zone, meaning anybody entering in a chargeable vehicle will be required to pay both the Congestion Charge and the new ULEZ fee.
Is my car compliant?
It’s not an exact marker, but if your car is a diesel-powered model and built before September 2015, then it’s likely you’ll have to pay the fee. Likewise, driving a petrol-powered model built before 2005 is also likely to be chargeable.
It’s all to do with the specific emissions regulations your car meets. Diesels need to meet Euro 6 standard, while petrol driven cars only need to meet Euro 4. However, to confuse matters, some cars met the Euro 4 standards as long ago as 2000.
There are also separate regulations for motorcycles and trucks, while classic car drivers can rejoice; vehicles built before 1979 with historical vehicle tax status are entirely exempt.
The simplest way of finding out if your car will be hit by the ULEZ charge is with your vehicle registration number.
Where & when?
The current ULEZ sits precisely over the Congestion Charge Zone, which means an area of central London that covers just over eight square miles. However, that’s set to change in 2021 when it extends to cover the area within the north and south circular roads.
Unlike the Congestion Charge, the ULEZ fee applies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so any late night runs into the city will still require a credit card.
How much is the charge, and what happens if I don’t pay?
If you’re in a non-compliant car, then you’ll be hit with a £12.50 fee to enter the ULEZ area, whatever time of day you arrive. Time those late night runs carefully though, as that fee applies for each calendar day; arrive at 23:50 and you’ll get just ten minutes before another £12.50 becomes due.
Venture into the centre of London during the week, specifically between 07:00 and 18:00, then the Congestion Charge is also payable, adding an extra £11.50 on top of the ULEZ fee. A short journey into Picaddilly could cost you as much as £24.
Tempted to save some cash and hope you get away with it? With automatic Penalty Charge Notice, or fine, of £160 for not paying the ULEZ fee, you might want to think twice about that. The same penalty charge applies to non-payment of the Congestion Charge too, leaving drivers facing a potential bill of £320 for each day in the zone without payment. Cough up quickly and that charge is reduced by 50%, but it’s still a steep bill.
How can I pay?
Making payment is easy enough, but you only get until midnight the following day to give Transport for London your money. The easiest way to cover payments for both the Congestion Charge and the ULEZ fee is to set up automatic payments at the TfL Auto Pay website. For an annual fee of £10 per vehicle, you’ll never need to remember to pay either charge as it’ll be debited from a card automatically.
Occasional users might be better served with the TfL Pay to drive in London app that’s available at both the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. You’ll be able to check vehicle eligibility here, look at exactly which roads are covered, and make payments for each charge. Online payments can also be made at TfL’s Pay to Drive in London website.
Are there any discounts available?
If you happen to live in the ULEZ zone, you have until 24 October 2021 to either save money to pay the daily fee or switch to a suitably compliant vehicle.
Disabled drivers with a vehicle registered in the 'disabled' or 'disabled passenger vehicles' tax classes will be exempt until 26 October 2025. Importantly, simply having a blue badge does not exempt a vehicle owner from paying the charge.
Can I avoid the fee?
Other than driving a compliant car, not really. Of course, even driving something that’s eligible now is no guarantee for the future as emissions regulations tighten and control becomes stricter.
Ensuring your car meets the latest emission regulations means you’ll escape the clutches of the ULEZ fee. Helpfully, many manufacturers are offering scrappage schemes to those trading in older non-compliant vehicles, with Kia knocking up to £2,500 off selected models, while MG will provide as much as £2,000 towards the newly-revised 3 model. Hyundai extend that to up to £4,000, including £2,500 off the Ioniq Hybrid.
Switching to a zero emission vehicle is the only sure-fire way to avoid increasingly restrictive or expensive ULEZs, either in London or beyond, with a number of more affordable electric cars now available. The Kia e-Niro will escape both the London ULEZ and Congestion Charge, and provide up to 282-miles of emissions free motoring, while Hyundai’s Kona Electric gets a near-identical 279-mile range. MG’s new ZS EV arrives soon, providing a more budget conscious SUV proposition, while a range of Volkswagen, Audi and SEAT electric cars are arriving, covering everything from city cars to luxury SUVs.