Driving in London isn’t exactly a stress-free experience to start with, but on top of the traffic there are also fees associated with driving in the city that you need to be aware of.
The London Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) and the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) are two separate areas where fees apply to most vehicles travelling in the city. Confusingly, they also operate at different times of day, and different days of the week. You may have to pay either one or both of these charges when you drive into certain areas of London.
The ULEZ currently covers the area inside the North Circular (A406) and South Circular (A205) roads. A separate Low Emission Zone (LEZ) expands out to Greater London. ULEZ charges apply all day, every day, apart from Christmas Day (25th December).
The ULEZ is charged at a standard daily fee of £12.50, which you have to pay each day that you travel in the zone. It’s important to note, the day runs from midnight to midnight so if you are travelling late at night you might have to pay for two days.
- What is the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)?
- What are the rules now and what will they be in 2023?
- What vehicles have to pay ULEZ?
- How do I know if my car is ULEZ-compliant?
- How to pay ULEZ charges
- Do I have to pay ULEZ on top of Congestion Charge?
- Will I be fined for not paying ULEZ?
- Will any vehicles be banned under new ULEZ guidance?
- ULEZ discounts and exemptions
- What other cities in the UK have LEZ/ULEZ schemes?
What is London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)?
The Ultra Low Emission Zone is a government initiative introduced in 2019 to reduce emissions and harmful pollutants in the capital. To improve air quality, the initiative charges those with heavily polluting vehicles to travel into and with London.
When it first launched in 2019, the ULEZ covered the same area as the congestion charge zone. It expanded out in 2021 to its current size, covering everywhere inside (but not including) the North Circular and South Circular roads.
The ULEZ is expanding in 2023 to cover the entire area currently covered by the LEZ, which includes all of Greater London. This covers most of the area inside the M25 orbital motorway.
What are the ULEZ rules and what will they be in 2023?
The ULEZ applies to all vehicles travelling within the designated zone, with any charges depending on their emissions ratings. In comparison, LEZ charges only apply to commercial vehicles. When the ULEZ expands in 2023 this will affect all vehicles in all of Greater London.
If you live within the ULEZ, you have to pay the daily charge to drive any vehicle that does not comply with the emissions standards set out by the scheme (see below), even if you’re just popping down to the shops.
If your vehicle is parked in the ULEZ zone, you will not be charged if the car doesn’t move within that chargeable day.
What vehicles have to pay ULEZ?
Vehicles liable for the ULEZ charge are deemed to be too polluting and don’t meet current or EU emissions regulations (which are still used by the UK post-Brexit). The minimum requirements to avoid fees in the ULEZ are as follows:
- Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles
- Euro 4 for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles
- Euro 6 for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles
Euro 6 became standard in the UK for all new cars registered from September 2015 onwards. There are many cars that were registered before this date that also comply with Euro 6 standards, but any diesel cars registered after September 2015 will be exempt from ULEZ charges.
Euro 4 was introduced some 16 years ago back in 2006, so most petrol cars will be compliant as the average life span for cars in the UK is 14 years. Cars made before Euro 4 standards have to pay the ULEZ charge as they are more likely to be bigger polluters – the rules are baed on the overall legal standards rather than specific emissions levels of individual vehicles.
Euro 3 for motorcycles (styled as Euro III to distinguish them from cars) came into effect in 2006, so again most motorcyles and scooters will be compliant and therefore won’t need to pay the charge.
The daily charge for all vehicles that do not meet the above emissions standards is £12.50. This is payable by midnight on the third day after travel.
In summary, if you have a petrol car first registered before 2006 or a diesel car first registered before September 2015, you will probably have to pay the ULEZ charge. If you have a petrol car registered in 2006 or later, or a diesel car registered in September 2015 or later (65-plate or later), you won’t have to pay the ULEZ charge.
How do I know if my car or bike is ULEZ-compliant?
Log on to Transport for London’s ‘Check Your Vehicle’ web page and you will be asked for your number plate. The system will then tell you whether your vehicle meets the ULEZ standards.
If your vehicle is compliant, there is nothing else you need to do (although you may still need to pay the congestion charge). If your vehicle does not comply, you can then click through to the ULEZ payment section.
How to pay ULEZ charges
ULEZ fees are mainly paid online now, but you can still pay via post if you prefer.
To pay online, log onto the ‘Pay to drive in London’ Transport for London website then enter your number plate and day of travel. After confirming that you definitely do need to pay the ULEZ charge, the system will proceed to the payment section.
If you regularly travel in the ULEZ and your car does not meet the requirements, you can set up automatic payments. This means every time you travel into the ULEZ, you will be automatically charged as long as the number plate of the vehicle you are driving matches the number plate you registered.
An annual £10 fee is charged to register each car for automatic payments. There’s also fleet auto pay for businesses that have more than five vehicles that will be travelling in central London. Again, this will charge automatically for the vehicles that have been registered.
Do I have to pay ULEZ on top of Congestion Charge?
Whilst the payments are processed on the same gov.uk portal, the ULEZ and congestion charge are separate fees with separate rules. If your vehicle is not ULEZ exempt, this needs to be paid in addition to congestion charge.
Will I be fined for not paying ULEZ?
ULEZ charges have to be paid by midnight on the third day after travel. If you fail to pay on time, pay for the wrong vehicle or incorrect day of travel, you will be fined if your vehicle is not exempt.
The fine is £160, but is reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days. As the zone operates from midnight to midnight you could be sent two separate fines for two days if you travelled around this time of night.
Will any vehicles be banned under new ULEZ guidance?
Current rules and the proposals for the 2023 expansion of ULEZ do not ban any vehicles from driving in the zone.
It is inevitable that the emissions thresholds for ULEZ will change over time (eg – the Euro 4 minimum requirement for petrol cars will eventually change to Euro 5), but so far there have been no announcements.
ULEZ discounts and exemptions
If Blue Badge holders travel in a vehicle that is registered in the ‘disabled’ or ‘disabled passenger vehicle’ tax class they do not have to pay ULEZ charges. This exemption is currently valid until October 2025, after which, vehicles in these tax classes that do not meet ULEZ emission standards will be required to pay the daily charge. If the vehicle is registered in these tax classes there is no requirement to register the vehicle on the government website to qualify for ULEZ exemption.
Not-for-profit organisations can benefit from a 100% discount until October 2023 by registering on the government website. This applies to vehicles like minibuses that are used for community transport. After October 2023 vehicles will be required to meet emissions standards or pay the daily ULEZ charge.
Taxis licensed in London are exempt from ULEZ but have a 15 year age limit. All new taxis must be Zero Emission Capable (ZEC).
Vehicles that benefit from ‘historic vehicle’ tax, cars that are over 40 years old, are exempt from ULEZ charges. However, this excludes classic vehicles that are used commercially.
What other cities in the UK have LEZ/ULEZ schemes?
Elsewhere in the UK there are Clean Air Zones (CAZ) that have similar rules to the LEZ and ULEZ. Cities with CAZs are as follows:
- Bristol (charging starts on 28 November 2022)
- Greater Manchester (under review)
- Sheffield (charging starts in early 2023)
- Tyneside – Newcastle and Gateshead (charging starts in winter: late 2022 to early 2023)
Not all cities listed currently apply to passenger cars, some operate mainly to reduce emissions from commercial vehicles and buses. However, more cities are introducing similar schemes. Glasgow also has a LEZ scheme that will include passenger cars from 2023. Oxford is currently running a Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) pilot scheme for all vehicles that operates from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.