Here's what you need to know about the UK's ULEZ scheme

London has suffered illegal levels of air pollution for many years, having been at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and a centre for innovation through the centuries.

The pollution will continue to be a problem if something isn’t done about it, which is why the ULEZ scheme was introduced.

Having launched earlier this year, the ULEZ is London’s so-called world-leading vehicle restriction policy, expected to reduce pollution levels by as much as 45%.

Here's what you need to know about the UK's ULEZ scheme

What is the ULEZ and what does it stand for?

ULEZ is an acronym of Ultra-Low Emission Zone.

Ever since London’s roads became congested with diesel and petrol vehicles, questions have been raised about how to tackle the issue. The ULEZ was introduced as a method of reducing air pollution.

The purpose of Ultra-low Emission Zones is to improve the quality of the air by substantially reducing the number of ‘dirty’ cars on the roads. Scientists and medical professionals believe ULEZ will reduce the number of people suffering from Asthma too.

"In a statement, Dr Sarah Walker of Asthma UK said, “A study part-funded by Asthma UK on the impact of London’s Low-Emission Zone (LEZ) found that after the zone was put in place children had lower levels of these gases in their lungs. Given that the new Ultra-Low Emission Zone will have even stricter standards on exhaust emissions, we are hopeful it will reduce air pollution and help people with asthma stay well.”

How do I check which areas fall under ULEZ?

You can quickly check which areas are caught by ULEZ by using the TfL’s postcode checker.

Using apps like Waze, for example, can help you to work out whether your planned route goes through a ULEZ too. You should be careful though, while Waze and other third-party providers claim to tell you whether you’re crossing through the ULEZ, none are officially endorsed by TfL, who facilitate the scheme.

If you’re not sure, it always makes sense to plan to avoid unnecessary charges if possible.

How much is the ULEZ charge?

If you take a vehicle that doesn’t meet the ULEZ standards into London, you’ll be hit with a charge.

These charges are:

  • £12.50 for cars, smaller vans, motorbikes, and other light vehicles
  • £100.00 for lorries, buses, coaches and other heavier vehicles

You’ll need to pay either up to 90 days in advance or by midnight on the day of the journey.

Is my vehicle affected by ULEZ?

You can quickly check whether or not your vehicle is affected by the ULEZ charges by visiting the TFL website and using their calculator.

All you’ll need to do is enter your number plate or vehicle information, and it’ll tell you whether you’ll need to pay.

Every vehicle that drives in the ultra-low emission zone will need to pay the charges. Unless it meets Euro 6 regulations, the owner of the vehicle will have to pay both the Congestion Zone and ULEZ charges.

Cars that are affected by ULEZ

The ULEZ is generally enforced based on the emissions declared on the vehicle, although a rough rule of thumb is that:

  • Petrol cars registered with the DVLA after 2005 generally meet the ULEZ standards, although specific makes and models have met the standards since 2001.
  • Diesel cars registered with the DVLA after September 2015 generally meet the ULEZ standards.

The rules are slightly different with vans and commercial vehicles though, and details of this can be found on the TfL website.

Vans that are affected by ULEZ

As with cars, vans are generally assessed under ULEZ against the declared emissions of that vehicle, although a general rule of thumb is that:

  • Petrol vans registered with the DVLA from January 2006 meet the Euro 4 Standard.
  • Diesel vans sold after September 2016, generally meet the Euro 6 standard.

You should always double-check to be on the safe side as the rules vary slightly depending on the make and model of the vehicle you use.

What’s the difference between ULEZ and LEZ?

You may hear both ULEZ and LEZ referred to here and there, but there is a clear difference between the two.

The LEZ (Low emission zone) covers most of Greater London, whereas the ULEZ is specific to a small area of Central London. The ULEZ area covers the same area as the well-established Congestion Zones.

Unlike the Congestion Zones, LEZ and ULEZ operate 24/7, 365 days a year. This includes weekends and Bank Holidays.

When did ULEZ start?

While the legislation for ULEZs was introduced in 2017, it came into effect in April 2019.

What is the future of ULEZ?

The next phase, ULEZ 2021, will see the inclusion zone expand into all areas inside the North and South Circular roads, affecting around 640,000 vehicles, roughly 135,000 of which will be liable to be charged.

How do you pay the ULEZ charge?

When it comes to paying the charges, drivers have a variety of options. Paying online is the most straightforward method.

You can also set up an auto-pay account which will charge you automatically every month for any charges that you may incur. TfL has the ‘TfL Pay to Drive in London’ app, to allow for easy payments from a smartphone.

How will ULEZ be policed?

The ULEZ is managed using a network of number-plate scanning cameras. These cameras link up with the DVLA database, which holds details of the emission standards of every vehicle in the UK.

Unfortunately, you won’t know that you’ve been charged until the notice is posted through your letterbox, so it always pays to make sure you plan your journeys accordingly.

Where will ULEZ money go?

The Mayor of London has said that all revenue generated from ULEZ charges will go towards making London’s transport fleet, such as its taxis and buses, more environmentally friendly.

How can I avoid ULEZs?

There are very few people who are exempt from the ULEZ charge. Those registered as ‘disabled’ or using ‘disabled passenger vehicles’ won’t have to pay the ULEZ fee until 2025 at the earliest.

The classic London Black Cab will also be exempt from ULEZ tariffs, although the legislation was introduced to ensure that any vehicle produced after January 2018 has to be Zero Emission Capable. This essentially means that the vehicle has to have the capacity to drive at least 20 miles on electric power alone and produce CO2 emissions no higher than 75g per kilometre.

What impact do ULEZ zones have on the delivery industry?

The Road Haulage Association, whose members include delivery drivers, has said that the ULEZ legislation “simplistic and anti-motorist”.

A significant proportion of professional drivers are self-employed, often relying on their engager to lease a van from their fleet or buying their own. Getting credit as a self-employed person in the UK is notoriously tricky, and the ULEZ means that many professional drivers or carriers are forced to cover the ULEZ costs if their vehicle doesn’t meet the required standards.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has doubled the ‘scrap for cash’ policy. A method of supporting businesses with updating their older vehicles and replacing them with compliant ones.

Which cities have launched or plan to launch a ULEZ in the UK?

London has already demonstrated a reduction in emissions, so it makes sense that other cities in the country plan to follow in its footsteps with their version of ULEZ.

Councils in some of the UK’s biggest cities already have plans to address issues with the harmful emission levels in their city centres.

These include:

  • Birmingham
  • Leeds
  • Nottingham
  • Derby
  • Southampton

After 2020, most of these cities intend to introduce legislation to discourage the use of buses, taxis, coaches and heavy-goods lorries from driving through areas with poor air quality. Manchester is likely to follow soon after.

Unlike London, the new Clean Air Zones proposed by these cities will not affect private car owners and the vehicles that already meet current emissions standards won’t need to pay at all, regardless of their size.

See a complete overview of UK's ULEZ zones below. 

Overview of UK's ULEZs zones


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