What is the London ULEZ charge?

Here are full details of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone London (or ULEZ) – find out if you’re affected and how to avoid it

BuyaCar team
Apr 28, 2021

Authorities in London introduced an area that they call the Ultra Low Emission Zone in the central city area – initially covering the same area as the otherwise unrelated Congestion Charge on 8 April 2019. The result is that many drivers of diesel cars and vans will incur a daily charge of £12.50 for driving in the centre of the capital.

The system is enforced by cameras, and the charge applies 24 hours a day, seven days a week within the existing Congestion Zone. The aim is to improve air quality in the city centre. From late October in 2021, the area increases to include the area within the North Circular and South Circular roads.

Some older petrol cars will be affected, but the biggest impact will be for owners of diesel cars and vans that don’t meet the latest Euro 6 emissions standards.

Euro 6 is mandatory for new cars sold since September 2015, but most of the 9.5 million diesel cars on the road before that date will be liable for the charge, along with most pre-September 2016 diesel vans.

ULEZ quick facts

  • Zone coverage area increased from October 2021
  • Imposes a daily £12.50 charge on non-compliant cars
  • Operates 24/7
  • Charges apply to most non-Euro 6 diesel cars
  • Most petrol cars are unaffected
  • Payment can be made online or via telephone.

During the first six months of the ULEZ coming into force, it was found that some 13,500 fewer cars had entered the zone, which is estimated to have amounted to a drop of around 29% in NOx emissions (the harmful ones) in London city centre.

Newer diesel models will be among the ULEZ-exempt cars, while petrol cars and vans, which have historically been cleaner, are unlikely to be affected unless they were registered before 2006.

The ULEZ toll is an addition to the Congestion Charge, meaning that a trip to London could cost £27.50 if you have to pay both. The central zone is due to expand in two years when it will apply across virtually all of the London area within the North and South Circular roads.

Read on for full details of how the charge works, where it operates, how it affects residents, and who is exempt. We’ll also explain how to avoid paying.

London's ULEZ map

The London ULEZ operates in the centre of the capital, in the same zone that’s used for the congestion charge. This runs from Victoria and Hyde Park in the west to Tower Bridge in the east, and from Euston Road in the north to Elephant & Castle in the south.

It expands to become ten times the size in 2021, when hundreds of thousands of vehicles driving within the North Circular and South Circular roads could be liable for charges.

Other cities, including Birmingham, are planning to follow London and establish low emission or clean air zones. Many of these will include pollution charges for older vehicles or ban them entirely from driving in city centres.

Further into the future, London is planning a smaller zero emission zone from 2025, which will be restricted to electric vehicles, as well as hybrids that can drive on battery power alone for a significant distance. A zero emission zone across all of London is not proposed until 2050.

How much is the ULEZ charge?

Vehicle typeMin. emission standardULEZ Charge if below emission standard
MotorbikesEuro 3* (all bikes registered since Jul 2007)£12.50
Cars & small vansPetrol Euro 4 (since Jan 2006)
Diesel Euro 6 (since Sept 2015)
£12.50
VansPetrol Euro 4 (since Jan 2007)
Diesel Euro 6 (since Sept 2016)
£12.50
Lorries & coachesEuro VI (since Jan 2014)£100

 

Central London residents who are already registered for the Congestion Zone discount will not have to pay ULEZ charges until October 2021. If your car doesn't meet the less-stringent T-Charge regulations, and you benefit from a resident’s 90% discount, you'll have to continue paying the £1 per day charge.

Any car that meets or exceeds the emissions standard is exempt from the charge, so drivers won't need to pay to enter the zone. Some types of car, such as classic vehicles, are also exempt. You can see more information below.

TfL ULEZ vehicle check

The emissions rating of your car can normally be found on its V5 registration document. There's also an online vehicle checker, run by Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for the zone.

You just need to enter your vehicle's number plate to see if your car is exempt. Click here to go to the site.

2021 ULEZ extension

The ULEZ area expands more than tenfold from 21 October 2021, covering virtually all of the capital within the North and South Circular roads. An area that's home to some four million people.

When will the ULEZ operate?

The ULEZ operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is run by Transport for London (TfL), the capital's transport authority.

Can you drive diesel cars in London?

All of Britain's 12.9 million diesel cars are allowed to be driven in London. Around 9.5 million of them don't meet the latest Euro 6 emissions standards, so they will incur the £12.50 daily ULEZ charge if they are driven in the zone.

London is looking to introduce a zero-emission zone in 2025. It's likely that diesel cars will not be able to drive in this area if it goes ahead.  

Is my car affected by the ULEZ charge?

Petrol cars

If your petrol car was registered prior to 2006, then you’re probably going to be affected by the ULEZ, but it shouldn’t be expensive to find a younger car that does meet the required Euro 4 standard for petrol cars.

Diesel cars

Diesel cars must meet much tougher standards than petrol models because they have historically produced higher levels of toxic exhaust gases, which have been linked to respiratory problems and early deaths.

Only models that meet the latest Euro 6 emissions limits are exempt. New cars have had to comply since September 2015, so most vehicles over four years old will be liable for the charge. That said, several cars met the standards as early as 2012. You can check your car's Euro emissions standard on its V5C registration document.

Many drivers with affected cars are switching to petrol engines or upgrading to a newer diesel model. Electric cars are completely exempt from the ULEZ charge.

Hybrid cars

Most hybrid cars don't receive special treatment. Diesel versions must meet Euro 6 emissions standards and petrol ones must be Euro 4-compliant.

Electric cars

Electric cars are not subject to ULEZ charges.

Vans

Most vans are powered by diesel and most are affected by the ULEZ charge because diesel vans must be Euro 6-compliant to avoid paying. New vans only needed to meet Euro 6 emissions standards from September 2016, so most vans that are more than two-and-a-half years old are not compliant.

A scrappage scheme is available for small businesses that own non-compliant diesel cars and vans. To be elligible, firms must either be based in London or send their vans there at least twice a week. The van scrappage scheme offers between £3,500 and £6,000 for small businesses to upgrade to a ULEZ-exempt van.

Motorbikes

Motorbikes must meet Euro 3 requirements which came into force in July 2007.

Buses, lorries and coaches

Buses, coaches and lorries registered after January 2014 are exempt.

ULEZ exempt cars

In addition to vehicles that meet modern emission standards, any vehicle that is at least 40 years old and have a historic tax class is exempt.

If you have a car that is tax exempt because of a disabled driver or passenger, then that vehicle is not liable for any ULEZ charges for three years. Showman’s vehicles also don't have to pay the charge.

How do you pay the ULEZ charge?

The emissions surcharge uses the same payment system as London’s Congestion Charge, so you can pay online, up to 90 days in advance, or you'll have until to midnight on the day that you drive into the zone.

Unlike the Congestion Charge payments system, you can't pay the day after you drive into the zone: if you leave it this late, then you'll receive a penalty.

The Auto Pay system, which already exists for the Congestion Charge, can also be used to pay the ULEZ Charge. Once you set up an account, cameras in the zone will read your numberplate and automatically debit your account on the days that you drive into London.

You can also pay by phone by calling TfL on 0343 222 2222

Is there a penalty for not paying ULEZ?

If you’re spotted driving in the zone by TfL’s vast camera network, above, and don’t pay within the deadline, then TfL will use your car's registration number to find your address and send a £160 penalty, which will be halved to £80 if you pay within 14 days.

It doesn't matter who was driving at the time, the registered owner of the car is liable for the fine. If there has been an error, or your car was stolen, then you will be able to appeal. 

Cameras are used to enforce the zone, and drivers will be able to download a "TfL Pay to Drive in London" Android or Apple app to pay the charge, in addition to the options of paying via a website or over the phone.

The ultra low emission zone is different to the low emission zone, which has been in operation for several years. This affects larger vehicles, such as lorries, buses and some campervans.

What about London residents?

Anyone who is living inside the central zone and owns a car that doesn't comply with the required emissions standards is eligible for a £11.50 discount on the ULEZ charge. They will need to already be registered for the Congestion Charge residents' discount, and will then benefit from three years of paying a £1 daily charge, giving them extra time to change their car for a more modern one.

It’s not likely that there will be any discounts and exemptions for residents of the wider ULEZ zone from 2021.

 

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