What is an Ultra-Low Emission Zone?

Last updated April 13, 2022

In central London, a congestion charge has been in place for a number of years in order to combat the overwhelming amount of traffic drawn to the capital.

In April 2019, an additional charge created by the Ultra-Low Emission Zone was implemented. The Ultra-Low Emission Zone, or ULEZ for short, works in the same area as the congestion charge and impacts an estimated 2.5 million vehicles driving in the capital every year.

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What is an ULEZ?

ULEZ refers to the area in central London where affected cars need to pay a daily charge in order to drive there.

The zone was introduced in an attempt to drastically reduce air pollution within the city. More specifically, the ULEZ aims to cut the emissions of nitrous oxides and particulates in the city centre, in order to improve the air quality.

The most polluting vehicles must pay a levy in order to use the roads. The ULEZ replaced the former T-Charge and is paid on top of the existing £15 daily congestion charge. The charge itself varies depending on the vehicle.

Transport for London (TFL) states that the Ultra-Low Emission Zone proves particularly beneficial for older and younger people, as well as those with respiratory problems and residents of high pollution areas.

Which cars are affected?

The latest estimates show that between 2.4 and 2.5 million individual vehicles will be affected by the ULEZ, but that most of these vehicles will be infrequent visitors and not those who enter the zone daily.

The zone affects vehicles that do not meet emissions standards. Generally speaking, the ULEZ will affect pre-Euro 4 petrol cars, built prior to 2006. It will also affect pre-Euro 6 diesels, built before 2016. Some petrol models that meet the Euro 4 standard were available from 2001 onwards, however, so be sure to check the Euro standard as opposed to the year your car was made.

Alongside pre-Euro 6 diesel and pre-Euro 4 petrol cars and vans, pre-Euro 3 motorbikes will also have to pay the levy. Historic vehicles, which are generally those built before 1979, are exempt from the ULEZ providing they have been awarded historic vehicle tax status.

You can check if your vehicle is affected with the TFL checker tool, which will help you to determine your vehicle’s emission status.

ULEZ charges

The standard rate for driving in the ULEZ is £12.50, but this will change depending on the vehicle driven. The £12.50 fee will apply to most vehicles including cars, motorcycles and vans weighing up to 3.5 tonnes.

For heavier vehicles, including lorries over 3.5 tonnes and buses/coaches over 5 tonnes, the levy stands at £100 per day.

This fee must be paid or drivers risk having to pay a hefty fine. This fine stands at £160, reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days.

How to pay the ULEZ charge

There are a variety of ways to pay the ULEZ charge. If you drive into the zone regularly in a vehicle that isn’t exempt, you can register for the Auto-Pay system. By signing up to this service, you can automatically pay the fees for both the ULEZ and the congestion charge, alongside a £10 annual fee to use the service.

Additionally, if you don’t drive into central London frequently, you can make individual payments for the levy. This can be done on the TFL website, through the app, or over the phone.

Updates to the ULEZ in 2021

As of the 25th October 2021, the ULEZ will expand beyond the current limited area. It will spread from central London outward to create a single, larger zone. This will spread up to (but not including) the North Circular Road (A406) and the South Circular Road (A205).

You can use the TFL’s postcode checker to find out if you currently reside in the ULEZ, or if you will be in the expanded zone come October 2021. This site can also allow you to view a map of the current ULEZ, so you can be sure to pay the levy if you drive there.