ULEZ expansion: everything you need to know

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone is expanding, forcing drivers of non-compliant cars to pay £12.50 a day in Greater London. Here's what the changes mean for you...

A road in the London Ultra Low Emission Zone

The London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is set to expand again this year, forcing some drivers to pay to use their cars across most of the Greater London area.

From 29 August 2023, the ULEZ will be extended to cover the same area as the existing Low Emission Zone, which includes most of the roads inside the M25.

What is the ULEZ?

The original ULEZ came into force on 8 April 2019. It applied to vehicles entering or being driven in the London Congestion Charge zone, which covers the City and some Central London boroughs. The ULEZ was expanded on 25 October 2021 to include all roads inside the North and South Circular.

The 2023 expansion reaches (but does not include) the M25 in several places, but it's not quite as simple as the previous expansion. From August areas such as Enfield to the north, Rainham to the east, Uxbridge to the west and Croydon to the south will be covered by the ULEZ. Other areas inside the M25, including Epsom, Watford and Chigwell, won't be affected.

Diesel vehicles that don’t meet Euro 6 exhaust emissions standards and petrols that don’t comply with Euro 4 attract a daily fee of £12.50 for driving in the zone. As a guide, most diesel cars registered before September 2015 will have to pay the fee, along with petrols sold before January 2006.

However, there are some exceptions. If you’re unsure about whether your vehicle complies with the rules, you can use the dedicated TfL vehicle checker.

When does the ULEZ operate?

Charges are payable 24 hours a day, every day except Christmas Day. This differs from the Congestion Charge, which operates from 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday and midday to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays. The Congestion Charge also has a longer Christmas break, from Christmas Day to the New Year’s Day bank holiday.

The ULEZ applies in addition to the £15 Congestion Charge, so owners of older cars have to pay a total of £27.50 a day to drive in the zone.

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Why was the ULEZ introduced?

The levy was brought in to improve air quality by reducing the number of vehicles in London that don't meet emissions standards.

The expansion is aimed at tackling the toxic air crisis that TfL says affects outer London boroughs as well as those in the centre of the city. 

"Around 4000 premature deaths in 2019 were attributed to filthy air, with the greatest number in outer London," it states. "Bromley, Barnet, Havering and Croydon were the boroughs with the highest number of early deaths."

TfL estimates that when the zone expansion goes ahead, the number of cars not meeting the standards each day in outer London will fall from 160,000 to 46,000 by the end of 2023, while the number of vans could drop from 42,000 to 26,000.

The local government body adds: "These proposals would mean the air around an additional 145 schools, mostly in outer London, would meet the interim World Health Organization target for nitrogen dioxide. The changes would also see a further 340,000 Londoners living in areas meeting these international health-based standards."

Pollution

What are my options if my car is non-compliant?

For those who can’t afford or don’t want to pay to run a non-compliant car in the zone, a £110m scrappage scheme has been announced, to help certain groups of Londoners switch to less polluting forms of transport. From 30 January 2023 recipients of certain means-tested low income and disability benefits can apply for grants of up to £2000 to scrap non-compliant cars or motorcycles. That increases to £5000 for vehicles with disability adaptations, such as cars with wheelchair access.

For the first time, applicants also have the option to exchange a portion of the grant for annual bus and tram season tickets worth more than the amount exchanged. For example, someone who trades in their car and takes some cash and two annual bus and tram season tickets will increase the overall value of their package by more than 50% to £3064.

Are there any discounts and exemptions?

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Several types of vehicles benefit from temporary grace periods, discounts or even full exemption. Here are a few examples:

Vehicles for disabled people

Vehicles that are in specialised disabled vehicle tax classes may be eligible for a grace period that will last until 24 October 2027. Wheelchair-accessible private-hire vehicles can also take advantage of this.

London-licensed taxis

Any car registered as a taxi in London is exempt from the charge. The maximum age of a taxi is already restricted, and all new taxis must be zero-emissions capable.

Historic vehicles

Private cars that are more than 40 years old can be put into the historic vehicle tax class, which grants them ULEZ exemption. Additionally, all vehicles built before 1 January 1973 are fully ULEZ exempt, regardless of their use.

Minibuses used for community transport

Not-for-profit organisations can apply for a temporary 100% ULEZ charge discount, which will remain in place until 26 October 2025.

Specialist vehicles

Certain other vehicle types may be exempt from the ULEZ charge, depending on specific circumstances. These include agricultural vehicles, military vehicles, excavators, mobile cranes and showman's vehicles.

Clean Air Zones

Since the ULEZ was introduced, several UK cities have introduced Clean Air Zones some of which work in a similar way to the London scheme.

Which European cities have car charging zones?

Ultra low emission zone will go live in 2019

There are hundreds of anti-pollution schemes in cities across Europe, many of which charge drivers of polluting cars when they enter urban areas at certain times, or even ban them altogether.

In France, under the Crit'Air scheme, all vehicles entering Paris have to display a sticker of one of six different colours to show how much they pollute. If they don't have one, the driver may receive a fine of up to €68.

Stickers are only provided for cars first registered after 1997, and older cars aren’t allowed in the city at all during the scheme's operating hours of 8am to 8pm from Monday to Friday. Scooters and motorcycles built before 2000 are also banned, along with trucks and buses built before 2001.

Anyone who wants to take their vehicle anywhere in the city inside the Périphérique ring road (similar to our M25) must order a windscreen sticker for it via the Crit'Air website. The cost is €4.61 (about £4.05) including postage.

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