Find out what you need to know about ULEZ and other Clean Air Zones around the country.

In the first week of November, 2023, TfL reported that since the Ultra Low Emission Zone has been expanded to cover the whole of Greater London, roughly 60,000 vehicle drivers a day are paying the daily £12.50 fee to enter or move within the zone, worth approx £730,000 daily.

This comes despite recent research by Motorway, revealing that 52% of drivers felt they would not be able to afford the ULEZ charge. 

Is ULEZ affecting more or fewer London motorists than expected?

Is ULEZ affecting more or fewer London motorists than expected?

ULEZ expanded at the end of August 2023 to come out nearly as far as the M25 in Greater London.

All year, there’s been speculation about how many vehicles will end up paying the daily charge, rather than benefiting from scrappage schemes (since expanded so all Londoners are eligible), or upgrading their vehicle to a compliant model. RAC reported in February of this year that approx 850,000 vehicles registered in Greater London were not compliant with the ULEZ restrictions.

In the first month that followed the expansion of ULEZ from Inner London to the whole of Greater London, nearly 50,000 fewer vehicles were on the road than in June, which accounts for about 2% of all traffic, suggesting that some non-compliant vehicle owners have changed their routine transport options from cars to public transport and other solutions.

How does ULEZ work?

Like all other Clean Air Zones across the UK, Greater London’s ULEZ uses cameras to read vehicle registrations. These are checked against the DVLA’s records, and the registered keepers of vehicles that are not compliant with the Euro 4 (petrol) and Euro 6 (diesel) standards are sent a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) if they fail to register their trip within the zone with the local authority in the correct timeframe.

In Greater London, you have to register and pay £12.50 for your trip into or within the capital before the end of the third day after travelling, in order to avoid the £180 PCN. The penalties are halved when paid within thirty days (this varies from zone to zone, around the country), however if you have failed to keep your details updated with the DVLA, you may not receive your PCN until it has gone up in value, as these are sent in the post.

If your vehicle is compliant, you don’t have to do anything. If your vehicle is compliant due to a modification or other unexpected reason, it’s worth registering it with TfL in order to avoid surprise fines.

Anybody who regularly drives in the ULEZ or another CAZ may be able to set up an autopay with the responsible authority, in order to avoid unpaid charges developing into fines, and to avoid spending lots of time registering trips.

How have other charging emissions zones affected locals?

Greater London’s ULEZ is not the UK’s first emissions-reduction scheme to penalise fewer drivers than anticipated; this past summer, Glasgow’s LEZ also started targeting non-compliant drivers, although local residents have a grace period until next year.

In the first month of the scheme being implemented, over 100 drivers were issued with penalties each day. By the end of the second month, a reported £600,000 in fines had been issued – and all from non-residents in non-compliant vehicles. Like in the case of ULEZ, the revenue is used for projects that help to lower air pollution and bring cities closer to their climate targets.

The Glasgow LEZ does not offer a daily charge; rather, non-compliant drivers receive a Penalty Charge Notice worth £60, which is halved to £30 when paid within 14 days.

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone, the first to start charging car drivers in the UK, only gets approximately 40% of fines paid each month. With 6% of the fines issued being written off, that still leaves a wide gap of uncollected moneys. Local authorities are responsible for the implementation of emissions regulations, including payments.

How to avoid paying the ULEZ daily charge?

If you drive a compliant vehicle, you can rest assured that you won’t get any surprise charges through your postbox. Similarly, if your vehicle is in a category that gives national exemption, you won’t have to worry (although you may have to register with various local authorities in order to avoid being sent erroneous fines).

Nationally-exempt vehicles

  • Disabled tax class or disabled passenger tax class
  • Some agricultural vehicles
  • Registered historic vehicles (from before 1973)
  • Military vehicles
  • Ultra-low emission vehicles
  • Vehicles retrofitted under the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS)

However, if you drive a non-compliant vehicle in or near a charging zone such as ULEZ, and want to make sure you can avoid paying daily charges, you have several options:

See if you are eligible for a local scrappage scheme
Have your vehicle retrofitted under the CVRAS
Avoid driving into the charging zones
Sell your vehicle to a verified dealer and buy a compliant one instead

If your non-compliant car isn’t worth much more than a scrap payment, it may be worth your while making use of a local scrappage scheme such as TfL’s one operating for all Greater Londoners, which pays out £2,000 for a non-compliant car.

If you are a business owner or charity with a non-compliant van, it may be even more in your interest to make use of a scrappage or retrofit scheme, as grants can be generous and cover the costs of adopting a compliant (and more modern) vehicle.

Retrofits for normal family cars are generally less cost-effective than the option to sell your car and use the funds to purchase a compliant model.

How to check compliance with ULEZ and other CAZs?

How to check compliance with ULEZ and other CAZs?

Motorway’s free ULEZ Checker helps drivers to plan journeys and running costs: if they are compliant with ULEZ, they’ll also be compliant with almost all other charging zones in the UK.

The UK’s charging zones largely have the same compliance criteria, which is Euro 4 engine rating for petrol engines and Euro 6 for diesel. The rating is assigned to the engine used in your car model, based on how many pollutants are emitted when you drive.

Since 2006, almost all petrol engines have been rated at least Euro 4 standard, and as for diesel, Euro 6 has been the norm since 2016. However, it’s key to double-check your compliance if you’re not sure on your engine’s Euro rating.

The UK now has eight live Clean Air Zones (CAZs) that charge non-compliant private car drivers, and a further four charging vans. If you travel through Aberdeen, Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Newcastle, Oxford, or Sheffield, it’s vital to check your compliance in order to avoid a penalty.

Take note that the Scottish LEZs in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow do not offer an option to pay a daily charge like the English CAZs; instead, they go straight to penalties of £60. Unless you are OK with a penalty charge, you may wish to avoid driving a non-compliant vehicle through these centres.

There are three simple ways to find out your vehicle’s Euro rating:

  • Enter your reg in a free, online compliance checker such as Motorway’s ULEZ checker
  • Look up your rating inside your V5C logbook
  • Find the specifications for your exact car model and year online
Emissions zones that charge cars in the UK are in Class D, along with Oxford’s ZEZ. Vans are additionally charged in Class C CAZs.

Emissions zones that charge cars in the UK are in Class D, along with Oxford’s ZEZ. Vans are additionally charged in Class C CAZs.

In the run up to the 2035 switchover, the safest way to avoid rising emission charges, changes to tax categories, and other running costs associated with fuel type, is to switch to a hybrid or electric vehicle.

How to sell a non-compliant car

If you’re thinking of selling your car or van due to its compliance status, look no further.

Motorway offers a simple – and completely free – way to sell your car for a great price, whatever the model and whatever the compliance status. If you’re looking to sell a non-compliant vehicle to avoid paying ULEZ or CAZ charges, it’s easy to sell on Motorway to a dealer from elsewhere in the country, where demand for non-compliant models may be higher.

Just enter your reg on the homepage and you’ll be provided with an instant estimated sale price based on up-to-the-minute market data. Motorway will then ask you a few easy questions about your vehicle and guide you through the profiling. If you choose to enter your car into an online daily sale, it’ll be shown to Motorway’s UK-wide network of more than 5,000 verified dealers who will compete to give you their best price.

In as little as 24 hours, you’ll receive your best offer – and, if you choose to go ahead with the sale, your car will be collected for free by the dealer and the money will be quickly and securely transferred to your bank account.

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