The ultra-low emissions zone, or ULEZ, is a bid to clean the air in London – but it means drivers whose cars aren’t compliant will have to pay to enter pretty much all of London and Greater London.
We’ve looked at some of the things being said right now about the charge, to help you understand if they’re fact or fiction.
What is the ULEZ and LEZ?
The low emissions zone (LEZ) and ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) are areas where you can’t drive through in London without a compliant vehicle (we’ll get to this in a mo) unless you pay a fee of £12.50 per day. It applies to cars, vans, motorbikes and more.
The plan is to create cleaner air in London by reducing the dangerous emissions from older cars, particularly diesel ones.
How much does ULEZ cost?
It costs £12.50 per day that you drive in the zone. This means you can drive in to visit a friend, stay a few days with the car parked up and drive home and you’ll pay for 2 days. If you drive in the zone every day for a week, you’ll pay £87.50 for the week.
For those doing the school run every day and another trip at the weekend in a non-compliant car, you’d pay £3,087.50 each year.
It’s a little more if you work within the zone as you could face charges of up to £3,150 per year**.
At those prices, you may as well buy a cheap second car, even if you just keep your non-compliant one in the garage.
If you don’t pay by the end of the third day after travelling you’ll get a penalty notice, meaning you’ll pay £90. After 14 days that increases to a huge £180.
*Based on 195 school days and 52 weekend trips (total of 247)
** Based on 252 working days in the year, with 25 days assumed for annual leave.
Where is the ULEZ?
The zone was just central London until October 2021, when it was expanded.
On Tuesday 29 August 2023, the ULEZ was expanded again. ULEZ now pretty much covers everywhere within the M25, while the LEZ covers most of Greater London. You can see it in detail on TFL’s interactive map.
It means it now comprises all London Boroughs and some popular visitor attractions.
ULEZ Facts and Fiction
Fiction: all cars pay the ULEZ charge
Not all vehicles have to pay the charge to enter the ULEZ. If you’re lucky enough to drive an electric car, you’re exempt from the ULEZ charge, the LEZ charge and even the Congestion Charge (until 2025).
If you have a petrol car that was made since 2006, you’re probably okay, but give it a check on the website anyway. Diesel cars made since 2015 are likely to be okay, but again, give it a check.
Some older cars are exempt too, including classic cars.
Is my car ULEZ-compliant?
You can check if your car is compliant on the Transport for London website. You’ll just need your registration number.
Because of the expansion, the website is currently overrun with visitors, meaning you have to wait in a waiting room before you can access the site.
Fiction: you don’t have to pay both the congestion charge and ULEZ
Some people think that ULEZ is the same as the Congestion Zone, but they’re two very separate entities, although they broadly try to achieve the same thing.
The Congestion Zone is an area in central London where most vehicles need to pay £15 per day to drive through. It’s designed to reduce the traffic in the area, which in turn helps with noise and pollution.
The ULEZ and LEZ are charged based on your vehicle emissions, which means that some people don’t have to pay it. You can check on the TFL website to find out if it applies to your car.
And yes, if your car isn’t ULEZ compliant and you want to enter the Congestion Zone as well, you’re looking at paying both, at £27.50 – £30 for a day of driving.
There are exemptions to both charges, so double-check the list if you plan to drive in London.
Fact: you can get money from the government if your car isn’t compliant
In 2009, the government announced a scrappage scheme, which provides grants when you scrap or retrofit a vehicle that doesn’t meet the emissions standards and/or switch to greener modes of transport.
The scheme is open to residents of any of the 32 London boroughs or the City of London with a car that doesn’t meet the ULEZ standards. This can be a car or a motorcycle. But it’s bad luck if you’re a commuter living just outside the zone as you’ll miss out.
You can apply online for the scrappage scheme and can get up to £2,000 for scrapping a car or £1,000 for scrapping a motorcycle. You used to need to have a disability or be in receipt of benefits, but this changed a few months ago.
Just make sure you can’t make more by selling your car – though it’ll need to be someone who lives outside of London!
|What you can get
|Scrap your car
|Scrap your car
|£1,600 cash and one annual bus and tram pass worth £988
|Scrap your car
|£1,200 cash and two annual bus and tram passes worth £988 each
|Scrap your wheelchair-accessible vehicle
|Retrofit a new engine for your wheelchair-accessible vehicle
Fact: the scrappage scheme pays you via cheque
Yep, if you opt to get cash for your car or motorbike you’ll get the money as a cheque, proper old school. If you have a bank with a branch nearby that’s an inconvenience, but nothing too major.
But what if your local branch has closed down, or if you have a digital bank without any branches? Fortunately, the majority of banking apps now let you pay in a cheque via your phone. Here’s our guide to the ones that will let you do this.
Fiction: you don’t pay if you live in London
Sadly, living in London doesn’t get you an exemption from the ULEZ charges, so you’ll have to have a compliant car to avoid paying.
As a London resident, you are able to take advantage of the scrappage scheme, which pays you cash to scrap your car.
Fiction: you have to pay for all diesel cars
While most petrol cars registered since 2006 are ULEZ compliant, this isn’t the same for diesel cars.
This doesn’t mean that all diesel cars aren’t compliant, but to be compliant, diesel cars need to be much younger. You’re looking at cars that were registered since September 2015, typically. This means that buying a second or third-hand car could put you in hot water if you don’t do your research.
This is just a broad look, there are older cars that aren’t compliant and there are certainly newer petrol cars that aren’t compliant either, so it’s worth checking the website for any cars you own or plan to purchase.
Fact: if you have a classic car you don’t pay ULEZ
Cars and vehicles built before 1 January 1973 or cars over 40 years old and successfully registered with the DVLA for a historic vehicle tax class don’t have to pay to go into the ULEZ. Some people are calling this a loophole and buying themselves classic cars to beat the ULEZ expansion.
In addition, specialist agricultural vehicles and military vehicles are exempt.
Fiction: it’s impossible to know where the ULEZ cameras are
The ULEZ website has published a map of all the ULEZ cameras. You could theoretically create routes that don’t wind up with a charge, and this could be a fairly fun thing to try out, but who has time for that?
Check out the map of cameras if you’re worried about any upcoming journeys.
Fact: NHS patients could be reimbursed
Some NHS patients can get ULEZ charge reimbursements. This is if you’re too ill, weak or disabled to travel by public transport and you have a compromised immune system, require regular therapy or assessment, or require recurrent surgical intervention.
Your treating hospital can give you more details of this, but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind if you live very close to the ULEZ boundary or have to travel into London for specialist treatment.
Fact: you’ll pay twice if you’re driving at midnight
The charge is based on a 24 hour period that begins at midnight, so if you’re driving late at night and pass from one calendar day to the next, you’ll pay for both those days – even if you park up at 12.01 and don’t move the car again that day.
Christmas Day is free, though! So you can drive back from a day full of festivities (alcohol-free, of course) and you won’t pay for driving on the 25 December.
Fact: your map might tell you if you have to pay
Google Maps will apparently tell you if you’re heading into the ULEZ and will notify you if your journey destination is within the ULEZ by letting you know that there’s a toll involved. I tried this on my Google Pixel and didn’t get any notification.
I tried setting a route from my house in Surrey to Heathrow and Chessington World of Adventures (both now in the ULEZ), and Kings Cross Station, which is within the Congestion Zone.
I gave Waze a go, an app I only downloaded so the Jonas Brothers could direct me. Waze lets you know when choosing a route that the route will require ULEZ, so you can choose a route that doesn’t charge you if your final destination isn’t within the charging zone.
Apple Maps says that it will let you know if your journey includes the ULEZ when you’re choosing a route, but it didn’t mention it when we tried. You can also turn off toll routes in the app to avoid them altogether, but it won’t let you know if your destination is in the zone.
Frequently asked questions about ULEZ
What attractions are now in the ULEZ?
If you’re heading away on holiday or even for a day out, you might find yourself hit with a ULEZ charge if your car isn’t compliant:
- Heathrow. Heathrow Airport is one of the most controversial additions to the ULEZ. You’ll have to pay £12.50 on the day you park up and another £12.50 on the day you leave.
- Wembley. Football fans travelling to Wembley could be hit with the ULEZ charge for driving there.
- Hampton Court Palace. Whether it’s for the beautiful gardens in the summer or ice skating come winter, the house of Henry VIII and his six wives is a popular attraction that’s now within the zone.
- Twickenham. Rugby fans just missed the ULEZ expansion over the weekend. Anyone visiting Twickenham in the future will need to check their vehicles.
- Chessington World of Adventures. This well-loved theme park for youngsters was previously outside of the ULEZ boundary, but visitors will now face a potential charge when visiting. This massively increases the cost of the day out, so check before you book.
- Wimbledon. Tennis fans will be disappointed to know that they’ll have to have ULEZ-compliant cars to avoid a charge when driving to Wimbledon.
What do I have to do if my car isn’t compliant?
If your car isn’t compliant and you need to drive into the ULEZ or live within the ULEZ, you essentially have four options:
- Pay the charge – this is £12.50 per day that you drive. You don’t have to pay if it’s parked up for a whole day (or if you never pass a camera).
- Get the car retrofitted – this is where you can have work done on your car to make it compliant. The government is offering grants for this in the scrappage scheme.
- Scrap the car – if you don’t want to have it retrofitted, you can scrap it for a government grant.
- Sell the car and get a new one – you could opt to sell the car, maybe to someone who doesn’t live in or near the zone, and get one that’s compliant.
How to pay the ULEZ charge
There are a few different ways to pay the ULEZ charge — if you’re regularly travelling through the zone then you can opt to AutoPay, which will stop you from forgetting to pay and getting yourself a penalty notice. Anyone can do this, so you can set it up if you’re nervous about forgetting.
If you make a journey and need to make a one-off payment, you can pay online, you just need your registration number and the date you travelled.
The website will not allow you to tick the “ULEZ charge” box if you’ve got a vehicle that’s compliant.