December 2021

If you regularly commute into the capital by car you’ll be more than familiar with the Congestion Zone, which charges motorists every time they enter central London by road.

More occasional London drivers however, may not be so familiar with the Congestion Charge’s younger cousin, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which came into force in 2019.

Although it came into force in 2019, the ULEZ expanded its reach in October 2021 to include all roads inside the North and South Circular and if you’re driving into town this Christmas (or any time for that matter!) here’s what you need to know about it.

The purpose of the ULEZ is to reduce the number of higher polluting cars on the roads in London and consequently improve the air quality. Other cities will be following the same model in coming years, including Oxford.

How does the ULEZ work?

You’ll know if you’re entering the ULEZ because signs at every entry point will tell you! Camera check number plates entering and exiting the Zone and issue a charge that needs to be paid online or over the phone before the following evening.

It operates midnight to midnight, 365 days a year except Christmas Day and if you’re driving in and out across the midnight boundary (i.e. enter at 9pm on a Tuesday, leave at 1am on the Wednesday) you’ll need to pay twice.

But remember, the ULEZ is only designed to deter the more polluting vehicles from entering the Zone, so not everybody has to pay.

Who has to pay for the ULEZ?

The Transport For London website has a handy tool that allows you to check your car to see if you’re liable for the charge, and it’s worth doing this before you set off on your journey.

Simply enter your car registration, confirm it’s your vehicle and the website will tell you which charges you are liable for (ULEZ and / or Congestion).

All vehicles categories are subject to the rules - motorbikes, cars, vans, buses and lorries - but only if they fail to meet the required ‘Euro’ emissions standards.

For petrol vehicles that’s Euro 4 and for diesels it’s Euro 6. Euro 4 has been mandatory for all cars registered after January 2006 and in 2015 it became mandatory for diesel cars to meet Euro 6 standards.

What this means is that if you drive an older car (pre-2006 for petrol and pre-2015 for diesel you’ll probably have to pay the charge but it’s still worth checking as some models were compliant before the requirements came into force.

If you drive a newer car you still need to pay the congestion charge, so double check everything on the Transport For London website to be sure.

Electric cars qualify for the Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED) and this also includes a 100% discount on the Congestion Charge. #

We wrote about this in a recent article on electric and hybrid cars, so that’s worth checking out if you’re considering moving over to EV ownership in the near future and drive into London frequently.

Hybrids with an official range of at least 20 miles zero-emission driving also qualify for the ULED. Most newer hybrids are going to meet these criteria, but mild-hybrids which we wrote about in this article would not. Again, check your car registration with the TfL tool to confirm.

If you drive a ‘classic car’ - or a ‘historic vehicle’ defined by the UK government as being over 40 years old - you not only get an exemption from road tax but you also get a 100% discount on the ULEZ. You will however still be liable for the Congestion Charge so don’t get caught out!

Other vehicles can also qualify for a discount on the ULEZ and Congestion Charge, and you can check the full requirements on the TfL website. Some of these categories are:

  • Vehicles for disabled people
  • Taxis
  • Minibuses used for community transport
  • Wheelchair-accessible private hire vehicles (PHVs)
  • Showman's vehicles

How much is the ULEZ?​

If you are liable for the ULEZ charge, the amount you pay depends on the type of vehicle you are driving. Most personal use vehicles (certainly those under 3.5 tonnes) including bikes, cars and vans will pay £12.50 a day (remember you pay twice if the ‘day’ crossed the boundary between 2 actual days!) whilst for heavier vehicles over 3.5 tonnes (think busses, lorries and coaches) it’s £100 a day.

Remember this is in addition to the Congestion Charge which costs £15 per day between the hours of 7am and 10pm (except Christmas Day), so take this into consideration as you are planning your journey in.

How do you pay?

Paying the ULEZ charge and Congestion Charge is simple through the TfL website. You simply visit this page > and hit the ‘pay’ button. You’ll be prompted to enter your car registration and find your journey, and the website will tell you how much you are liable for.

You can do this in advance of your journey (up to 90 days) or the day after you have entered the Zone.

If you don’t pay on time a penalty notice will automatically be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle. A PCN is £160, reducing to £80 if paid within 14 days so don’t forget!

If you are driving into London this Christmas we hope this information has been helpful and allows you to plan your journey and get an idea of the associated costs.