The ULEZ — London's Ultra-Low Emission Zone — is expanding in August 2023. Here's the lowdown on what's changing, plus when and where.
What is the ULEZ?
ULEZ = Ultra Low Emission Zone. It's similar to the Congestion Charge, but aimed at drivers of older and more polluting vehicles, who are charged for every day that they use their vehicle. The aim is to encourage people to swap their older vehicles for newer models which create less pollution — or give up driving altogether and switch to walking, cycling or public transport.
It was first introduced in 2019 and expanded in 2021. Now it's growing again.
When does the ULEZ expand in 2023?
29 August 2023 is the date that the ULEZ expands.
What's included in the new ULEZ area? Where does it end?
Right now, prior to the 2023 expansion, the ULEZ includes all areas within the North and South Circular roads — as it has done since it was last expanded in October 2021.
As of 29 August 2023, the ULEZ will grow to include all London boroughs. TfL offers this map to show where the new ULEZ covers, compared to the current ULEZ. There are some tiny slivers of the outer edges of London's peripheral boroughs which aren't included in the ULEZ (shown in dark grey on the map), but as a general rule, if you're driving anywhere within a London Borough, you're highly likely to be within the ULEZ. Diamond Geezer offers this excellent guide to the parts of Greater London which fall outside of the expanded ULEZ.
You can check specific postcodes on the TfL website.
Is the M25 in the ULEZ?
The M25 isn't included in the ULEZ, and even where the M25 falls within a London borough (such as the stretch between Upminster and North Ockendon in the borough of Havering, east London), the ULEZ will not apply to vehicles using the M25.
Why is the ULEZ expanding?
For the same reason as it was introduced initially — to reduce pollution and congestion in London, and to encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport instead of driving where possible. The battle against air pollution has become one of Sadiq Khan's key battlegrounds, and it's something we're likely to hear a lot about in the run up to the 2024 London Mayoral elections.
Why is the ULEZ expansion controversial?
You've probably heard a lot more in the news about this ULEZ expansion compared to the last expansion in October 2021, and that's because it's met a lot more resistance this time around. That's to be expected: larger area = more people affected = more people objecting.
The objections have come from two main sources: the first is groups of locals in London's outer boroughs — and areas just beyond London — who will be affected by the new charges. Dartford in Kent is one such area where locals will be affected, as many travel by car into the neighbouring London Borough of Bexley (and vice versa) regularly for work, school, shopping and the like, something that'll now cost them £12.50 per day. It's a similar pattern all around London's peripheries: people living just outside a London borough may need to travel a mile or two within the border on a regular basis for several reasons.
Driving around the M25 in the early part of 2023, it was fairly common to see handpainted signs and banners hanging from bridges and other infrastructure, protesting against the ULEZ — and not always politely. Additionally, some of the new cameras installed to read number plates as part of the ULEZ expansion were destroyed by protesters almost as soon as they went up.
The second source of protest was from five local councils, all Conservative-led. The London boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon, as well as Surrey Council, launched legal action against Sadiq Khan in early 2023, claiming that the consultations into extending the ULEZ had been inadequate and that he was overstepping his power as Mayor of London in pressing ahead with the plans. That led to a high court hearing, but was overturned in late July 2023, paving the way for the ULEZ expansion to go ahead.
While Sadiq Khan and his Labour team have taken a lot of the heat for pressing ahead with the ULEZ, it's worth pointing out that the ULEZ was first announced by the Mayor of London in 2015 — that Mayor being a certain Boris Johnson. The press release also came with a supporting quote from the prime minister at the time, David Cameron. Both were Conservative MPs.
So is the ULEZ expansion definitely happening?
Yep, looks that way. On 28 July 2023, a legal challenge against the expansion of the ULEZ was dismissed by the High Court, meaning it can now go ahead as planned.
Who does the ULEZ apply to? Are all vehicles affected?
The aim of the ULEZ is to encourage people to reduce or stop their use of the most polluting vehicles, so only these vehicles are targeted. TfL and the Mayor of London claim that "9 out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London" are already compliant, so only around 10% of drivers should be charged the ULEZ fee.
Lorries, vans or specialist heavy vehicles (all over 3.5 tonnes) and buses, minibuses and coaches (all over 5 tonnes) do not need to pay the ULEZ charge. However, the separate LEZ charge does apply to these vehicles, unless they are exempt.
As a general rule, if you drive a petrol vehicle over 16 years old, or a diesel vehicle over six years old, the ULEZ will probably apply to you. Other than that, your vehicle is more than likely in the clear — though do check. You can do that by entering your registration number on the TfL website.
The ULEZ scheme applies to everyone; London residents, visitors to the capital, and vehicles from overseas with some exemptions or grace periods, such as for disabled people and not-for-profit organisations, and historic vehicles over 40 years old.
If you want people to stop using their cars — or to trade them in for cleaner alternatives — you need to provide some incentives. To some extent this has been done, with the Mayor of London's scrappage scheme, which pledged £110 million towards helping Londoners on low-income benefits or disability benefits to replace their non ULEZ-compliant vehicle with one that is compliant, and to help self-employed people, small businesses and charities to adapt their existing vehicles to meet ULEZ standards. However the scheme has received criticism, with some saying it isn't helping enough people who will be financially impacted by the ULEZ expansion.
Additionally, the new Superloop bus network was announced in March 2023, offering new or renamed bus routes for outer London areas most affected by the ULEZ extension, joining towns with other vital services such as hospitals and airports. As part of the ULEZ expansion plans, TfL states that "all money received from the scheme is reinvested into improving London's transport network, such as expanding bus routes in outer London", so it looks like the Superloop is funded by ULEZ charges.
What are the ULEZ charges?
The ULEZ operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year except Christmas Day. Crucially, the charging period runs midnight-midnight, so if you're a night owl undertaking a journey within the ULEZ as the clock strikes 12, you'll be charged twice, because you used your vehicle on two different calendar days.
It's £12.50 per day, every day that you use your vehicle within the ULEZ. However, on days when your vehicle is parked within the ULEZ but doesn't go anywhere, you won't be charged. The system is operated by cameras along roads within the ULEZ, similar to the Congestion Charge.
Note that the ULEZ charge is in addition to the Congestion Charge, though they apply to different areas. If you're driving within the Congestion Charge area — which is only in very central London — you're automatically also driving within the ULEZ, so will be charged for both. If you're driving within the ULEZ but outside of the Congestion Charge zone, you'll just be charged the former.
How do you pay the ULEZ charge? How much is the ULEZ penalty fee?
The easiest way is to set up at auto pay, which does what it says on the tin, and means you'll avoid any fines so long as you remain registered. If you're paying as you go, you'll need to stump up your £12.50 by midnight on the third day following your journey. If you're not sure what you owe, simply enter your car registration here.
Will the ULEZ expand further in future?
Unlikely — once it's swallowed up all London boroughs, it's not really got anywhere else to go, unless neighbouring authorities join forces with TfL or implement their own schemes. Given the backlash this ULEZ expansion has faced, that seems unlikely, particularly as many areas beyond London have much less efficient public transport than within London, making it harder for people to ditch their cars.