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A guide to the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) for vans

Operating a van in London can be stressful enough, but on top of the traffic there are ULEZ and CCZ charges that you need to know about

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Operating a van in London can be a stressful enough experience to start with, but on top of the traffic hassles and lack of parking, there are also charges associated with driving in the city that can significantly affect your business.

The London Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) and the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) are two different charging schemes with fees that apply to most vehicles travelling in the city. Confusingly, they also operate at different times of day, and different days of the week. You may have to pay either one or both of these charges when you drive into certain areas of London.

The ULEZ currently covers the area inside the North Circular (A406) and South Circular (A205) roads. A separate Low Emission Zone (LEZ) expands out to Greater London. ULEZ charges apply all day, every day, apart from Christmas Day (25 December). 

The ULEZ charge is a flat daily fee of £12.50, which you have to pay for each and every day that you travel in the zone. It’s important to note that if you’re travelling late at night, you might have to pay for two days if you are in the zone just before and just after midnight.

What is the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone was introduced by the Mayor for London in 2019 to reduce emissions and pollution in the city centre. The idea is that the most heavily polluting vehicles are discouraged from travelling into and within London. They’re not banned (which would obviously be more effective at genuinely reducing pollution), just taxed.

When it was first launched in 2019, the ULEZ covered the same area as the existing congestion charge zone. It was then expanded in 2021 to its current size, covering everywhere inside (but not including) the North Circular and South Circular roads.

The ULEZ will be expanding again in August 2023 to cover the entire area currently designated as the LEZ, which includes all of Greater London and most of the area inside the M25 motorway. 

What are the ULEZ rules now and what will they be in 2023?

The ULEZ applies to all vehicles travelling within the designated zone, with a flat rate fee applied to any vehicles that don’t meet the current emissions standards. In comparison, LEZ charges have only applied to commercial vehicles up until now. When the ULEZ expands in 2023, it will affect all vehicles in all of Greater London.

If you live within the ULEZ,  you have to pay the daily charge to drive any vehicle that does not comply with the emissions standards set out by the scheme (see below), regardless of how short your journey is.

If your vehicle is parked in the ULEZ zone, you will not be charged if the car doesn’t move at any point within a given day (midnight to midnight).

Which vans have to pay ULEZ?

Light commercial vehicles (vans, pick-ups, etc) that don’t meet certain standards of EU emissions regulations – which are still used by the UK post-Brexit – have to pay the ULEZ charge. The minimum requirements to avoid fees are as follows: 

  • Euro 4 for petrol vans and other light commercial vehicles
  • Euro 6 for diesel vans and other light commercial vehicles

Euro 6 became standard in the UK for all new vans (both petrol and diesel) registered from September 2016 onwards. There are some vans that were registered before this date that also comply with Euro 6 standards, but any diesel van registered after September 2016 will be exempt from current ULEZ charges. 

Euro 4 was introduced some 16 years ago back in 2006, so most petrol vans will be compliant. Vans made before Euro 4 standards have to pay the ULEZ charge as they are more likely to be bigger polluters – the rules are based on the overall legal standards rather than specific emissions levels of individual vehicles.

The daily charge for all vehicles that do not meet the above emissions standards is £12.50. This is payable by midnight on the third day after travel. 

In summary, if you have a petrol van first registered before 2006 (up to a 55-plate) or a diesel van first registered before September 2016 (up to a 16-plate), you will probably have to pay the ULEZ charge.

If you have a petrol van registered in 2006 (06-plate) or later, or a diesel van registered in September 2016 (66-plate) or later, you won’t have to pay the ULEZ charge.

How do I know if my van is ULEZ-compliant?

Log on to Transport for London’s ‘Check Your Vehicle’ web page and you will be asked for your number plate. The system will then tell you whether your vehicle meets the ULEZ standards. 

If your vehicle is compliant, there is nothing else you need to do (although you may still need to pay the congestion charge). If your vehicle does not comply, you can then click through to the ULEZ payment section.

How to pay the ULEZ charge

ULEZ fees are generally paid online, but you still have the option to pay by phone, app or post if you prefer.

To pay online, log onto Transport for London’s ‘Pay to drive in London’ website, then enter your number plate and day of travel. The system will confirm that you definitely need to pay the ULEZ charge and then proceed to the payment section.

If you regularly travel in the ULEZ and your van does not meet the minimum requirements, you can set up an automatic direct debit. This means that every time you travel into the ULEZ, you’ll automatically be charged as long as the number plate of the vehicle you are driving matches the number plate you registered. 

An annual £10 fee is charged to register each van for automatic payments. There’s also fleet auto pay for businesses with more than five vehicles that will be travelling in central London and need to pay the tax. Again, this will charge automatically for the vehicles that have been registered.  

Operating in London five days a week with a non-compliant van will cost your business £250 a month. It’s potentially cheaper to rent, lease or buy a new van rather than using a van that doesn’t meet the emission standards. 

Do I have to pay ULEZ on top of Congestion Charge? 

Whilst the payments are processed on the same gov.uk portal, the ULEZ and congestion charge are separate fees with separate rules. If your vehicle is not ULEZ exempt, this needs to be paid in addition to congestion charge.

LEZ fees are also not included as part of the ULEZ charges, however small vans up to and including 1.205 tonnes unladen weight are exempt from the LEZ. Vans up to 3.5 tonnes don’t have to pay the LEZ if they meet Euro 3 standards, which is basically any van registered from 2001 onwards.

Will I be fined for not paying ULEZ?

ULEZ charges have to be paid by midnight on the third day after travel. If you fail to pay on time, pay for the wrong vehicle or incorrect day of travel, you will be fined if your vehicle is not exempt. 

The fine is £160, but is reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days. As the zone operates from midnight to midnight you could be sent two separate fines for two days if you travelled either side of midnight. 

Will any vans be banned under new ULEZ guidance?

Current rules and the proposals for the 2023 expansion of ULEZ do not ban any vans from driving in the zone.

It is inevitable that the emissions thresholds for ULEZ will change over time (eg – the Euro 4 minimum requirement for petrol vans will eventually change to Euro 5), but so far there have been no announcements.

ULEZ discounts and exemptions

Electric and hydrogen vans

Alternatively fueled vans such as battery electric vehicles (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell (FCV) powered vans release zero emissions, therefore these are exempt from ULEZ charges. 

Local Businesses

Not-for-profit organisations can benefit from a 100% discount until October 2023 by registering on the government website. This applies to vehicles like minibuses that are used for community transport. After October 2023 vehicles will be required to meet emissions standards or pay the daily ULEZ charge. 

Local Authority exemptions 

Local authorities can decide which vehicles are eligible for exemption but these can include emergency service vehicles, gritters, snow ploughs and vans used for voluntary services. 

Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS) 

This scheme is designed to allow van drivers to retrofit equipment that reduces the vehicle’s emissions. Technology installed to reduce emissions has to be certified by the CVRAS to qualify for an exemption. 

What other cities in the UK have LEZ/ULEZ schemes?

In other parts of the UK, there are Clean Air Zones (CAZ) with similar rules to the London LEZ and ULEZ. Cities with CAZs are as follows: 

  • Bath
  • Birmingham
  • Bradford
  • Bristol (charging starts on 28 November 2022)
  • Greater Manchester (under review)
  • Portsmouth
  • Sheffield (charging starts early 2023)
  • Tyneside – Newcastle and Gateshead (charging starts in winter: late 2022 to early 2023)

Oxford is currently running a Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) pilot scheme for all vehicles, which operates from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.

Trinity Francis
Trinity Francishttps://www.trinitygfrancis.com/
Freelance automotive journalist and motoring writer focusing on all aspects of automotive content, with particular attention to emerging trends, industry innovations, tech and consumer advice.

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