Across the UK, Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones are popping up to help tackle air pollution in cities and towns by charging fines to vehicles that don’t meet certain emissions standards. In this post, we’ll dig into who’s affected, what it means for their finances and what their options are.
Covering the largest area, and affecting the most people, is the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). ULEZ launched in 2019 as a government initiative to improve air quality for millions of Londoners. It currently covers most of central London, but from 25 October 2021, ULEZ will expand to the North and South Circulars - covering an area 18 times greater than its current extent. Use the TfL postcode checker to see if your home or destination will be covered by the ULEZ expansion.
ULEZ is an important tool to help improve the air quality for people who live in London. Air pollution is a major cause of illness, and children are the most vulnerable. However, for people who own non-ULEZ compliant vehicles and who live within the zone or regularly travel to or through it, it will have a big financial impact.
Will I have to pay the ULEZ charge?
The ULEZ charge applies to vehicles that don’t meet certain emissions standards. You can use this handy TfL vehicle checker to find out whether or not your vehicle meets emissions and safety standards required by ULEZ. In general, newer, petrol cars are likely to be ok, but older diesel cars may have to pay.
Check out this guide for the full list of vehicles that qualify for discounts or exemptions from ULEZ.
How much is the ULEZ charge?
Cars, motorbikes, and other lighter vehicles that don’t meet the emission standards must pay £12.50 per day for entering the ULEZ. There are currently some residents’ exemptions, but these will come to an end on 25th October 2021. This means that if you live in the zone or travel in daily, you’ll be paying an enormous £375 a month in ULEZ charges.
Since the existing ULEZ covers the same area of London as the Congestion Charge, many drivers will also need to pay the daily £15.00 Congestion Charge on top of the ULEZ charge. Pricey.
If you fail to pay the ULEZ charge on time, you’ll face a £160 penalty, although this amount reduces to £80 if you pay within 14 days.
So what can you do to avoid paying?
There are options you could explore, like public transport or car rental clubs, but if you use your vehicle a lot, then upgrading is likely to be the best option. And while it feels like a big step, there are a considerations that make it a less financially daunting option:
The ULEZ Scrappage Scheme
The Mayor of London has launched a ULEZ scrappage scheme to help low-income and disabled Londoners discard older, more polluting cars and motorcycles for cleaner vehicles.
If you’re claiming benefits, live in London and your vehicle meets the eligibility requirements, you can claim:
- £1,000 to scrap a motorcycle or moped
- £2,000 to scrap a car
For more details about the ULEZ scrappage scheme visit this TfL guide.
Buy a more eco-friendly vehicle
For some of us, being pushed to buy a new car can feel like an unwelcome step. But with a monthly charge of up to £375 as the alternative, it can be a financially viable option. For example, the median repayment for Zopa Hire Purchase customers on a used, compliant vehicle is is £220, so compared to paying a full monthly ULEZ charge, you’ll see a cash flow boost from month one. And you’ll likely be paying towards ownership of a new car that’ll last you longer.
If you’re ready to go the whole way, and upgrade to an electric vehicle, we’ve got a handy blog post on the costs you can expect when you switch.
Other UK low emission and clean air zones
Of course this is not just in London. The government has mandated the set up of a number of Clean Air and Low Emission Zones across the UK. They run on a similar principle to ULEZ, but with different boundaries and charging structures. The good thing for consumer finances is that most of these only affect commercial vehicles, but there are a few notable exceptions and lots of changes to come.
Areas where private vehicles currently or will soon need to pay:
Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone went live in June 2021, with a daily charge of £8, or £240 for the month.
You can see if you’ll need to pay using this handy government vehicle checker and this map shows the extent of the zone.
Watch this space. Bristol is currently set to launch a low emission zone with the same pricing structure as in Birmingham in the summer of 2022
Oxford is aiming at introducing a Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZ) in its city centre. There’s a fairly complex charging structure, which will capture most vehicles in its scope, but the pilot that’s launching some time in 2021 only covers a small number of streets and the timeline to expand to the full area is vague.
A number of other towns and cities - we’ve listed these below - have Clean Air or Low Emission Zones, but they currently only affect buses or commercial vehicles. However, remember to keep checking this, as other vehicles may need to pay to enter these zones in the future.
The following UK cities currently or will soon have Low Emission or Clean Air Zones, but only covering buses and/or commercial vehicles:
Other cities intending to introduce low emission and clean air zones are Aberdeen, Bradford, Dundee, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, and Sheffield.
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