ULEZ: A complete business guide

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Andrew Hill • Mar 18, 2021 • Flexible hire

By now, most fleet managers operating in and around London will have heard of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which came into force in April 2019. However, with the plans to expand the zone going ahead in October 2021, it’s important that you have all the facts, and understand how the extension might affect your business. 

In this complete business guide to ULEZ, we’ve compiled everything you need to know, including how much you could be charged, what the expansion means for business, and how we can help you prepare. 

 

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What is the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) came into force on 8 April 2019 as a replacement for the T-Charge in London. It was the first scheme of its kind in the UK that would charge drivers to enter areas where pollution levels are high. 

Currently, most vehicles, including cars, vans, motorcycles, and HGVs have to pay the charges if they are non-compliant. Transport for London (TfL) reports that 4 out of 5 cars already meet the ULEZ emissions standards, and that so far, the ULEZ has had a positive impact on air pollution - contributing to a 44% reduction in roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) within its boundaries.

But despite these recent improvements in air quality, toxic air pollution still remains the biggest environmental risk to people living in London. With pollution now returning to pre-pandemic levels across the city, there’s now further acceleration to reduce the toxicity in London’s air - which is why the zone is expanding. 

As a result, there’s a continued emphasis on owners of older polluting cars, motorcycles, lighter vans and minibuses to comply with ULEZ.

 

The ULEZ zone map: where the zone is expanding to

London ULEZ map

Currently, London's ULEZ operates in the centre of the capital, within the same area as the Congestion Charging Zone (CCZ). This runs from Victoria and Hyde Park in the west to Tower Bridge in the east, and from Euston Road in the north to Elephant & Castle in the south.

But from 25th October 2021, the existing ULEZ is being expanded from central London to create a single larger zone up to the North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205). 

While the North and South Circular Roads themselves are not included, this is a sizable expansion - 10x the size of the original zone, to be exact - that will now affect more businesses as a result.

View the full ULEZ map here.

Learn everything you need to know to get your fleet compliant with our free guide - Fleet compliance: the safety, environmental and sentencing changes you need to be aware of:

 

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Recap: The ULEZ standards

The Euro standards - which first appeared in 1992 - are a range of emissions controls that set limits for air-polluting nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) from engines. New vehicles and road vehicle engines must show that they meet these limits to be approved for sale.

The ULEZ standards (both for the existing ULEZ in central London and when the zone expands) are:

  • Euro 3 (NOx) for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles
  • Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans and other specialist vehicles (up to and including 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight) and minibuses (up to and including 5 tonnes)
  • Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and other specialist vehicles (up to and including 3.5 tonnes) and minibuses (up to and including 5 tonnes)
  • Euro VI (NOx and PM) for lorries, buses and coaches and other specialist heavy vehicles (NOx and PM)

 

If your vehicles don’t meet these standards, then you’ll face the daily charge.

 

ULEZ charges for non-compliance 

The ULEZ charge will continue to cost a daily fee of £12.50 for most vehicle types, including cars, motorcycles and vans (up to and including 3.5 tonne). 

For heavier vehicles, including lorries (over 3.5 tonnes) and buses/coaches (over 5 tonnes), the daily charge is fixed at £100. 

The ULEZ charges are in addition to the £15 London Congestion Charge that most vehicles already have to pay. This means many drivers could have to pay £27.50 per day (£115 for a heavier vehicle) to drive in the capital. 

Since you’ll have to pay the ULEZ charge for each day you’re driving within the zone, costs can easily mount for non-compliance. 

 

Paying the ULEZ charge

At the latest, you can pay the charge by midnight on the third day following your journey, or you can pay up to 90 days in advance. Here’s a rough breakdown of what you may be charged for driving within the ULEZ in non-compliant vehicles:

Number of vans in your fleet

Daily charge

Weekly charge

Monthly charge

Year charge

1

£12.50

£62.50

£250.00

£3,000.00

5

£62.50

£312.50

£1,250.00

£15,00.00

10

£125.00

£625.00

£2,500.00

£30,000.00

Number of HGVs in your fleet

Daily charge

Weekly charge

Monthly charge

Year charge

1

£100.00

£500.00

2,000.00

£24,000.00

5

£500.00

£2,500.00

10,000.00

£120,000.00

*10

£1,000.00

£5,000.00

20,000.00

£240,000.00

* Calculations in this table are based on a fixed charge fee of £12.50 per day per van and £100 per day per lorry. 

Find out more about the ULEZ charges, as well as when and how to pay here

 

Penalties for non-compliance 

It’s also important to note that if you drive within the ULEZ without meeting emissions standards or paying the appropriate charge, you may also be issued with a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). This will be paid in addition to your original charge.

You may receive this penalty if:

  • Your vehicle doesn’t meet the ULEZ standards and you’re not exempt or registered for a 100% discount

  • Your commercial vehicle hasn’t been registered with TfL 

  • You don’t pay the appropriate charge by midnight on the next working day after your first day of travel

  • You choose to pay by post, but haven’t waited at least 10 days before your date of travel for your payment to go through 

  • You’ve entered an incorrect number plate or date of travel

 

For most vehicles, the penalty charge is £160, but is reduced to £80 if you pay it within 14 days. 

However, for larger commercial vehicles such as buses, HGVs, and other specialist vehicles the penalty charge is £1000 - which, even though reduced to £500 if paid within the 2 week time frame, is still a hefty fine. 

 

Learn more about the Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) here.

 

Who is exempt from paying the ULEZ charge?

Central London residents who are already registered for the Congestion Zone discount will now be expected to pay the ULEZ charges in October 2021. But there are still some exemptions for older, polluting vehicles under very specific circumstances, including:

  • London-licensed taxis - though there is a 15-year age limit

  • Historic vehicles - all vehicles built before 1 January 1973 will be exempt from paying the ULEZ charge, regardless of what they are being used for

  • Designated wheelchair-accessible private hire vehicles - but only where they are carrying out a booking for a TfL-licensed PHV operator

 

You can find out more about exemptions here

Unless you meet these requirements and are found to be exempt, then you’ll still need to pay the charge - that is, unless your vehicle is compliant. 

 

How to know if your business vehicle is compliant with ULEZ

Most drivers of older, more polluting diesel and petrol vehicles will be affected by the ULEZ charge. 

 

Cars, vans and other specialist vehicles

If your car, van or other specialist vehicle has a petrol engine that meets Euro 4 emissions standards (introduced in 2006), then you will be compliant with the ULEZ, and therefore won’t have to pay the charge.

For drivers of diesel cars, vans, and other specialist vehicles, you will only be compliant with the ULEZ if your engine meets Euro 6 vehicle emission standards. This came into force in 2015, so if your vehicle is older than this, you’ll likely have to pay the ULEZ charge.

 

Lorries, buses, coaches and other specialist heavy vehicles 

Arguably most affected by the charge, lorries, buses and coaches and other specialist heavy vehicles will need to comply with the Euro VI emission standards

The ULEZ will be enforced for these vehicles based on the manufacturer-declared emissions rather than how old the vehicle is. However, Euro VI engines typically are those registered with the DVLA after 2014 - so you may face the charge if your vehicle is older than this. 

The best way to find out if your vehicle is compliant with the ULEZ is to check before you enter London. You can use TfL’s vehicle checker to do this, by simply entering your number plate.

 

What to do if your business vehicle isn’t ULEZ compliant 

If you find that your vehicle doesn’t meet the necessary emissions standards, you’ll have to pay the daily charge. 

You can pay all charges associated with driving in London (ULEZ, LEZ and the congestion charge) online at once by entering your registration number here

However, TfL states that it would rather drivers “use vehicles that meet the emissions standards rather than pay a daily charge”, so before subjecting your fleet to multiple daily charges, you do have other options, depending on your vehicles. 

 

Upgrade to vehicles that meet ULEZ standards

For vans in particular, one of the best options is to upgrade your fleet to one that meets the appropriate standards. 

All van manufacturers now only sell vehicles that meet these standards, with some Euro 6 vans available since 2013. This means more second-hand vans are available as businesses are upgrading their older fleets. 

 

Get electric vehicles

Where possible, the government and TfL are encouraging fleets to go electric. These vehicles produce no harmful emissions, so are completely exempt from ULEZ charges.

 

Retrofit your existing fleet

The ULEZ allows for some vehicles to be retrofitted with emissions-reducing technologies to meet the necessary standards. 

However, these technologies need to be verified by the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS) - which currently only certifies technology used by buses, coaches and refuse vehicles, making it rather difficult for other vehicles to be retrofitted. 

 

Apply for a scrappage grant

TfL has reopened a range of scrappage schemes to help drivers and fleet managers get their vehicles up to standard.

Some businesses and charities are eligible for scrappage grants, which allow them to replace their older, polluting vehicles with those that are compliant with the ULEZ standards.

Currently, the only scrappage scheme still open for applications is the ULEZ car and motorcycle scrappage grant, which offers drivers between £1,000 - £2,000 to replace their vehicles. 

Due to a huge demand and limited funds, scrappage schemes for HGVs, vans and minibuses are closed for applications

Though if you have been lucky enough to get a grant, you can use it in a variety of ways. You can choose to put the grant towards purchasing a new vehicle, retrofitting an existing vehicle, or hiring vehicles that are already ULEZ compliant.

 

Hire ULEZ compliant vehicles

Whether you're a business owner or a fleet manager with a fleet of 1 or 100+ vans or HGVs, the best way you can beat the daily ULEZ charges is to ensure your fleet meets the necessary euro 6 emission standards.

Arguably one of the cheaper, easier options to do this is to hire vehicles that are already compliant with ULEZ. This way, you won’t have the expense of purchasing a new vehicle outright or retrofitting your existing vehicles. 

Hiring ULEZ compliant vehicles also allows you to stay ahead of any further regulations that may come your way. At Enterprise Flex-E-Rent, our flexible hire offering allows you to hire ULEZ compliant vehicles on terms to suit your business - keeping you ahead of regulations, and your competition. 

 

ULEZ: is this only the beginning? 

As you’ll likely be aware, more and more legislation is being developed to make fleets safer, and more environmentally friendly. The ULEZ expansion is proof of this, as the government continues to crackdown on older, more polluting vehicles. And it’s only the beginning. 

The push towards electrification is only further evidence, as electric vehicles are subject to generous tax benefits and exempt from clean air zones such as the ULEZ and LEZ. There are even plans in the works to introduce Zero Emission Zones (ZEZ) that will be even stricter than ULEZ in a bid to support the Mayor's goal that by 2050 London will become a zero-carbon city.

While the ZEZ is a while away yet, we’re already seeing low emissions and clean air zones appear around the country - most recently with the Bath Clean Air Zone (CAZ), that has pushed ahead even in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The CAZ makes history as the first clean air zone to be launched outside of London, but it certainly won’t be the last:

  • Birmingham plans to introduce their own Clean Air Zones in June 2021.

  • Bristol City Council, who must have a Clean Air Zone in place by October 2021, have decided to seek permission for a small zone within the city centre after years of planning. 

 

There are also many more local authorities planning to introduce some form of a Clean Air Zone in the very near future, including Leicester, Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle and many more. 

This shows that the expansion of ULEZ is only the start of what is set to be a challenging few years for fleet managers. 

In addition to dealing with the problems brought about by Covid-19, fleet managers now have to consider how further Clean Air Zones will fit into their strategies in the future. 

 

A need for flexibility

It’s clear that over the past year, fleet managers have experienced an increased need for flexibility - in vehicles, contracts, and in operations themselves. With so many regulations demanding newer, less polluting, and safer vehicles, it’s no longer feasible for fleet managers to purchase vehicles outright. 

Vehicle leasing, which has been a popular choice for businesses in the past, will also have to be reconsidered as changing rules and regulations make being locked into long contracts a real challenge. Even vehicle hire, another alternative, can be a problem if you’re stuck in a long, rigid contract. 

Moving forward, fleet managers need a more flexible approach to vehicle acquisition. After all, the expansion of the ULEZ is only the very beginning. 

At Enterprise Flex-E-Rent, our flexible hire offering gives you all the security of fixed contracts and pricing, with the flexibility to return vehicles when no longer needed at your convenience. Flexible hire is helping businesses flex their fleet to meet their immediate needs, factoring in rapidly changing rules and regulations, as well as the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. Our offers extend to East and West London boroughs.

We can help you source the ULEZ compliant vehicles you require, while giving you the freedom to return and upgrade when it suits you. Speak to one of our flexible hire experts to see how we can help you comply with the ULEZ and beyond. 

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