The clean-air zone was expanded from central London on the 29th August, but the public reaction has been something of a mixed bag. 

You’ve probably heard a fair bit about this in the news recently – at least if you follow politics. Starting from the Conservatives surprising victory in Uxbridge, to the implementation of the expansion last month, at times it feels like ULEZ is all people can talk about.

But why has there been backlash against expansion of the policy? Air-pollution is estimated to cause up to 36,000 premature deaths a year, with a stark 4,000 of these occurring in London alone.

We can all surely agree that a greener capitol city can only be of benefit, both for our health and our environment.

But the cost-of-living crisis and a conservative-led smear campaign have both worked to create opposition to expansion of the ULEZ zone outside of the central London area. 

What does ULEZ mean? 

We expect you already know this, but for those unfamiliar with the term, ULEZ stands for Ultra Low Emissions Zone. The ULEZ is an area of London which has high pollution levels; driver restrictions have been introduced in an effort to tackle this and bring those levels down.

The aim is essentially to reduce pollution by cutting down on the number of high-emission vehicles that travel within the designated area. First introduced in 2019, it was the first of its kind in the world.

If you enter the ULEZ zone in a non-compliant car then you are charged £12.50 per day – with larger vehicles like buses, coaches and lorries being charged up to £100 per day.

Until now, the ULEZ zone has only covered central London, with areas like Westminster, Lambeth, Hackney and Camden all being subject to the rules. But as of last Tuesday, this zone has now expanded considerably to cover all the London boroughs.

Operating 24 hours a day, for 364 days a year (Christmas Day is the only exception), any vehicles that don’t meet the emissions standard are subject to the daily rate, which must be paid if you want to drive through the zone in a non-compliant car.

The rules haven’t changed, but the scope of the zone has certainly widened.

Why aren’t people happy about it?

Even though the aim is to reduce air pollution and improve the quality of life for people in London, some constituents aren’t happy about the expansion.

Some say it’s been unrolled too quickly and that only the most vulnerable – those who cannot afford to upgrade to more eco-friendly models – are the ones who will be caught out by the daily tariff.

There are also concerns that the expansion puts the onus on individual consumers to reduce their carbon footprint, while big polluters like Heathrow Airport are free to continue creating high emissions in London airspace.

And this is, of course, a valid point.

Heathrow, Gatwick and all busy airports around the UK are big polluters – but aviation is a completely different industry that requires its own legislation to reduce emissions.

In other words, it’s a legitimate, if separate, issue that has yet to be addressed by the UK government. All emission-heavy industries need to put in the work to go green.

We appreciate this doesn’t do much for the negative feelings towards the new ULEZ zone, but it hasn’t stopped the conservative party from blasting the ULEZ policy in an attempt to undermine Labour (who, it must be said, are not exactly championing it anyway).

And it’s off the back of this narrow Conservative victory in Uxbridge that the ULEZ scheme has suddenly become a hot political issue.

A white Tesla parked outside a posh brick building.

Are people really going to be caught out? 

The big concern seems to be that it will be individuals who can least afford to pay the tariff that are going to be caught out. But London Mayor Sadiq Khan insists that this is a misconception – that more vehicles than people may think will meet the emissions standard.

So, we decided to put our money where Mayor Khan’s mouth is. Quite handily, you can actually check whether or not your vehicle meets the standard, or if you will be charged for driving it in the ULEZ zone.

All you need is a registration number and it’s as easy as that.

So what got tested first?

This writer decided to start with the 1993 8th generation Toyota Corolla she drove during her twenties. 

Now 30 years old, this beauty is probably in a scrapyard somewhere, but that matters not for the purpose of the exercise. As long as you have a licence plate number the DVLA recognise, you can check whether a car is compliant.

Unsurprisingly, that wonderful old Toyota was not – but this is a car that was first registered thirty years ago and to be honest, not many cars of this ilk are still roaming the streets.

(Certainly, this particular model is a rare find these days and another has not been seen by these eyes since it was regrettably bid goodbye at a garage in Paignton two years ago.)

No matter how well they were built and how well we take care of them, most cars that old aren’t going to be roadworthy at this point – as the older a car gets, the more expensive repairs become.

But what about a slighter newer model?

A twenty-year-old Nissan Micra – a model that’s getting on in years, but is still seen fairly frequently on our roads – was also put to the test.

And according to the ULEZ website, it’s completely compliant. A model that’s over twenty years old can be safely driven through any of the London boroughs without attracting the £12.50 daily charge.

So perhaps Mr Khan is not simply talking out of his elbow; you really don’t need a brand-new car, or EV, in order to be compliant with the emissions rules.

If you’re concerned at all about whether your car meets the European standard, it’s easy enough to check – and once you do so, you may find a great deal of worry leaves your mind.


The real danger

Now, if there’s one thing to be wary of regarding the ULEZ expansion, it’s the pop up of new scams by rogue advertisers which are literally designed to catch people out.

According to Which, there have recently been reports of multiple, identical fake websites targeting ULEZ drivers who are required to pay the £12.50 daily charge.

Drivers hoodwinked by these false sites enter their details expecting to pay the one off-charge, only to find they’ve been charged more than the daily amount and that a recurring payment has been authorised.

If you do find yourself having to pay the daily tariff, make sure you only use the official TfL (Transport for London) website to do so. Any websites that claim to be third parties handling transactions on TfL’s behalf are scams and should be reported.

But if you don’t have to pay the tariff, you don’t have to worry.

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Chloe Allen

Chloe Allen

Our Digital Marketing Executive Chloe is in charge of our e-newsletter. There's no one better placed to inform and delight you every month, so keep your eyes peeled for her newsletter hitting an email inbox near you soon.