The Ulez was first introduced in 2019. (Image: Matt Brown/Flickr)
The Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) has now expanded to cover all of London, making the city the world’s largest low-emissions zone. Introduced by mayor Sadiq Khan to improve air quality in the capital, the Ulez has been accompanied by a scrappage scheme offering motorists cash to replace polluting vehicles.
From August 29, all of London’s 32 boroughs are within the Ulez and drivers of non-compliant vehicles face a daily charge of £12.50.
Most cars are Ulez compliant, but for owners of vehicles facing the daily charge the scrappage scheme provides a way to upgrade to a less polluting set of wheels. Here’s what you need to know.
What is the ULEZ scrappage scheme?
Political opposition to the Ulez has focused on the impact of the £12.50 charge on those struggling to get by. For those struggling with the cost of daily life, the choice between forking out for a new ride and paying nearly £90 a week to get around is unenviable.
To that end, mayor of London Sadiq Khan introduced the scrappage scheme. Funding totalling £160million has been made available to help Londoners make the switch.
The first wave of the scrappage scheme saw over 15,000 polluting vehicles taken off the streets, according to Transport for London.
It is available not just to individual drivers, but also small businesses, sole traders and charities – groups which had raised concerns about the impact of the charge.
The scrappage scheme was expanded after the Conservatives won July’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip byelection. Despite the Conservative majority in the seat shrinking from over 7,000 votes to under 500, it was seen as a failure by Labour to win a target seat. In the wake of the vote, Keir Starmer said Labour must be doing something “very wrong”.
Previously, £2,000 payments wereonly available to people who receive one of a group of benefits, including child benefit and universal credit. Now, everyone with a non-compliant vehicle is eligible.
Khan previously said expanding the Ulez will build “a better, greener, fairer, and healthier London for everyone” by tackling the threats of air pollution, the climate crisis, and congestion.
The London Assembly said the expansion will save 27,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in outer London as well as reducing nitrogen dioxide emissions by up to 10 per cent and reducing PM2.5 particulate matter emissions by 16 per cent.
Figures from the RAC suggest almost 700,000 drivers will have to pay the daily Ulez charge following the expansion, which comes into effect on August 29, and said it would have a “massive financial impact on motorists and businesses”.
Not everyone is eligible for the scheme, however, so here’s everything you need to know about it.
What happens if I live in the Ulez?
The Ulez was first introduced to central London in 2019 and expanded to the edge of the North and South Circular boundary roads in 2021.
If you live and drive within the Ulez, you have to ensure your car complies with its emission guidelines.
The TfL website offers a system where people can check their registered licence plates to see if they are required to pay the Ulez charge.
Khan launched a £110 million scrappage scheme in January, providing grants of up to £2,000 for eligible drivers to scrap or retrofit their high-polluting, older cars or up to £1,000 for motorcycles from August. He recently expanded it to make all Londoners eligible.
The expansion also increases the payments available to businesses and sole traders. Sole traders and businesses with fewer than 50 staff can now claim up to £7,000 for each van they replace (for up to three vans), a £2,000 increase on the previous figure. The previous sum of up to £7,000 for replacing a minibus has risen to £9,000, and the grant to retrofit a van or minibus has risen from £5,000 to £6,000.
For disabled Londoners, payments of £10,000 are available to scrap a non-compliant wheelchair accessible vehicle, or £6,000 to retrofit it.
As an alternative to payments of £2,000, owners of cars can also opt to receive a lower cash sum alongside a travel pass. For example, there is the option to receive £1,600 and one adult annual bus and tram pass, which TfL says totals over £2,500.
The London Authority states the scrappage scheme is designed to help people “switch to cleaner, greener modes of transport”.
The application form also requires proof of ID, proof of address, and the vehicle’s insurance details and log book.
Small businesses, and sole traders who want to apply for the scheme must also be registered within London’s 32 boroughs or the City of London and have fewer than 10 employees or less than £632,000 turnover annually. Charities must also be registered in the London area.
Disabled people and community transport vehicles have also been given discounts and exemptions on the Ulez charge until at least 2025 to allow them more time to change their cars.
The short answer is yes, you can convert your car to be Ulez compliant, but to do so can be expensive and complicated. Retrofitting a non-compliant vehicle would include upgrading the exhaust system or changing the engine.
Switching the engine would mean having to to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about the change and the car would need to undergo a road emissions test to find out what the engine’s emissions values are.
The work would also need to be done at a facility accredited by the Vehicle Certification Agency.
In addition to the cost of the work, the road emissions test is also very costly. The scrappage scheme’s grants can be used for retrofitting but people who are not eligible may find the cost too exorbitant.
What other support is available?
As well as the scrappage scheme, other support is available for motorists as the Ulez expands.
A number of discounts and special offers on cycle hire and purchases can be found here. These are available to all Londoners.
Further discounts are available to successful applicants to the scrappage scheme, such as deals on Lime bikes, car rental, scooter purchases, and car financing. Meanwhile, some residents may qualify for a ‘grace period’ 100% discount on the Ulez charge. These include disabled people, drivers of wheelchair accessible vehicles, and some NHS patients. Find out more here.