Environment

London's Ulez plans could hit disabled people, charities and small businesses the hardest

Charities, small businesses, and disabled people are concerned about the impact of the August Ulez expansion.

The team from dogs on the streets london stand in front of their van

The team at DOTS London, a dog charity, say the Ulez expansion 'will kill' their organisation. Image: DOTS London

“Our vehicles are not Ulez compliant currently and the expansion is just going to kill us,” said Michelle Clark, founder of Dogs on the Streets, a small charity that supports rough sleepers with dogs.

She is concerned about the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez)’s impact on her charity, which London Mayor Sadiq Khan is expanding to cover all boroughs across the capital in August. And she’s not alone.

Boris Johnson drew up the plans for Ulez as London mayor in 2015, in which any vehicle that doesn’t meet the standards for exhaust fumes faces a £12.50 daily charge for driving in central London. Khan brought it into effect in 2019, but the expansion is facing stern opposition.

“It’s going to have a really severe impact on the emergency services we can provide and the clients that we can support,” Clark told the Big Issue.

Dogs on the Streets operates three vehicles, offering veterinary care to the dogs owned by vulnerable homeless people as well as fostering dogs for rough sleepers while they seek mental health care, addiction support, or find shelter. 

None of the vehicles used by the charity are currently Ulez compliant.

The charity has a transport van, which has been kitted out to safely transport and care for dogs that the organisation picks up. It would be too expensive to “retrofit” the van to become Ulez compliant and to buy a new one that is fit to transport those dogs will cost “between £20,000 and £30,000”, Clark said.

“Come August, we’ll have to get rid of that vehicle and get a new one or pay £12.50 each day – money that we don’t have when we’re desperately trying to fundraise for veterinary care, the overheads of our four-acre foster sanctuary and any other costs associated with caring for homeless people’s dogs,” she added.

“How are we going to survive paying this? I can’t pick and choose which dogs to rescue because I’ve already paid the Ulez three times in one week and can’t afford to do it every day. It breaks my heart because I feel like I’m letting them all down.”

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The Wallington Animal Rescue is facing similar challenges when it comes to the Ulez expansion. Based in Sutton, it claims to be “the only registered animal, domestic, and wildlife rescue” in the borough. 

The charity had two vehicles used for rescuing animals, but neither were Ulez-compliant, forcing its director and co-founder Neil Blackwell to sell one just this month.

“We had two fully-equipped and fully-serviced vehicles, which isn’t enough really, but we couldn’t afford another one and now we’ve just lost one because we’re worried about the expansion,” Blackwell told the Big Issue.

To get just one fully-compliant vehicle that is equipped for animal rescue is going to cost the small charity at least £17,000. With the money received from selling one of their non-compliant vehicles, Blackwell is still in need of £13,000. 

Wallington Animal Rescue's animal transport van, which is not ULEZ compliant
Blackwell said he would have to get rid of this van before August. (Image: Neil Blackwell/Wallington Animal Rescue)

What about the scrappage scheme

“Under the scrappage scheme, we’re only entitled to one claim and it won’t be enough for what we need,” Blackwell said.

The scrappage scheme was introduced by the mayor in January, offering financial help to retrofit or scrap high-polluting cars, including a grant of £5,000 to charities registered in the London area to replace a van.

Blackwell added: “We’re going to need to find another £8,000 after we get the money from the scrappage scheme, which is going to be extremely difficult. The Ulez is just another nail in the coffin for small rescues like ours who receive no external funding.”

The mayor has said the Ulez expansion is necessary to help him tackle toxic air in the capital. A study commissioned by City Hall said an estimated 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year from toxic air pollution.



Khan also said the Ulez has been “one of the most successful environmental initiatives anywhere in the world” and the expansion is based on “evidence” that it is “the right thing to do”.

Polling by YouGov for the London Assembly found 51 per cent of Londoners are in support of the expansion and 27 per cent opposed.

But the mayor now faces a legal challenge, as four London borough councils – Hillingdon, Bexley, Bromley and Harrow – as well as Surrey County Council were recently granted permission to argue the case in court.

The four London councils previously sent an open letter to the mayor stating that their boroughs already “enjoy good air quality” and would not benefit from being inside the zone, while Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire, Essex, and Buckinghamshire councils said they would not allow Ulez signage or cameras to be placed on their side of the county border.

Online sentiment around the expansion has become increasingly negative and the plans have been subject to less legal methods of opposition. Several newly installed Ulez cameras in south London were vandalised recently

Some Facebook groups have been set up directly to oppose what they believe is a “scam” perpetrated by the mayor to rake in money from the scheme and even mildly encourage members to vandalise even more cameras.

Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, some online claim the air in London “has never been cleaner” and said the mayor had no “proof” that the Ulez expansion was necessary.

The mayor previously said the expansion has been subject to “a sustained campaign of opposition” from “climate deniers and vested interests” who are trying to “put a dent in the drive towards great climate action”.

Sadiq Khan
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said tackling air pollution in London is one of his priorities. (Image: Jason Alden/Flickr)

But there are genuine concerns too, and not just from charities. There are also questions about how it will affect disabled people, who often need to travel in a car rather than on public transport and may have carers who drive them around.

“My daughter is a blue badge holder so her car would be exempt until 2027 but as you can only register one car under the blue badge scheme for exemption, her carers will need to pay £12.50 if their cars aren’t compliant,” one woman told the Big Issue over email.

“That cost will fall on my daughter, who receives benefits due to her disability, because the carers will not be able to afford it,” she said.

One of her daughter’s assistants, who lives in Leatherhead, Surrey, recently left her support role because of the proposed Ulez expansion as it would make it too costly to travel into London for this job. The woman said this has “created a huge void and upset for my daughter who relied on her support for the past six years.”

The Ulez offers exemptions and discounts to people in receipt of disabled benefits and blue badge holders until at least 2027. 

Disabled parking bay
Campaigners were previously concerned about the impact of Ulez charges on disabled Londoners. (Image: Mike Ford/Flickr)

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Small businesses and tradesmen are also worried about how the Ulez may affect their employees and their bottom line.

“My main concern is that some of my employees do not have compliant vehicles, and it’s going to be a massive strain on them to get a new car or to pay the daily charge,” said Paul Daniels, who runs a swim school across Wembley, in west London, and Maidenhead and Slough in Berkshire.

Daniels said his costs as a business have gone up significantly in recent years due to the high cost of living and high energy bills associated with operating swimming pools.

“It’s crucifying people,” he said. “I can’t cover the Ulez costs for my employees, even if I want to, and I can’t give them a high-enough pay rise to get a new car. So I’ll have to either find new teachers, which I don’t want to do, or only put them on lessons in places they can drive to.”

Daniels said his swim school now teaches 600 children a week but may need to reduce their offering to accommodate the Ulez charges.

The mayor previously acknowledged the “genuine concerns” of many Londoners relating to the Ulez expansion and pledged to “always listen to and address those concerns and provide further support where necessary”.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. And we want to share your views with more people. Get in touch and tell us more.

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