ULEZ – the Ultra Low Emission Zone scheme – has been expanded to cover all of Greater London, and the extension this week has not been without its issues.

The scheme, aimed at improving air quality, charges people a daily £12.50 fee for driving vehicles that don’t meet certain emissions standards and the expansion to outer London has proved to be divisive – clean air campaigners support it, but some residents and businesses are unhappy about the cost.

Scrappage scheme

For those living in London boroughs, there is a £160m scrappage scheme available, set up by Mayor Sadiq Khan and those eligible can receive up to £1,000 for scrapping a motorcycle, £2,000 for scrapping a car and up to £7,000 for scrapping a van.

To be eligible, vehicles need to have been registered with the DVLA by 30 January 2022 or earlier (visit the TfL website).

However, when the expansion came into effect in August 2009, the TfL website struggled to cope with the number of people trying to access the scheme to see if their vehicle was compliant.

Unlawful signage

Launched in 2019, ULEZ initially covered an area of central London and was expanded in 2021 to the North and South Circular roads and it has continued to hit bumps in the road. Protesters have vandalised the cameras that monitor traffic entering the zone while businessman Noel Willcox said he had won a Court ruling that Low Emissions Signs in London, and by inference ULEZ signs too, are indeed not lawful.

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Willcox was reported in the press this week saying: “You look at the Dart Charge or the Congestion Charge, and the signage is very clear – the white ‘C’ in the red circle. 

“It warns you on billboards on the approach, it’s written on the road surface, and then it reminds you afterwards to make sure you pay.

“There’s nothing like that with the Low Emission Zone and it has been deemed unlawful because motorists have to be told if there is a risk they are going to be charged under the Road Traffic Act.”

The central issue in his appeal against fines for his commercial vehicles entering LEZs is whether the Low Emission Zone signs are authorised and provide adequate information as to the Low Emission Zone Scheme.

Graeme Wallington Adjudicator appointed under Regulation 3 of the Road User Charging (Enforcement and Adjudication) (London) Regulations 2001 (as amended) ruled: “I accept the Appellant’s submissions that if the signs are not authorised and do not provide adequate information of the charging scheme then no charge or penalty is payable. Despite having adjourned this appeal to allow TfL the opportunity to submit evidence upon these points, TfL produced no evidence as to either the Low Emission Zone signs being compliant with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016 nor the Traffic Signs Manual or that the signs are otherwise authorised as Non-Standard Traffic Signs or as to the adequacy of the information contained on the signs. In these circumstances, I cannot be satisfied that the Low Emission Zone signs are authorised and lawful.”

“TfL have therefore failed to establish that the contraventions occurred and that the PCNs [Penalty Charge Notices] were lawfully issued. I therefore allow the appeal and direct that the PCNs be cancelled.” 

TfL said signage was signed off by the Department for Transport in 2008 and said it is investigating why certain evidence was not submitted.

Willcox, the owner of Elevation Access, said: “More people must come forward to appeal charges they have been hit with, and reclaim any money they have paid, because the fees are unlawful due to illegal signage, TfL would be seriously out of pocket. I did a FOI request as to how much has been collected under the LEZ and ULEZ. The FOI seems to indicate £124.7 million for existing ULEZ, and £37.5 million for LEZ – of ‘enforcement income’.”

Expansion is needed

Adrian Keen, Chief Executive of public charging network, InstaVolt, said the ULEZ expansion is “critical” to protecting the UK’s transition to EVs by 2030. 

He added: “The number of mixed messages from the Government recently has been astonishing, with proposals made to extend the 2030 deadline and row back support of ULEZ. This was the vote of approval needed to keep the country on track and is an opportunity that will create a seismic shift in our country’s emissions – and it’s not to be taken lightly.

“We’re investing heavily in our charging network across the country and specifically within ULEZ expansion zones, forming infrastructure to meet the needs of EV users, with plans in progress for a charging super hub at Syon Park in Brentford, among multiple other developments. 

“Recent statistics show that air pollution is the country’s biggest environmental health threat, with outdoor pollutants estimated to contribute towards 40,000 excess premature deaths per year, costing the economy upwards of £20 billion a year. 

“ULEZ directly helps to mitigate this. We need to push aside our prejudices and understand that this is not just a political scheme, but one that directly impacts our country’s health and environment.”

ULEZ scammers

Meanwhile, motor finance provider, Leasing Options has issued a cautionary notice to drivers entering Ultra Low Emission Zones in London and across the UK, as scam artists are creating copycat portals which could mean drivers lose thousands. The news comes as Which? (ULEZ scams: drivers targeted by dodgy websites when paying charges) has spotted hoax websites targeting drivers trying to pay their ULEZ charge.

Mike Thompson, Chief Operating Officer at Leasing Options, said: “Scammers are opportunists and most recently, they’ve capitalised on the UK’s plans to lower emissions. In response to Ultra Low Emission Zones being introduced in London, scammers have created copycat websites to lure in unknowing drivers to pay their ULEZ charge.

“The reality is that drivers have actually committed to a monthly direct debit for the charge that isn’t going to Transport for London and instead directly into scammer’s pockets. Scam websites have currently only being spotted for Transport for London but I urge drivers outside of London to be equally wary when paying their daily ULEZ payments, too. It’s likely that this won’t be the only copycat portal of its kind as other low emission zones are introduced across the UK in a bid to reduce the UK’s CO2 emissions.”

On some false websites, Which? found the service led to £17.50 being taken out of their bank account and a commitment to a monthly direct debit. Not only is the payment more than the usual charge for using London’s low-emission zone but drivers would then be committed to making the same payment every month.

Thompson said: “The issue is only worsened by the fact that motorists are, after making this false payment, then susceptible to £180 daily fines from Transport for London. In just one week, you’d be set back £900 in fines if you enter the ULEZ on a daily basis.”

Chris Wright is the managing editor of Leasing Broker News and Business Motoring. A version of this article first appeared in Business Motoring