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What drivers of Austrian cars need to know about London's low emissions zones

What drivers of Austrian cars need to know about London's low emissions zones

If you are driving to London from Austria with an Austrian registered car you will need to know about the city's low emission zones and how to avoid being hit with a hefty fine, as some of our readers have been.

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Driving in London can be anxiety-inducing even for a local with a British car. Add to that a vehicle registered in Europe and all the rules on Low Emission Zones (LEZ), Ultra Low emission zones (ULEZ) and the Congestion Charge Zone, and the stress can be overwhelming.

And importantly for The Local's readers, drivers of French, Spanish, German registered cars or any foreign registered car for that matter can't avoid these rules.

"All foreign registered vehicles are subject to the ULEZ in the same way as those registered in the UK," states TfL on its website.

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So what are London's low emission zones?

Before we tell you what you need to do here's a brief explanation of London's different low emission zones and congestion zones.

Since 2008, London has been introducing ‘low-emission zones’ to cut air pollution and reduce traffic congestion. This means drivers of certain vehicles have to pay a fee to enter such areas under certain conditions.

The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) was the first such area established in the British capital. It includes all roads within Greater London, TfL explains, apart from the M25 (the motorway encircling the city). The LEZ applies to heavy-duty vehicles such as lorries, vans and specialist heavy vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, as well as buses, minibuses and coaches over 5 tonnes.

It doesn’t apply to cars or motorcycles. It operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

The daily charge ranges from £100 for smaller vehicles to £300 for bigger ones. If you don’t pay the charge, you will receive a fine – which is much higher.

The Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) currently covers all areas inside (but not including) the North (A406) and South Circular (A205) roads, which form a ring road around central London.

From 29 August 2023, however, it will cover all London boroughs.

The ULEZ applies to all vehicles that don’t meet the set emissions standards, including cars and motorcycles (although there are discounts and exemptions, e.g. for vehicles for people with disabilities). It is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except Christmas Day.

To avoid the daily charge vehicles must meet the ULEZ emissions standards which are based on Euro emissions standards (Euro 1 to 6). As we've stated above you'll know if your foreign registered vehicle meets the emissions standards, which means to you don't have to pay the charge - when you register with TfL.

For the ULEZ area, the charge for those high polluting vehicles who don't meet the standards is £12.50 a day (heavy vehicles do not need to pay the ULEZ charge as they already pay the LEZ).

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With all the talk about ULEZ and LEZ, you’d be forgiven if you forgot about the Congestion Charge Zone, which operates from 7 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday, and 12 pm to 6 pm on weekends and bank holidays.

This covers several areas of Central London, including the City, Westminster, Charing Cross, London Bridge and Soho. You can check whether a postcode is in the Congestion Charge Zone here.

The £15 daily fee applies to all vehicles (except motorbikes and mopeds), even if they meet the ULEZ/LEZ emissions standards 

So what do I have to do if my vehicle is registered abroad and I'm heading to London?

First and foremost, the most crucial thing to do if you are planning to drive into London with a vehicle with a foreign number plate is to register online with Transport for London (TfL).

Once you do this you will know whether your vehicle meets the minimum emissions standards so you can drive in London without paying the fine - or whether you have to pay the charge.

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"On receipt of this information we register the vehicle as complaint with the standards. This allows the vehicle to be used in the ULEZ without payment of the charge or risk of receiving a fine," states TfL.

Understandably not everyone driving from Europe has been aware they have had to register.

One EU based reader David, who drives a foreign registered car told The Local: “I have a Mercedes GLC which passes all the emissions tests but I did not know I still had to register with the car with the London authorities. I drove there in October and was somewhat surprised to receive a demand from a collection agency EPC PLC for just under £500. This was the basic fine and late payments penalties."

What do I need to register?

The problem with vehicles registered abroad is that TfL won’t automatically know whether they meet the emissions standards or not. So, you will need to provide proof that yours does.

To do so, you will need to provide a copy of the vehicle’s registration documents and the following:

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  • For ULEZ: a letter from the vehicle manufacturer's homologation department stating the vehicle's Euro standard or a conformity certificate;
  • For LEZ: proof of abatement equipment fitted to the vehicle, for instance if the vehicle has been retrofitted.

Once TfL has registered the vehicle, its status will be updated and you will know whether you need to pay. 

TfL told The Local that they would advise drivers to submit their registration 10 days before their planned trip to London.

Drivers of British registered cars can find out if their car meets the minimum emissions standard by using TfL's online check system.

If your vehicle is registered in the UK with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), you don’t need to register with TfL even if you live abroad, according to TfL.

You can then pay here or set up an autopay here. There is also an app to go through this process.

What are the fines?

There are hefty fines for people that do not comply with these rules.

You could receive a fine if:

  • Your vehicle doesn’t meet emissions standards and you don’t have a discount;
  • You haven’t registered your vehicle with TfL;
  • You haven’t paid the relevant charges (ULEZ, LEZ or Congestion) by the midnight of the third day of travel;
  • When registering a vehicle, you have given TfL an incorrect number plate or date of travel;
  • If you paid by post, you didn’t allow at least ten days for the payment to clear.

For the LEZ, fines are up to £2000 per vehicles. For the ULEZ the fine is £180, or £90 if paid within 14 days. The fine for not paying the Congestion Charge fee is also £180, £90 if paid within two weeks.

If a fine is involved, EPC, the contractor in charge of recovering penalty charge notices (PCNs) to cars with foreign number plates, will identify the relevant country and apply to obtain details from the National Licensing Agency. The notice will then be sent out to that country.

How to challenge a penalty

If you want to challenge a penalty charge notice, you will need to do so within 28 days (here). TfL told The Local that the 28-day period also applies to PCNs issued to drivers abroad.

The 28-day period starts from the date the penalty notice is issued, not when it was incurred. For example, if you were spotted driving in London with a non-compliant vehicle on 14 March, TfL would send your vehicle’s details to the EPC, which would obtain your details abroad and issue the PCN. The 28 days start from the day EPC issues the PCN.

A TfL spokesperson said: “The period [for challenging a PCN] is 28 days but postal delays are taken into account if an appeal is lodged shortly after that time. If, however, the appeal was made several weeks outside of the timeframe the driver would need to have a good reason as to why it was made so late.”

This article was produced in collaboration with EuroStreet news.

 

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