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Ultra Low Emission Zones – can you get caught out?

December 2, 2022

Most countries are – or have already – bringing out Ultra Low Emission Zones which limit the access of “polluting” cars to certain parts major metropolitan areas. ULEZ zones usually allow free access to the designated area for any car that has pollution levels below a defined limit. This is often Euro4 for petrol cars (basically any car manufactured after 2005) and Euro6 for diesels (cars manufactured after 2015). Hybrid and electric cars are usually exempt. The zones capture number plates through overhead cameras and nothing happens if your car is recognised as compliant. If your car is not compliant, then you should pay a daily charge within 24 hours, or be exposed to fines for having broken the ULEZ rules.

France has introduced LEZ zones, which use Critair certificates to identify cars that are allowed access, and Paris has already begun limiting access to central Paris to cars with low-number Critair categories. Other metropolitan areas will follow suit. To buy a Critair sticker for your car, go to https://www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/. The page has links for both French and foreign registered cars. The cost is €3.11 for the sticker, plus a postage charge.

However, other countries are doing the same thing and you need to know which cities have introduced them and how to make sure you don’t get caught out by a heavy fine if you did not comply with the local regulations. For a general overview of European ULEZ zones, you can go to https://urbanaccessregulations.eu/. These can take various forms, such as the well-known London Congestion Charge, and in many cases the Zones concerned are well identified, with signs making it very clear that you are about to enter the Zone and giving details of how and where you can pay – as usually the restrictions of these zones apply to every vehicle except those which are 100% electric. ULEZ zones are not so clear as they can cover large areas and use overhead cameras to read number plates and only charge cars which are non compliant.

In most cases, cars from the country concerned are not affected as the organisation running the program can access the national car registration data base to confirm the car is compliant with relevant the pollution levels. However, if you drive in the restricted areas with a foreign registered car, you will probably be required to pay the daily charge – or if you don’t be fined – even if your car is compliant with the pollution regulations unless you have pre-registered your car with the relevant authority.

This has come to a head in the last week as a company called Euro Parking Collection plc (EPC) has been sending out fine notices on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) to collect fines relating to driving in the London ULEZ. The London ULEZ currently covers the entire area inside the North and South Circulars, and was implemented in October 2021. So if you have driven through the Blackwall Tunnel, for example, since October 2021 and your non-UK car was not registered with EPC, you are likely to receive a fine notice. From August 2023, the ULEZ will be extended to the area inside the M25. If you are planning to travel to the UK, it is strongly recommended that you register your vehicle with EPC as, even if you are not planning to travel into London, you may end up doing so. That is what happened to the BCC Webmaster who usually goes round the M25 but due to a traffic backlog chose to go through the Blackwall Tunnel instead. Registration is quite easy through the EPC website (https://epcplc.com/tfl_registration/login) and costs nothing - all you have to do is fill in the online form and upload a PDF or JPEG copy of your registration document (carte grise for a French car).

An article in the Voix du Nord on Wednesday 30th November gives some details of the extent of the issue https://www.lavoixdunord.fr/1260369/article/2022-11-29/si-vous-avez-voyage-londres-en-2022-une-grosse-surprise-vous-attend-dans-votre. Hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of French car owners – including the BCC Webmaster! – have received fine notices for which the minimum fine is €97.56, but which quickly goes up to €292.68 if the fine is not paid within 28 days of receipt of the fine notice. This is causing quite a stir, and a self-help face book group, EPC Official Complaint Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1547730375655081) shares experiences and gives suggestions of what you can do. In theory, there is nothing you can do as the ULEZ charge applies to all non-UK cars that are not registered with EPC on the date of travel. However, there is an appeal process and you can go to the EPC website (https://epcplc.com/communication/) to lodge your appeal. However the appeal form only lists a defined list of acceptable reasons to appeal, and gives warning that being unaware of the applicable traffic regulations is unlikely to beaccepted by Transport for London. It therefore probably better to use the option “I have another reason” which opens up a comment box for you to indicate why you are contesting the fine. Please note that you also must upload at least one document in order to submit your appeal. This can, for example, be a copy of your registration document (carte grise) which will demonstrate that your vehicle was compliant. Reasons that you can give to justify your appeal (although with no guarantee they will be accepted) are:

-         The contract between TfL and EPC specifies that a warning notice should be sent before any fine is levied. No such warning notice has been received.

-         Had your car been registered in the UK, it would not have attracted a fine as it is ULEZ compliant. A UK resident had no action to take so why should a non-UK resident.

-         As your car is ULEZ compliant the levy should not apply and so no fine should be payable.

-         There was little or no publicity destined to non-UK residents informing them of this regulation – why were flyers not handed out at customs on entry into the UK?

-         It is unacceptable that EPC has access to non-UK data bases in order to find the car owner's address and send a fine notice, but EPC has not requested access to information that would have demonstrated that the car is compliant.

 

As the fine notices only started to arrive in France a few days ago, there is not yet any information on how EPC – and ultimately TfL – will react to these appeals. As information becomes available, it will be added to this article.

Caroline Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat MP, has asked Transport for London to clarify the position as it relates to ULEZ fines levied on non-UK vehicles and whether they can be contested. The exchange of emails, including TfL's response, is attached as Download 1. This suggests that recipients of fine notices who appeal against the fine using the EPC website and who can demonstrate their vehicle is compliant with the ULEZ pollution requirements (basically petrol cars with standard Euro4 and diesel cars with standard Euro6) will have their fine cancelled. Key passages are highlighted in red and are:

In order to address this we have set up an enquiry service which allows owners of non-UK registered vehicles to contact us and provide evidence that their vehicle is compliant with the relevant scheme. On receipt of this evidence we update our records, mark the vehicle as compliant and ensure it can then be used in the charging area without payment.
If the keeper of the vehicle contacts EPC to confirm the vehicle is compliant, and provides supporting evidence, then the penalty will be cancelled and the records updated to mark the vehicle compliant. This ensures if it is driven in the LEZ or ULEZ again no penalties are issued.
On receipt of a penalty the recipient has a right to challenge it. They can do this by contacting EPC as detailed the penalty. If they provide evidence to confirm the vehicle is compliant then the penalty will be cancelled and the records updated. I would ncourage motorists to follow the instructions on the penalties if they believe they have ben (“been”) incorrectly issued.
We have asked EPC to ensure that any enquiries around penalties and (“are”) dealt with in a reasonable manner.

Words in italics are editorial corrections to errors in the original correspondence.

Belgium has also implemented Low Emission Zones in Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels. As with the London ULEZ, Belgian (and Dutch) registered cars do not need to register as the Belgian authorities have access to registration information for those vehicles that allows them to identify compliance. However, cars from other countries, including France and the UK, must register in order to be able to drive in the zones. The procedure is similar to that for London and can be completed online at:

Brussels LEZ program: https://lez.brussels/mytax/fr

Ghent and Antwerp LEZ programs: https://lez.antwerpen.be/?Taal=FR