Thousands of drivers escape Ulez fines as warning letters sent instead

Thousands of drivers who have failed to pay the new Greater London Ulez have been sent warning letters rather than £180 fines, it can be revealed.

Transport for London has confirmed that many motorists have escaped an immediate penalty as it pursues a phased approach to enforcing the Londonwide ultra-low emission zone.

Letters headed “Ultra Low Emission Zone contravention warning notice” have begun arriving at the homes or workplaces of drivers who failed to pay the £12.50 daily levy this week.

Sources told the Standard that the policy would be applied on a “case for case” basis, depending on the history of each driver’s journeys in and around the capital.

TfL declined to give a precise figure for the number of warning letters it has issued to date, nor to reveal an end date for the policy.

But, based on a similar approach used when the Ulez launched in central London in April 2019, and expanded to the inner boundaries of the North and South Circular Roads in October 2021, it is likely to be in place for about the first fortnight.

Sources insist there is no blanket “amnesty” in place, despite the expansion having sparked vocal opposition from some quarters and widespread vandalism or theft of more than 500 of the enforcement cameras.

The zone, introduced by Mayor Sadiq Khan in a bid to reduce toxic vehicle emissions, went Londonwide on August 29. Many drivers are said to have already paid to enter or travel within Greater London.

A TfL spokesperson said: “In precisely the same way that has been used during the roll-out of previous Ulez schemes, we have used our discretion during the early stages of the expansion.

“Owners of non-compliant vehicles that have been seen driving in the zone have now started to receive enforcement letters reminding them that the zone has now been enlarged and that they will need to pay the charge in future if the vehicle continues to be used in the zone.

“We are using the opportunity to remind drivers of the extensive support available such as scrappage grants, and to point people to our Auto Pay system, which is the easiest way to ensure they are not caught out unnecessarily.”

The expanded zone is expected to generate about £200m a year in levies and fines for TfL in its first two years – cash that will be reinvested in London’s public transport network.

The annual net income is then set to fall to about zero by 2028 as drivers increasingly switch to compliant vehicles. Mr Khan has previously promised not to “move the goalposts” by toughening the exhaust emission rules that vehicles must meet to be exempt from the levy.

Drivers of non-compliant vehicles – typically petrol vehicles registered before 2005 or diesels registered before 2016 – have to pay £12.50 a day or face an £180 penalty.

TfL is not expected to release the first data showing the impact of the Greater London Ulez until the end of October, as initial traffic flows will have been influenced by the school and summer holidays.

The letter typically states: “Your vehicle was seen being driven in the zone without having paid the appropriate charge or being registered as compliant.

“On this occasion you have been sent a Warning Notice rather than a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN).

“While we have decided not to issue a PCN on this occasion, we reserve the right to issue a PCN for any future contraventions.”

The letter advises drivers who believe their vehicle is exempt to register it with TfL’s Ulez contractor EPC.

More than 95 per cent of vehicles in the inner London area bounded by the North and South Circular roads were known to comply with the emissions rules – meaning they were exempt from the charge.

But in some outer London boroughs almost as many as one in five cars, and almost half of vans, were thought to be liable to pay the charge. TfL said evidence from its enforcement cameras suggested nine out of 10 cars in outer London would not have to pay.