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Thousands of appeals against fines for entering London's ultra low emission zone upheld

Thousands of appeals against fines for entering London's ultra low emission zone upheld

Almost 19,000 penalty charges issued for driving in London's new ultra low emission zone have been successfully appealed, new figures obtained by MoneySavingExpert.com reveal. And while some appeals are from car hire firms passing on fines to renters, motorists who have been wrongly penalised have also been able to win their case. 

Since April, motorists have been forced to pay £12.50/day to use older cars and motorcycles in central London, after the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) was introduced – a measure environmental groups and transport chiefs said was crucial to tackle dangerous levels of air pollution. If you fail to pay the charge you face a fine of £160 to be paid within 28 days, though this is cut to £80 if you pay within 14.

More than 300,000 penalty charge notices (PCNs) have been issued since the zone was established. But figures released to MoneySavingExpert under the Freedom of Information Act show that of the 46,438 appeals submitted to Transport for London by the end of September, 18,927 have been accepted and 17,955 rejected. Another 9,556 remain ongoing.

Some successful appeals were because a vehicle was being rented out, and the hire firm appealed as an administrative measure to ensure the renter was fined instead. But appeals are being upheld for a range of other reasons – for example, because vehicles were mistakenly deemed not ULEZ-compliant, or because the vehicle had been sold shortly before it was driven in the ULEZ and the wrong driver was fined. 

But being unaware of the scheme is not a valid excuse – and is the most common reason appeals were rejected.

For full info on how the ULEZ scheme works, see our London drivers face new ultra low emission zone news story. Plus see how to cut the cost of driving with our 50+ Motoring MoneySaving Tips.

Who has to pay the ULEZ charge?

The ULEZ covers central London, as shown in the Transport for London (TfL) graphic below, though it will be expanded much wider to the North and South Circular roads from October 2021.

Vehicles that don't meet minimum emission standards incur the charge for each day they travel within the ULEZ, though some drivers such as residents can get exemptions. The following vehicles are affected: 

  • Cars – petrol cars that don't meet Euro 4 standards (usually those registered for the first time from 1 January 2006) and diesel cars that don't meet Euro 6 (usually those registered for the first time from 1 September 2015).

  • Motorcycles – all vehicles that don't meet Euro 3 (usually those first registered from 1 July 2007).

You can check whether you need to pay using TfL's tool. Your vehicle's emissions standards may also be listed on your V5C vehicle registration certificate, under section D – otherwise you may need to contact your vehicle manufacturer to check.

If you drive within the zone:

  • On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, you have until 11.59pm on the following day to pay.

  • On Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you have until 11.59pm on Monday to pay.

You can pay the charge via TfL's website.

How many ULEZ appeals have been successful?

The table below shows the number of appeals for each month since the ULEZ was established – and how many were successful. The data goes up to 30 September 2019. Over this period 306,925 fines were issued in total.

Between 8 April, when the scheme launched, and 10 May, TfL didn't issue fines – it sent warning notices instead. 

ULEZ appeals

Month Accepted appeals Rejected appeals Open appeals Total appeals
May 2019 3,302 4,026 790 8,118
June 2019 6,708 5,995 1,597 14,300
July 2019 5,021 4,538 1,628 11,187
August 2019 3,382 3,125 2,728 9,235
September 2019 514 271 2,813 3,598
Total 18,927 17,955 9,556 46,438

What are the grounds for successful appeals?

The Freedom of Information Act data shows the most common reasons appeals are upheld or rejected – though not exact numbers for each category.

The most common reason for appeals being upheld was because a rental firm had hired out the vehicle. ULEZ fines are typically sent to a vehicle's registered keeper, ie, the hire firm for rented cars or motorbikes. Yet hire firms able to supply evidence of a valid hire agreement can appeal and the fine is sent to the renter instead – so this kind of appeal is essentially an administrative process to ensure the driver's held responsible. 

Although TfL says this is the most common reason for successful appeals, it's been unable to tell us what proportion it accounts for despite us repeatedly asking – so it's unclear exactly what proportion of successful appeals are by motorists who have been wrongly fined. However, we do know those who have been wrongly penalised are among those who have successfully appealed.

Here are the four next most common reasons appeals are upheld, in order of frequency:

1. The vehicle was wrongly deemed not ULEZ-compliant, when it was. This is when TfL believed the vehicle was not compliant, but the motorist can prove it was and so no charge was due.

2. The vehicle had been sold before it entered the ULEZ – and the wrong motorist was fined. If the motorist can prove they sold their vehicle before it entered the ULEZ, they will not have to pay the fine. 

3. The vehicle owner made a mistake trying to use the ULEZ Auto Pay Service. This service records the number of days a vehicle travels in the ULEZ and then bills you each month. Some who have made an error trying to activate it for their vehicle have been able to appeal successfully.  

4. The vehicle owner is a blue badge holder and it was their first ULEZ fine. Blue badge holders aren't automatically exempt from paying the ULEZ charge – they must pay it unless their vehicle meets the ULEZ emission standards or is registered with the DVLA with a 'disabled' or 'disabled passenger vehicle' tax class. Yet some first-time contraventions have resulted in appeals being successful.

TfL said the most common reasons for appeals being rejected were motorists claiming they were unaware of the scheme or how it operates, or motorists claiming they had tried to pay. 

How do I appeal a ULEZ fine?

If you receive a PCN, you have to pay £160 within 28 days of it being issued (though this is reduced to £80 if you pay within 14 days).

If you want to challenge a PCN because you believe it's been issued unfairly, you have 28 days from the date of issue to appeal it. However, if you can, act quickly – if your appeal is received by TfL within 14 days, ie, within the reduced payment period, the clock is essentially stopped while your appeal is considered. If your appeal is then rejected, you'll still have the chance to pay £80 rather than £160.

You can appeal:

  • Online  on the TfL website.
  • By post – you have to post your appeal to Ultra Low Emission Zone, PO Box 553, Darlington, DL1 9TZ.

When submitting an appeal, indicate on which grounds you wish to challenge the fine. And make sure you include all relevant details and any supporting evidence to make your case as strong as possible.

It's worth noting that while the reasons highlighted above give you an idea of the types of appeals that are likely to be successful and unsuccessful, each appeal is considered on its own merit and there are other grounds for appeal too. For more information on the ULEZ and exemptions, see our London drivers face new ultra low emission zone MSE News story.

If TfL rejects your appeal, you have the option of appealing to an independent adjudicator at London Tribunals. London Tribunals is independent of TfL and will consider the appeal and make a decision – see more on the process here. We've asked London Tribunals whether appealing to it will also stop the clock on your fine – ie, whether you may still be able to pay the reduced £80 rate if London Tribunals eventually rejects your appeal – and we will update this story when we hear back.

'Been fined unfairly? Fight your case'

Steve Nowottny, news and features editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "The ULEZ was introduced to cut pollution and it's important motorists are aware of the rules and abide by them, but these figures will be encouraging for anyone who thinks they've been fined unfairly. You can and should fight your case – thousands of fines have been successfully overturned.

"Yet the data we've obtained also shows that simply not being aware you had to pay the ULEZ charge, or having wrongly believed you were exempt, is unlikely to get you off the hook. So make sure when appealing that you're as specific as possible about why you've been wrongly fined, and ensure you include all relevant evidence to give yourself the best possible chance."

What does TfL say?

TfL told us that a high proportion of successful appeals result in the fine being transferred to a different person, for example because the fine had been issued to a rental firm or a vehicle had just been sold. But despite us repeatedly asking for clarification, it hasn't been able to tell us what that proportion is or how many relate solely to hire firms.  

Paul Cowperthwaite, TfL's general manager for road user charging, said: "Since its introduction in April this year the ultra low emission zone has been hugely successful with 13,500 fewer older, polluting vehicles entering the zone each day. There has also been a stark fall in roadside air pollution with harmful nitrogen dioxide reduced by a third within the scheme's boundaries.

"A high proportion of vehicles in the zone are meeting the tough emission standards with 77% being compliant.

“The high level of compliance has been achieved via an extensive public information campaign and ensuring the charge is properly enforced. For customers that are subject to a penalty charge and believe it has been issued in error, we have an easy-to-access process that enables them to raise any concerns they have about the fine."