The ultra-low emission zone cost me an ultra-high fine

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Martin Bond/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Martin Bond/Alamy

I live in Germany and came to London with my car to visit my daughter last May. In January, I received six penalty charge notices (PCNs) from Transport for London (TfL), each dated November 2022, through its agent, Euro Parking Collection (EPC). The fines, for driving within London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez), were €95.96 (£84.10) each if paid by the end of last November, two months before they reached me. As I’d missed the deadline, they were €287.88 each. My car is a leased Volkswagen Passat GTE (a petrol/electric hybrid) and is Euro 6 compliant, yet I’m facing a €1,727.28 bill. I tried repeatedly to challenge the fines, but each time the TfL website returned an error message, so I made an online representation to EPC, but have been told by TfL the fines still stand.
AL, Braunschweig, Germany

The Ulez, introduced in central London in 2019, and due to be expanded across Greater London in August, requires drivers of the most polluting vehicles to pay a daily charge. However, those from mainland Europe have been hit with fines amounting to thousands of euros, despite driving compliant cars.

Vehicles from overseas must be pre-registered with TfL before entering the zone, otherwise they may be deemed non-compliant. In 2022, 167,663 fines were sent overseas. Unluckily for you, EPC, which enforces them, recently gained access to vehicle-keeper records in Germany, the Netherlands and France, and has been making up for lost time by firing off PCNs for alleged offences months previously.

Amazingly, there is no legal cut-off after which PCNs cannot be issued. By the time they reach drivers (in your case via the leasing company, which caused added delays), they have rocketed, for one couple to £3,589 after a trip to London.

TfL says the registration process for foreign vehicles is on its website, but you’d have to know of the requirement to look. It says overseas vehicles are deemed polluting by default if EPC is unable to confirm emission details from the relevant licensing authority. And it claims that, if a driver can prove the vehicle is compliant, it will cancel the PCN.

Not in your case. You were informed there was no option to appeal since the fine was being enforced by EPC. Asked why payment deadlines are not extended for overseas drivers, given postal delays, TfL says it expects EPC to act “reasonably”.

TfL cancelled the charges after I got in touch. It says: “It is clear the service the driver received was not good enough.” EPC was contacted for a comment.

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