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Drivers from France shocked by London low emission zone penalties

The ULEZ does not automatically detect if foreign-registered vehicles are exempt. ‘Perhaps TfL should reconsider how it communicates with visitors from abroad,’ said one driver

Connexion readers have received London ULEZ penalty charges, despite the fact that their vehicles are exempt, because Transport for London cannot detect when they were made Pic: Lorna Roberts / Shutterstock

Several Connexion readers have contacted us about penalty charges – some of them amounting to thousands of euros – that they have received recently as drivers of French-registered cars travelling within the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). Many of them are exempt from the associated charge.

Previously such penalties had not been sent out to French addresses, but in recent days this has changed. If you drive a French-plated vehicle which is exempt from ULEZ charges, you must pre-register it with Transport for London (TfL) or you will also receive a penalty charge. We explain.

Read more: Register French-plated cars for London driving to avoid penalties

Why is this happening?

TfL consults the UK’s DVLA database to determine whether UK-registered cars are exempt or not, but when this is not possible the owner must provide paperwork proving that their vehicle is not concerned by the charge. 

It means that people with foreign-registered cars need to enter their vehicle details to avoid receiving a penalty charge but many drivers are unaware of this.

What is ULEZ and how does it work?

The Ultra Low Emissions Zone – introduced in 2019 – is an area of London in which the most polluting cars are charged. It currently covers the Inner London area inside the North and South Circular roads, which are not affected by the charges themselves.

You can check whether different London postcodes fall inside or outside the zone using this TfL search tool.

The owners of the most polluting cars must pay £12.50 a day to drive in the zone in addition to the daily Congestion Charge of £15, which applies in the city centre.

ULEZ generally affects pre-Euro 6 diesel vehicles – manufactured before 2016 – and pre-Euro 4 petrol vehicles produced before 2006, although there may be some exceptions. 

The Euro6 or Euro4 label refers to the vehicles emissions standards which came into force in 2015 and 2005 respectively. 

Car drivers who forget to pay the ULEZ will receive a penalty charge notice of £160, reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days. However, if the fee is still not paid, the charge will continue to increase. 

You can check if your vehicle is subject to the ULEZ charge using this TfL tool.

From August 29, 2023, the ULEZ area will extend to cover the whole of Greater London.

How to register a vehicle and appeal a charge  

Chris Harris, a retired business director in the vehicle safety industry who has lived near Paris for over 20 years, told The Connexion: “This week I received a letter containing five separate fines for not paying the ULEZ charges dating back to December 2021.

“My diesel vehicle is Euro6 compliant and therefore exempt from the ULEZ charges. 

“The problem is that the system that captures you entering these zones does not automatically recognise foreign number plates and therefore applies a charge.

“TfL have subcontracted the management of these fines and collection to Euro Parking Collections Ltd (EPC) who have access to the vehicle registration for France and can then send out the fines.

“I challenged the fines directly with EPC and after submitting a copy of my carte grise they have cancelled them.

“It is necessary to go on the TfL/EPC website to register your vehicle, again with a copy of carte grise, to ensure that you are not fined again.”

It is possible to register your vehicle on this EPC page, and appeals can be started here.

An EPC spokesperson told The Connexion that it has only just started sending out ULEZ penalty charges to drivers in France because TfL only shared details of the relevant vehicle number plates in the last week. 

This may explain why several Connexion readers have received multiple penalty notices dating back as far as 2020 over the past few days. 

Registering is ‘easy’ 

Marie McEnroe Lexa said that she has registered her car on the website and driven many times to London. “I have not had any problems or received any fines,” she said. 

Lynette Beardwood also said: “I registered my car on the ULEZ site, which refers you to EPC. It was an easy process, and I received a confirmatory email promptly.” 

Up to €2,634 in fines  

Several Connexion readers who did not pre-register their vehicles report having received penalty charge notices over the last few days. 

Trevor Roper said: “My wife and I visited London last December with our year-old Hybrid Peugeot. A couple of days ago we received four penalty notices with a total of around £1,000 in fines. 

“The letter also arrived three weeks after posting, so not allowing us to pay a reduced fee. We also had extreme difficulty finding out how to appeal.

“The whole experience has been stressful and frustrating. We now just need to see if our appeal is successful.”

Another reader, who preferred not to be named, said: “I have just got off the phone to TfL, who tell me that the four €97.56 [penalty charges we have had], due to increase by €100-€200 each just two or three weeks after we received them, are not enforceable if my car is low emissions. 

“It’s been a stressful couple of days, especially when we tried to challenge the penalties on the TfL website, it refused to send all our information, citing 'technical problems' (though we tried on more than one device).

“We are awaiting their decision but I do think other visitors should be warned about this and perhaps TfL should reconsider how it communicates with visitors from abroad.”

Online form is ‘not user-friendly’

Colin Bell said he has “just received nine fines for not being ULEZ compliant. These fines, with early payment within 14 days, amount to €878.04, due on December 5 or December 8. If not paid, the full amount is due: €2,634.12. 

He said that when he went online to register his car, he “ended up with ‘502 Bad Gateway’. I spoke with EPC – they are having problems with their website (maintenance) and cannot do anything. You need to register yourself with TfL first.”

A “helpful TfL representative” told Mr Bell that a carte grise is enough to register the vehicle via the TfL website, but he said that when he tried it was “very awkward” and “not user-friendly”. 

“Once registered as an individual it then redirects you to EPC to register the vehicle: 520 Bad Gateway.

“I assume the bad gateway message was because many citizens of Europe are receiving these multiple fines and everyone is logging on – so the system has crashed. But I could be wrong.

“I finally managed to get logged on to the EPC site and register my car. Now “pending”. Still have to contest the fines!”

TfL ‘omits information about what the alleged offence is’

Colin Campbell, an early retiree who lives in Alpes-Maritimes, said that TfL are “dressing up the ULEZ as a ‘toll road’ and then omitting information about what the alleged offence is. 

“They are accessing foreign vehicles databases to get addresses, but not bothering to check those same databases for the emissions class of the vehicles concerned. 

“Any reasonable person would conclude that TfL is hoping foreigners will just pay up because they’re confused about the various TfL charging zones, their own whereabouts three months earlier and are being taken in by the blatantly false offence description in the notices themselves.

“Today I received three penalty notices from TfL. I used my French-registered car in SW6 in August. The vehicle is a petrol car manufactured and first registered in 2020 – so it meets the Euro6 standard and therefore no ULEZ charge is due. They’re asking for €97-€292 for each of the three alleged infringements.

“TfL appears to be in breach of Sections 2 and 4 of the Fraud Act (2006). The issuing of the notices for payment is unlawful, regardless of whether I paid-up or not.”

Reader tips on appealing

If you do need to appeal a penalty charge, you probably need to pay it to avoid the total increasing while you await a response, a reader, who preferred not to be named in this article, observed. 

Another reader said: “It is also worth noting that the emissions category is shown under V9 on the carte grise so I have sent a copy of this with my appeal.”

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