London traffic made up of red busses, cars and vans.

Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones: information for businesses

homesmall business sustainability clean air zones low emission zones

As the race to net zero continues and with the sale of new petrol and diesel cars expected to be banned by 2050, the government and local authorities across the UK are introducing new measures to lower emissions and improve the air quality in towns and cities.

Clean Air Zones (CAZ), or Low Emission Zones (LEZ) if you’re in Scotland, have been designed to promote cleaner air by encouraging motorists to drive to newer, less polluting vehicles, or to use public transport.

With potential penalty charges and limitations on areas drivers can go, these initiatives could pose financial and operational challenges for businesses. Despite this, research commissioned by Northgate found that 29% of businesses were still unaware of the rules around Clean Air Zones.

Whether you’re a sole trader with just one business vehicle, or you run an entire fleet, it’s important to understand what these zones mean and how it might impact your business.

Click the links below to take you to each section of the guide:

What are Clean Air Zones (CAZ) and Low Emission Zones (LEZ)?

Low emission zone sign

Depending on where you are in the UK, the initiatives to improve air quality in towns and cities have different names.

In England, they’re commonly referred to as ‘Clean Air Zones’ and in Scotland they’re ‘Low Emission Zones’. And when it comes to ‘Ultra-Low Emission Zones’, you’ll only find them in London. That being said, you might find that people use the names interchangeably as ultimately, they’ve been introduced to achieve the same thing.

A zone is a designated area that charges or penalises high polluting vehicles based on their Euro emission standard. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras are in operation 24 hours a day and will detect vehicles that don’t comply. The drivers of those vehicles will then typically need to pay a fine.

Where are the Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones in the UK?

The British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association has created an interactive map to show you where these zones are in the UK.

Low Emission Zones in Scotland

Low Emission Zones (LEZ) were introduced across Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow on 31 May 2022. However, local grace periods are in place until enforcement of the zones can begin.

  • Glasgow: The LEZ already applies to buses. Enforcement for other vehicle types will start on 1 June 2023, or 1 June 2024 for residents within the zone.
  • Dundee: Enforcement will start on 30 May 2024
  • Aberdeen: Enforcement will start on 1 June 2024
  • Edinburgh: Enforcement will start on 1 June 2024

Clean Air Zones in England

In England, there are four types of Clean Air Zones, Class A to D.

A = Buses, coaches, taxis, private hires
B = Buses, coaches, taxis, private hires, HGVs
C = Buses, coaches, taxis, private hires, HGVs, vans, minibuses
D = Buses, coaches, taxis, private hires, HGVs, vans, minibuses, cars (local authorities have the option to include motorbikes)

  • London: There are different rules if you want to drive in London’s low or ultra-low emissions zones. Go to the Transport for London (TfL) website to learn more.
  • Bath: Class C
  • Birmingham: Class D
  • Bradford: Class C
  • Bristol: Class D
  • Portsmouth: Class B
  • Sheffield: Class C
  • Tyneside: Class C

Clean Air Zones in Wales and Northern Ireland

In March 2023, the Welsh Government published plans for a new Clean Air Act which includes information on developing a Clean Air Zone/Low Emission Zone for some of the country’s busiest roads. Read more about the proposals here.

For more information on emission zone plans in Northern Ireland, read more about the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) air quality monitoring, policy and legislation.

What types of vehicles can drive in Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones?

Several cars lined up in queue of traffic.

To avoid being charged, vehicles must meet a minimum standard, which is based on the following Euro emission standard:

  • Euro VI: buses, coaches and HGVs
  • Euro 6: diesel cars and vans
  • Euro 4: petrol cars and vans
  • Euro 3: motorbikes (This depends on the particular local authority. For example, motorbikes are not included in Scotland’s LEZ)

Local authorities may have different emission standards or rules for taxis and private hire vehicles. So, it’s worthwhile contacting your local authority or visiting their website for more information.

You can find a vehicle’s emission standard in the logbook, or visit the government’s website and enter your registration number to find out if your vehicle can drive in a zone.

How can businesses prepare for Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones?

Person unloading van of boxes

Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones can cause financial and operational challenges for businesses. To understand the potential impact of Clean Air Zones or Low Emission Zones on your business, and to minimise disruption, you can:

  • Check your vehicle(s) meet the minimum emission standards. You’ll find this on the logbook or on the government’s website. If you have a fleet manager, they’ll be able to help you with this too.
  • Look at local authority websites to identify what (if any) existing or planned zones your vehicle will pass through.
  • Calculate the potential penalty charges you’d need to pay and how often.

Top tip: If your business owns two or more vehicles, you should set up a Clean Air Zone business account. With this, you can upload multiple number plates, add extra team members, view maps of Clean Air Zones and find out about exemptions.

How can businesses avoid charges for Clean Air Zones or Low Emission Zones?

Person riding bike carrying delivery bag on their back.

Some vehicles are exempt from paying a zone charge. For example, a vehicle registered with a disabled tax class, or certain agricultural vehicles, are automatically entitled to a national exemption. You can learn more about local and national exemptions on the official Low Emission Zones and Clean Air Zones websites.

If your vehicle doesn’t qualify for an exemption, there are things you can do to avoid being charged.

  • Organise alternative routes: If you know that you’re going to regularly pass through a zone, it’s important to take the time to optimise or adapt your routes to avoid the zones. However, this will likely only be a temporary solution.
  • Switch to electric or hybrid: If your vehicles don’t meet the minimum emission standard, you might want to consider an electric or hybrid alternative. And even if they do meet the standards, it’s worthwhile remembering that the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles is expected to be banned by 2050. Learn more about switching your business to electric vehicles here.
  • Set up delivery hubs outside zones: If your business delivers goods within a zone, you could establish delivery hubs just outside the zone and use a greener ‘last-mile’ delivery alternative like IKEA who use cargo e-bikes. Learn more about making your supply chain more sustainable here.

If you found this page useful, visit our small business sustainability hub for more free tools, tips and expert advice.

Please note, SSE Energy Solutions has written this blog for information purposes only. We recommend speaking to your own business and financial advisors before taking any direct action that will impact your business.