A white congestion charging area sign with a brown building and blue sky behind it.

What are the congestion charges for hybrid cars?

Mention congestion charges and most people will immediately think of the fee you have to pay to drive a vehicle in Central London. But cities across the UK are in the process of introducing emissions-based charges of their own.

Electric vehicles and ultra-low emissions vehicles are typically exempt from these. But what about hybrids?

The short answer is ‘it depends’. Different cities (and different zones) have different rules, but if you drive one of the top hybrid cars on the market, you’re in with the best chance to avoid paying congestion charges, both in London and nationwide.

Congestion Charges Vs. ULEZ

When first introduced in London, the congestion charge aimed to reduce traffic levels by discouraging people from driving through the city center.

More recently, the focus has shifted from the overall number of vehicles to the exhaust emissions they release as they drive through urban areas.

As a result, many so-called congestion charges are technically low-emission zones (LEZ) or ultra-low emission zones (ULEZ). That’s why hybrids and battery electric vehicles (BEV) often qualify for an exemption from paying these charges.

Types Of Clean Air Zone

As well as the London ULEZ, there are a growing number of Clean Air Zones (CAZ) in towns and cities around the UK.

These are described as Class A, B, C or D, and the difference depends on which vehicles are subject to a charge for driving in the zone:

  • Class A includes buses, coaches, taxis and private hire vehicles.
  • Class B includes all of these plus HGVs.
  • Class C includes all of the above plus vans and minibuses.
  • Class D includes everything above plus cars and (sometimes) motorcycles.

The local authority decides whether to include motorcycles in a Class D zone, but it’s worth noting that privately owned cars are generally only affected in a Class D zone.

Existing Clean Air Zones

There are several Clean Air Zones already in operation:

  • Class B in Portsmouth
  • Class C in Bath and Bradford
  • Class D in Birmingham and Bristol

Tyneside and Sheffield Clean Air Zones are due to come into force in early 2023. Greater Manchester also has proposals in place, although these have been kept under review.

Are Hybrids Exempt From Clean Air Zones?

These nationwide Clean Air Zones (i.e. not the London ULEZ) are based on the minimum emission standard of your vehicle, so BEVs, hybrids, and even some internal combustion engine (ICE) cars can all qualify for an exemption.

UK government guidance states that “to avoid being charged in a Clean Air Zone”, cars must meet the Euro 4 petrol standard or the Euro 6 diesel standard, while motorcycles must meet Euro 3.

Larger vehicles, including buses, coaches and HGVs, must meet Euro VI as a minimum to avoid paying the charge in a Clean Air Zone.

All of this means that hybrids and BEVs are likely to qualify for an exemption, but you should check your engine type and the current rules for the relevant Clean Air Zone if you’re in any doubt.

London Congestion Charge Exemptions

Remember, the London Congestion Charge differs from the London ULEZ, so you’ll need to comply with both charges separately if driving through both zones.

The ‘cleaner vehicle discount’ is the new name for what was formerly known as the ‘Ultra Low Emission Discount’ or ULED. However, it’s crucial to know that hybrids do not qualify for the cleaner vehicle discount.

Only battery electric (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles qualify, and the exemption is due to be discontinued completely from December 25th 2025. Also, you must register in advance to receive the exemption – until your application is accepted, you must pay the congestion charge.

There are some other discounts and exemptions that may apply indirectly to hybrid vehicles, including a 90% discount for residents who live within the zone, a 100% discount for blue badge holders (for up to two vehicles, even if you’re not the driver) and a 100% discount for vehicles with nine or more seats — regardless of how many seats are occupied.

Ironically, by opting for one of the biggest new hybrid cars, such as a people mover/MPV, you can avoid paying the London congestion charge, while those driving more compact hybrids have to pay.

London ULEZ Exemptions

From August 2023, the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is expanding to cover all London boroughs, and anyone driving within it (including residents) must pay the fee (currently £12.50 per day).

Unlike the congestion charge, the ULEZ explicitly aims to reduce emissions, rather than decrease the number of cars on the road. Transport for London say: “We prefer that you use a vehicle that meets the emission standards, rather than pay a daily charge.”

Like the Clean Air Zones found elsewhere in the country, in general, your vehicle will be exempt from the ULEZ charge if it meets the Euro 4 petrol or Euro 6 diesel standard (TfL say this includes most petrol cars since 2005 and most diesel cars since 2015).

It’s worth noting that in addition to the ULEZ, there is also a separate Low Emission Zone (LEZ) which does not apply to cars or motorcycles at all.

How To Apply For Exemptions

If your vehicle meets the necessary standards for the ULEZ, you should not need to apply or register for an exemption to avoid paying the daily charge.

For the London Congestion Charge, you’ll need to visit the Discounts and Exemptions page on the TfL website and click on ‘Apply for discount’ under the relevant exemption — remember, you must pay the congestion charge unless/until your application is approved.

You can visit the Clean Air Zones page on GOV for Clean Air Zones elsewhere in the UK and enter your registration number for an instant list of current and future zones, whether they apply to you, and how much you need to pay. You can also pay the fee immediately online using your credit or debit card.