Nearly half of small-to medium sized enterprises are unaware of clean air zones set to launch in the UK from next year, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA).

Asked whether they were aware of local authority plans to introduce CAZs, 55% responded positively while 40% responded in the negative.

Councils ordered by Government to implement clean air zones by 2020 include: Leeds, Derby, Nottingham, Southampton and Birmingham, with a further 23 authorities shortlisted for clean air zone implementation. London's Congestion Zone is also set to be replaced by a 24-hour Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in April 2019, with plans to extend the catchment area up to 18 times larger than currently by year 2021.

When asked if they knew CAZs will involve charging fees for motorists with vehicles below the CAZ emissions standards, 57% responded 'yes' while 38% were unaware.

In some city CAZs, charges will reach as high as £100 per day for HGVs and £12.50 per day for taxis and vans.

Gerry Keaney, BVRLA chief executive, said: “Unless more is done to publicise the impact of these various clean air zones and mitigate their impact, hundreds of thousands of businesses across the country will be hit with a new regional road transport tax that will bring additional cost and confusion, at a time when firms are already dealing with Brexit-related economic uncertainty.

“We are particularly concerned about truck operators, who are more likely to be impacted by these zones, face the biggest charges and will struggle to find and afford CAZ-compliant vehicles.”

As well as calling for more publicity around clean air zones, the BVRLA is asking national and local policymakers to introduce transitional measures which to support business and fleet take-up of low-emission vehicles and more sustainable transport methods.

The BVRLA's suggestions include ensuring that local authorities establish common standards for clean air zones covering operational hours, signage, communications and availability of exemptions. This is due to the fact that many businesses operate across city and regional borders, with different rules for multiple CAZs potentially causing confusion and compliance issues for drivers.

The organisation is also calling for a phased approach for trucks affected by CAZs, allowing more heavily polluting vehicles to pay an initially higher fee. Under current plans, all trucks except for those meeting the very latest Euro VI emissions standards will pay a flat rate. A graduated charge, the BVRLA suggests, would enable operators who cannot afford a brand-new EV to set aside the sum for used vehicle which is newer and cleaner.