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DVLA Drama: Should Tax Discs Have Been Eliminated?

January, 19 2016



It has been well over a year since the DVLA scrapped the traditional tax disc. The move is claimed to have saved the Government body £7million a year in administration costs – a hefty saving by anyone’s standards – but many motorists are wondering if it is worth it given the problems that have arisen as a result.

Recently a driver from Blackpool, Brendan Webster, achieved national coverage after his vehicle was clamped on Christmas Eve while he was shopping in Bristol. 200 miles away from home, Brendan and his wife were obviously left confused and worried. The reason for the boot? An untaxed vehicle according to DVLA. Except, Mr Webster did tax his vehicle, and he had the paperwork to prove it.

“When I bought my car, the Honda dealer taxed it for me: I watched him do it with my credit card. There was a printout dated September 15 from the government vehicle tax website, which gives the application reference and thanks me for the payment of £205,” recalls Mr Webster.

But when he spoke to DVLA they told him that any tax the vehicle had ran out on September 2nd, and sure enough when Mr Webster checked his tax online it was without tax. Luckily he was in a position where he could pay the tax and the fee to get the clamp off his car, but even so that is £305 paid out that didn’t need to be.

So what was the problem?

Unsurprisingly the whole thing was an error in the DVLA’s new digital system. The system that replaced tax discs. But it wasn’t a case of human error, and no data was accidentally lost or misplaced, it was entirely down the system being self-defeating. Let me explain …

Previously all tax was stored on a tax disc, so it became a physical reference for how much tax was left on a vehicle, and also a reminded of when the vehicle was due new tax. As such, when a vehicle was sold the tax disc, and thus the tax, would carry over as well. This was changed when tax discs were abolished.

Instead when a vehicle is sold the remaining tax is cancelled and refunded to the previous owner. If they had not been informed of the sale before Mr Webster taxed the car on the 15th of September then the tax would not "carry over" in this case as it would appear to be taxed under the previous owner.

DVLA claims that the dealership never informed them of the new owner till October, while the dealership claims they let the DVLA know straight away. So who is to blame here? Not Mr Webster most definitely.

You’ll be pleased to know that Mr Webster did receive an apology and a refund from the DVLA once the Swansea body had discovered the mistake, but even so this is a glitch that shouldn’t have happened, and couldn’t have happened with the tax disc. To be fair though this is just one error out of around 47m transactions conducted by DVLA every year, and this way they do save £7million.

Or do they?

The big thing about tax discs and why a lot of motorists miss them is that they served as a physical reminder of when tax is due. A surprising amount of people relied on this reminder, as DVLA have found out the hard way since. To show the impact of this the number of untaxed vehicle has jumped for 0.6% two years ago to 1.4% (that might not seem like a lot, but it is around 300,000 cars!).

As a result of this the number of clamped vehicles has gone from 5,000 a month to 8,000 a month. Based on these untaxed vehicles the lost revenue alone mounts up to an £80million loss for the DVLA, compared to £35million lost two years ago for the same reason. All things considered, is this £7million saving really worth it?

What are your experiences with the new way of taxing your vehicle? Was it a mistake to scrap the tax disc? Enter your thoughts below.

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