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DVLA Number Plate Law


There are strict UK laws regarding number plates. If ignored, your vehicle will fail its MOT and you could be fined up to £1,000. Your registration may even be withdrawn.

But not to worry!

We have all the information you need to avoid any and all number plate pitfalls.

The Golden Rule for Private Registrations

Before we get into the nitty gritty of number plate law, it is worth remembering one golden rule:

It is illegal to make your vehicle look newer than it is with a number plate.

So, for example, if your car was registered in 2005, you can’t get a registration plate with any age-identifying numbers from 06 onwards. Simple rule, but a very important one.

Now, on to the nitty gritty...

Number Plate Formats

There are a few different DVLA registration plate formats; dateless, suffix, prefix and the current format, you can read all about them in our number plate format guide.

The current reg plate format was introduced in the second half of 2001. It consists of 7 characters which are below, in order from the left hand side to the right.

  • 2 letters (local memory tags referring to the region the vehicle was registered)
  • 2 numbers which identify the year it was issued
  • 3 letters chosen at random

Example Current Format Plate

A sure-fire way to ensure you don’t get your private reg wrong is our personalised number plate search tool. Simply type in a phrase or word you’d like, and the tool will magically format it into something lawful and DVLA-friendly.

Number Plate Character Spacing, Height and Width

The characters on a number plate need to be a standard height and width.

These are as follows:

  • Character height - 79 millimetres
  • Character width - 50 millimetres (except the figure 1 or letter I)
  • Character stroke - 14 millimetres
  • Space between characters - at least 7mm. This will be compulsory from September 2021. 11mm being the standard prior to this date.
  • Space between groups - 33 millimetres
  • Top, bottom and side margins - minimum 7 millimetres (this will be compulsory from September 2021)
  • Space between vertical lines - 19 millimetres

For colours and display; front number plates must display black characters on a white background and rear number plates must display black characters on a yellow background.

The characters can also be 4D, but not two-tone (or 3D) as of September 2021, and the plate itself can feature a thin border, providing it is either red, green, blue or black, as per DVLA plate guidelines. Background patterns are not allowed on number plates.

Flags and Identifiers

Motorists in England, Scotland and Wales have the option to display an array of flags and identifiers on a number plate. The flags are as follows: The Union Jack, St George’s Cross, Saltire (Cross of St Andrew) or Welsh Dragon.

The identifiers are: Great Britain, GREAT BRITAIN, GB, UNITED KINGDOM, United Kingdom, UK, CYMRU, Cymru, CYM, Cym, ENGLAND, England, ENG, Eng, SCOTLAND, Scotland, SCO, Sco, WALES or Wales.

The flag and identifier must both be displayed on the left hand side of the number plate, and no other symbols or flags can be displayed other than those listed above. 

The flag must be situated above the identifier and neither must be more than 50 millimetres wide or on the number plate margin.

The Euro Symbol

Prior to January 2021, UK cars were allowed to have an EU flag on their number plates.

However, as a result of Brexit, from January 2021, the EU symbol will not be permitted on UK number plates.

If you have number plates issued before this date, then you don't need to worry, as this rule only applies to registrations manufactured AFTER December 31st, 2020.

If you want to swap your number plates for registrations without the EU flag, you can do so here. Although, it's not a necessity unless they were purchased after December 31st 2020.

From December 31st, 2020, UK-registered cars will also be required to display a GB sticker when driving in any of the 27 EU countries. However, this is not necessary if you want to drive in Ireland.

Getting a Number Plate Made and Buying Replacement Plates

To have a registration plate made for your car, you’ll need a registered number plate supplier (RNPS). This supplier will need proof of your identity, as well as proof that the registration number belongs to you.

To buy replacement number plates, you must use a registered supplier and provide identification and proof of entitlement. The best place to get replacement number plates quickly, easily and most importantly legally, is ReplaceMyPlates.

Motorcycle Number Plates

Motorcycles registered from September 1st, 2001 can only display a number plate at the back of the vehicle.

Motorcycles registered before September 1st, 2001 can display a number plate at the front, but that is optional. The number plate style must be a 'two-line' format.

Motorcycle number plates should follow the below formats:

  • Character height - 64mm
  • Character width - 44mm (except the figure 1 or letter I)
  • Character stroke - 10mm
  • Space between characters - 10mm
  • Space between groups - 30mm
  • Top, bottom and side margins - a minimum of 1 mm
  • Vertical space between groups - 13mm

Road-Legal Tricycle Number Plates

Road-legal tricycles made from motorcycles must meet the number plate requirements for motorcycles. Road-legal tricycles made from four-wheeled vehicles, must meet the same number plate requirements as all other vehicles.

  • 2 letters (local memory tags referring to the region the vehicle was registered)
  • 2 numbers which identify the year it was issued
  • 3 letters chosen at random

And that’s about it! Again, if you’re after any more information, particularly on number plate formats, you can read all about them in our format guide, or visit the DVLA website.

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