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UK Government begins DVLA review

Photo: Wales Online / DVLA

Classic car lobby groups have welcomed a Government investigation into the workings of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which they claim is failing historic motorists. In mid-July, Richard Holden MP announced the independent review of the DVLA as part of a wider Government programme exploring the effectiveness and efficiency of public bodies. It is intended to ensure the DVLA can provide a licensing service to motorists and the public, and will be assessed on four pillars set by the Cabinet Office: efficiency, efficacy, accountability and governance.

The move comes after senior members of both the Historic and Classic Vehicles Alliance (HCVA) and Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs met with Holden, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Roads and Local Transport. Federation chairman David Whale and HCVA chair David Meek, along with Greg Smith MP and Sir Greg Knight, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Historic Vehicles Group, were among a delegation that met with Holden to express concerns around the DVLA’s treatment of the historic vehicle sector. Holden said: ‘DVLA plays a crucial role in making sure drivers and vehicles can get around legally, safely and with confidence, giving drivers peace of mind by storing their records safely and tackling vehicle tax evasion.

‘With over 80% of all transactions now being carried out online, this review will help us understand how the DVLA can continue to grow from strength to strength and how we can support it to become more digital to efficiently serve the increasingly digitally savvy driver.’ David Meek added: ‘This independent review is a very important development for the sector, which will facilitate a refocus on the current effectiveness and lack of transparent decision-making and policy at the DVLA. The organisation is well-regarded by the industry and recognises its tremendous responsibility; however, HCVA members and partners have multiple case studies that some decisions being taken relating to historic and classic vehicles are proven to be unjustified.

The DVLA offices during the 1970s (Photo: DVLA)

‘Despite industry-expert involvement, the current appeals process and oversight of these decisions has been ineffective. We welcome this independent, wide-ranging review and offer our expertise, experience and guidance from across the sector we proudly represent.’

The DVLA holds over 50million driver records and more than 40million vehicle records, as well as collecting £7billion in vehicle excise duty (VED) annually on behalf of HM Treasury. It also raised more than £260million in 2022-23 through the sale and processing of personalised registrations and transfers, and issued 11.9million licences and 16.8million vehicle registration certificates.

Such scale and focus possibly explains why so many classic car enthusiasts have informed Octane of tortuous encounters with the DVLA, whether it be taking inordinate time to register a car in the UK, or trying to reunite a historically important car with its original, currently dormant registration number. One, who asked not to be named, told Octane: ‘I bought an imported car at auction and thought it wasn’t a big deal and it might just take a couple of months to get it road-legal. More than six months later I was still waiting for any progress at all. I don’t think it was malice, or because there were any problems, but much more fundamental – the DVLA seems to have run out of any people who understand our “niche” and prefer to ignore our issues rather than tackle them.

‘Honestly, I do understand that they have an enormous workload dealing with the UK’s modern car fleet, but that just emphasises the need for a skilled specialist department to cater for the hundreds of thousands of historic vehicles in the country.’

Another added: ‘The DVLA has recently rejected my application to reunite a freshly restored historic with its original registration number – which I have confirmed is not in use on another car – due to “lack of evidence”. That was after I sent all the paperwork and several period photos of the car wearing that number, so I am not sure what I am meant to do now.’

The review will be led by Janette Beinart, non-executive director of the Cabinet Office and National Highways, previously Vice President and Global Chief Information Officer at Shell International, and will ‘look at how the DVLA works with its stakeholders within and outside of Government to help keep Britain’s roads safe’. It should be completed this winter with results published early in 2024.

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