News : DVLA rakes in over £38 million in postal ‘fines’, says FOI report

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Craig Cheetham

AROline's editor, reacquainted with his old Peugeot and the DVLA FOI requests...
AROnline’s Editor, reacquainted with his old Peugeot and the DVLA FOI requests…

A Freedom of Information request to the DVLA after they tried to prosecute AROnline’s Editor for failing to notify a change of vehicle keeper reveals that the department has secured over £38 million in postal payments over the past five financial years, reports Craig Cheetham.

Regular readers may recall that back in July I had a little run-in with the DVLA. They decided to prosecute me for failing to notify them of the disposal of a vehicle (their words – I’d call it not delivering a V5). I’m now, officially, an innocent man – after the DVLA dropped proceedings less than two days before I was due to be tried for a criminal offence. Scary, huh?

Anyway, I’d sold my old Peugeot 205 to a friend earlier this year and had sent off the V5C, as many people do, by popping it in the box at my village Post Office. For some reason, it never arrived in Swansea, or if it did, it got lost somewhere deep within the bowels of the DVLA offices.

That, apparently, was my fault, and I received a letter in the post telling me to pay a £55 fixed penalty charge, reduced to £35 if I did so within 17 days, or face prosecution. Simple answer… No, because I have not broken the law and I despise bullies.

A lot of people, at this stage, would have just quickly fired off the payment to make the problem go away. They probably wouldn’t have fancied a legal battle, especially without wanting to pay a solicitor to help out, so would have coughed up to avoid the stress, frustration and angst that comes with taking on a Goliath such as the DVLA. And that’s how they make their money – we’ll come to that in a minute.

As a trained journalist with a background in consumer issues, I owe it to every single person who has been shafted in this way to stand up to them – so that’s what I’ve done. But I’ve also done it in a rather public way – by involving my old mucker, former AROnline Editor and current Editor of Classic Car Weekly, Keith Adams.

595A6172 ps (533x800)

Today, Keith’s paper runs a story in which the outcome of two Freedom of Information Act requests I made reveal that the DVLA firstly openly admits to losing mail within its own departments, and secondly (and quite astonishingly) has banked over £38 million in fixed penalty fines in the past five financial years. I’ll write that again, but in full – £38,072,901.68p.  You could buy a couple of Premiership strikers for that…

Not all of that cash comes from failure to notify offences. Some of it is generated by those who forgot to declare SORN, or were late licensing their cars, but the fact remains that a huge amount of cash is generated by sending nasty letters to innocent motorists whose mail has gone missing in the post, then threatening them with court and the potential of a criminal record if they don’t pay up (after all, this is a criminal offence, not a civil one). And now, it’s a matter of public record.

Call it a coincidence if you like, but on the very same day my first FoI request was made public (the day before my £38 million pound one was published), and just 48 hours before I was due to appear on trial in Cambridge Magistrates’ Court (because yes, the b*stards did take it that far…), the DVLA withdrew its case against me ‘due to further information received’. I have written back to them asking what that further information might be, but am not going to hold my breath for a reply.

In many ways, I’m actually gutted I didn’t get my day in court. I’d have loved for this to be passed on to a higher court, and a case law precedent established that would have made these already seemingly unenforceable laws even more unenforceable. Indeed, I think the DVLA should be made to pay back every single penny it’s taken from unchallenged penalty notices over the past five years, much in the same way the banks were forced to pay back Payment Protection Insurance claims. I could go on, also, about how the DVLA uses the word ‘fine’, and claims it will issue fines on a lot of its documentation (you’ll find it on the back of your V5C, for example), but it shouldn’t be allowed to, as only HM Court Services can issue fines. Anything else is a charge, penalty or even an invoice…

DVLA letter confirming Craig won't be prosecuted - delivered less than 48 hours before the trial
DVLA letter confirming Craig won’t be prosecuted – delivered less than 48 hours before the trial

In the first FOI request (FOIR 4174, now a public record), the DVLA confirmed it had received almost 1,000 complaints relating to lost mail since 2007. In a follow-up email, a DVLA officer stated: “DVLA relies upon the Royal Mail to deliver mail to us. The Agency receives between 80,000 and 100,000 items of mail per day.  We cannot confirm that every item of mail is received.  In the response to your FoI we gave you the numbers of complaints that DVLA had received on mail that had not been delivered, or had been lost or mislaid in DVLA.”

That's a lot of money, that is... DVLA had made £38 million out of fixed penalties in five years
That’s a lot of money, that is… DVLA had made £38 million out of fixed penalties in five years

In my second FOI request (FOIR 4175), I asked the DVLA to confirm how many cases for failure to notify a change of keeper were pursued in 2013, and how many were successfully convicted. Of 126,704 alleged offences, 48,618 were settled out of court and 78,086 (more than 60 per cent) were not pursued. Working on a minimum outlay scenario here, if we assume all fines were paid within 17 days at the reduced fee of £35, that’s an astonishing £1.7 million that the public have simply handed over unchallenged.

The DVLA refused to say how many cases were taken as far as my own, where court paperwork was lodged and a trial date fixed before withdrawing, as this would have cost the department over £600 to find out. Apparently that’s DVLA policy, yet with £38 million in out-of-court settlements in the bank I’d call that a drop in the ocean…

I’d also call for the law to be changed, as I think this kind of legalised bullying should be stamped out for good.

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.

24 Comments

  1. As I said when you first reported this Craig – I’m pretty sure that legally you’d be regarded as “completing your part of the bargain” once you popped the envelope in the post box. You can’t be held responsible for what happens thereafter. Teesside Polytechnic 1987 -91 !!!

  2. Good for you Craig, I suppose the only thing I can add to this is to get proof of postage or send any documents to the DVLA via recorded delivery.

    All the best 😉

  3. Great outcome Craig, and good on you for standing your ground.

    I’ve had confirmation from DVLA only yesterday that I’m no longer the registered keeper of a motorcycle I traded in over two months ago. I put the V5 slip in the post the very day the deal was done. Perhaps I should issue the DVLA with an ‘invoice’ for taking so long.

    Also.. maybe we could have a whip round for the £600 it would cost to find out how many cases are dropped just before coming to court. My bet it would be something close to 100%. The problem isn’t the £600 it would cost to find out but the £38 million they would stand to lose if it became public knowledge.

  4. I had a run in with them over a car I had bought, and received no V5C for . They flatly denied having received the documents I sent. The interesting thing was that I had proof of posting, but not only that, I had sent another document in the same envelope ( which was a request for the previous history of the car and a cheque for the fee for that ) and had received the appropriate response to that, thus proving beyond doubt that the envelope had reached them . I rang them , but was still fobbed off with a ” we’ll have to look into it” response. However, not long afterwards I received a call from a man from Swansea apologising profusely , and saying the matter would be dealt with immediately. A day or two later I got my V5C and my cheque for the history fee returned to me ! Strange goings on ?

  5. Sounds like one for Radio 4’s Moneybox, You and Yours or even Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert – got to be looking for things to follow his PPI campaign…

  6. One can say many nasty things about Germany and their many over-hyped virtues but the car registering, transfering and scrapping system really is exemplary. Buy a car get proof of insurance cover, go to local government office with registration papers and old number plate. Get slip of paper cross road to number plate maker, wait 5 minutes, return to office, pay a few € pick up papers and drive away. So easy.

  7. The DVLA is one of the last unreformed state organisations and ripe for a root and branch reform. Their careless use of the word “fine” shows their arrogance. There has to be suspicion that the money raised from penalties is providing huge bonuses to senior staff. Any public service ethos there once might have been has completely gone down the plughole. Like councils and parking, the money has poisoned their relationship with Joe Public.

  8. Maybe people should take a quick video of the posting of any document to the DVLA on their mobile with a brief intro explaining the contents, date and registration number of the car involved. The onus of prove would then be on your side – that you at least posted the damn thing without costing you a penny. Not strict robust proof but enough evidence to show you are guilt-free.

  9. No need to video. If you take the envelope to a post office and hand it in and ask for a proof of posting slip, they will give it to you free of charge, showing the (part ) address and the full postcode

  10. Shambles. When the other half bought her new car, I was sent to tax it while the V5 was sent off in her name.

    When taxing they asked for my name, a couple of weeks later a V5 appeared with my name on it.

    I sent if back, saying that I never owned it, merely taxing it, that it was her car.

    They sent another V5, with me as the previous owner (which will be awkward to explain when we’re selling it).

  11. An excellent result, let’s hope the tabloids and other dailies get to hear of this victory and can then bring the facts to a much wider audience. Private Eye should be told too!
    As to any future dealings with the DVLA, best advice can only be as outlined above: Use a Post Office Counter when sending in any form of documentation to Swansea and obtain a proof of posting receipt. Then let them try to prove you didn’t send it!

  12. Hang on, the DVLA gest 80,000 to 100,000 items of mail a day.

    So over a year they get 100,000 x 365 equals 36.5 million letters. I guess that sounds about right – maybe one per household.

  13. I used to deal with the DVLA at Exeter daily. Slowly but surely the counter staff were disappearing. One day I asked how come they were losing so many staff. I was told that they had not left but had been moved over to the enforcement area.
    So they were not really interested in the public and their licensing queries,but were more interested in penalising as many motorists as possible to produce more revenue for the Government coffers.
    I should add that the staff at the now closed Exeter office were very helpful unlike their compatriots at “Fortress Swansea” who will do anything to avoid being helpful, especially if they have to answer the phone in the first place!

    • I used the DVLA office in Peterborough a few times and couldn’t agree more. They were a very helpful bunch. About five years ago, we bought a used Freelander for my wife in a private sale. It had both a cherished plate that needed transferring and was registered in the Disabled taxation class, so both had to be changed the day we bought it. I honestly wouldn’t know where to start in that position now!

      • Yes Craig, they may have been helpful but did you notice how there was no free parking anywhere near the damn place?

  14. Fair enough. You were innocent and you have had the intended prosecution quashed.

    However, if they receive say 90,000 pieces of mail a day and only 1000 of those have gone missing since 2007, that is way way below the Royal Mail’s normal rate of lost post, so they are actually doing pretty well.

    Furthermore, even your article concedes that the bulk of the income will have been from people who genuinely did not declare SORN and as this means that they should have paid for RFL, then actually all the “fines” mostly are, is a replacement of income that those people should rightly have paid in the first place.

  15. Reminds me of something that happened to my Dad a few years ago. He had traded in his RAV4 for a new car. He sent the relevent bit of the V5 back to DVLA and received the chit from them that he was no longer the registered owner/keeper. A couple of months later he received a speeding fine (from a speed camera) for the old car. The date of the photo was well after the dat which he was no longer the registered owner! When he asked DVLA about this they told him that as they had no current owner details they sent him the fine, even though they knew he no longer owned the car.

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