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.
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…
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.”
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.