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Drivers deserve better from the DVLA

by James Mills
21 March 2022 3 min read
Drivers deserve better from the DVLA
Photo: Getty Images

What’s going on at the DVLA? Not a lot, by the sounds of things. At the end of last week, The Times newspaper’s Investigations team reported on the inner workings, or should that be failings, of the Driver and Vehicle and Licensing Agency.

It’s a big organisation – one of the biggest we have in the UK, when judged by the size of its customer base. The DVLA says it serves more than 49 million drivers. Yet as some of you will doubtless attest, the standard of customer service can leave something to be desired.

The Times got inside the organisation, which is based in Swansea, Wales, and the ensuing reporting gave the impression that, like a car left limping along because its owner doesn’t believe in servicing and MOT inspections, the DVLA was down a cylinder or two and the clutch was slipping.

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There are reported to be record backlogs in driver applications. The Times revealed that it was taking up to a year for some people to get a driving licence. Some drivers are said to have been prevented from working, due to the delays. At its peak, last September, the size of the backlog of cases had hit 1.6 million. It now stands at just under 1 million.

Paper applications were piling up in such numbers that there was said to be not enough room for staff, prompting some to be given paid days off work. Clare Foges, a Times columnist, wasn’t really joking when she said that DVLA stood for Doing Very Little, Actually.

According to The Times, the DVLA has about 6200 staff. On an average day about 4500 of them are usually meant to be working, with others on scheduled days off, holidays, not working because they do part-time hours, or on other forms of planned leave.

However, during the pandemic, usually less than half of the 4500 staff were on site. Which would be fine, if the organisation’s IT systems were up to scratch and employees could work from home, but apparently elements that are integral to systems used by DVLA call handlers date back to 1990 – 17 years before the first Apple iPhone was released. They couldn’t work effectively from home.

So, what to do? In the case of DVLA management, during the first lockdown it was decided to put more than half of staff on ‘special leave’ – no work and full pay.

Needless to say, this generates complaints. You may have been one of the many to phone the DVLA and ask for an update on your replacement driving licence or a new V5C vehicle keeper document. Perhaps you were reassured when you were told that the typical waiting time was between six and ten weeks and it will be with you soon? However, one DVLA training instructor told The Times’ undercover reporter that call handlers had been instructed to say this to customers by the government, even though it was untrue.

You expect grumbles concerning any organisation the size of the DVLA, but ask around and there’s a general feeling that in any other organisation the slap-dash, ‘sod-the-public attitude’ as one commentator called it, wouldn’t cut it. Either the individuals or management would be tackled until the root of the problem was addressed, or the business would have gone out of, well, business as consumers took their custom elsewhere.

Unfortunately, as we well know, the UK’s drivers can’t take their business elsewhere. We are stuck with the DVLA and all that entails.

Now a blame game rumbles on. Last year, Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, told the BBC that the backlog of 1.6 million cases could have been avoided if staff were able to work effectively from home, calling it a “stain” on the reputation of the civil service: “In 21 years, I have never encountered the level of incompetence and mismanagement that is on display at the DVLA in Swansea.”

Serwotka pointed out that the Department for Work and Pensions was able to handle three million universal credit claims, and HMRC delivered the furlough scheme. Why can’t the DVLA drag itself over the piles of unprocessed paperwork and into the digital convenience of the 21st century? After all, it appears to be quite capable when it comes to working with parking enforcement agencies.

The Agency says it will investigate allegations made by The Times. Grant Shapps, the UK Government’s Transport Secretary, has ordered an investigation into the allegations made against the DVLA, saying he was “deeply concerned” by newspaper’s findings.

How has it come to this? How is such a large and important organisation allowed to continue operating in such a dysfunctional fashion?

The answer won’t be easy to arrive at, but for the sake of the 49 million motorists and wider automotive industry that depend on the DVLA, it can’t come soon enough.

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  • James says:

    I’ve been waiting over 13 weeks for a replacement license. There is industrial action going on at the Dvla which causes further delays

  • Laurie Driver says:

    My HGV licence renewal took 14 weeks before I got a letter saying the medical form had been incorrectly completed and giving me just 14 days to get the original doctor to put it right. Another few weeks and the licence duly arrived but I’d been unable to work for over 2 months as my driving involves international motorsport events and the dispensation given to UK drivers to continue wouldn’t impress a gendarme very much. No licence and a 1000 Euro fine or jail, no thanks. It was a pathetic response at a time when a huge shortage of HGV drivers brought about the fuel and grocery shortages last year and the DVSA ended up making the HGV driving test easier to ensure more passed!

  • Bob says:

    I’ve been trying to register a car for the first time in UK since August 2021. The car has been Insured and MOT for road use in UK since June 2021, so maybe I should just put the plates from the previous country back on it and use it!

  • Ian from Birmingham says:

    My friend had his licence revoked in March 2021 following a health issue.
    He was given the OK by his doctor after 3 months and is still without a licence and relys on others for lifts.
    I am one of the friends who takes him out, his new car from August 2020 has done 600 miles.
    When my licence looked likely to be delayed I complained to my MP who contacted DVLA on my behalf. I got it within 7 days.
    Bother your MP seems to be good advice!

  • Julian Parker says:

    I’m hold a PCV licence and have just turned 65, which means medical and licence renewal. I have been trying to contact DVLA by phone since October, and either get into a queue and get hung up on or no answer at all. The D4 medical form and licence renewal form arrived one month before the expiry date. Unfortunately, you have to wait for DVLA to send you the renewal as it is different from the form available at Post Offices.
    I phoned for an eye test at my opticians, who said they could see me in mid April. When I explained the situation, they had one appointment on 28th March. I’ve had and passed the medical and I know that my eyesight is up to the required standard. My PCV expires on 3rd April. I’ll be sending my licence via Royal Mail to be signed for on receipt. A colleague did that and his licence was returned in a few days. At the moment, I’m mentoring a new driver. If my new licence is delayed, I’ll be able to carry on doing that, but if the licence gets delayed in the backlog I won’t be able to drive unless the DVLA text or email me saying that I can. This shouldn’t affect my car or bike licence. It really is a disgusting state of affairs. They should have kept the LVLO’s or perhaps we should have the system like in the USA, where the DMV is a department in each state. The DVLA has never really been fit for purpose since its inception. I had one woman there (she had no medical qualifications) tell me that she didn’t think that I was fit to drive (I’m not the only professional driver this has happened to). I demanded to speak to a manager, who apologised and told me that she shouldn’t be doing that and told me that he could see from the medical form that I was fit to hold a professional driving licence. If the DVLA was a car, it would have been scrapped.

  • Pierre Noir says:

    My Grandad was (correctly) deprived of his licence after two medical episodes. He was given the all-clear last July and re-applied. Still hasn’t received it.

    Meanwhile, his neighbour’s son – convicted of drink driving – served his term and received his licence within a week of the end of his ban (at the end of 2021).

    An utter disgrace.

  • Mr R J Owen says:

    Ever since DVLA disbanded the local DVLA offices in principal cities and large towns, which provided a good helpful service, the whole of DVLA has gone rapidly downhill. Big is not better and having the whole set up in Swansea is totally wrong.

  • IaninSutton says:

    My comment on 23rd March still applies. Now 2 months later my Pal has been unable to drive for over a year.
    His new 2020 car has done less than 1000miles and I have done half of those!
    No improvement from DVLA, the i newspaper picked up the story again this week.
    I agree with o e of the other correspondents We got excellent service from the local offices although cynically I would say it vastly improved as the LVLOs were threatened with closure

  • John says:

    My licence was revoked in March 21 after a mistake by my doctor all sorted by April and still waiting now for my hgv and car license to be returned by DVLA over a year later . no licence, no job, no income…

  • Graeme Aldous says:

    I’m not disputing any of the above — in fact, a friend of mine couldn’t drive for a few weeks because her medical report for licence renewal was languishing in a DVLA drawer somewhere. But on the other hand I declared SORN on my P38 Range Rover online on May 10th, and the VED refund cheque arrived in the mail on the 14th.

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