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From the Archive - Road Tax Confusion...

From the Archive - Road Tax Confusion...

From Lander's Lobby, CMM May 2015, Issue 314

A friend of mine has just bought himself a secondhand car. Not a classic (well, not yet; indeed, perhaps not ever). But it was too good to miss: a low mileage, one-elderly-owner example that has spent most of its 17-year life tucked up in a dry, warm garage.

It has all of its dealer service stamps, all its MoT certificates and even all the tax discs from day one. Now that discs are no longer issued, that must constitute a full set.

I’d agreed to drive him over to collect it. I was aware of the implications of the new road tax rules - but, just to be sure, I double-checked with the Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA). My first question was this: as the car is known to have current tax, does it have to re-taxed the moment it changes hands? Or could it be driven back on the existing tax entitlement, and then SORNed? DVLA answer: it would be illegal to drive it home without retaxing. Why? Because the tax entitlement (now residing with the keeper rather then the vehicle) becomes null and void at the moment that the papers are signed to confirm change of ownership.

The previous owner could have used it right up to that moment - and will later be credited for any remaining full months of tax. But the new owner cannot drive it - even on the same day - without re-taxing. I was told that, if the new owner were to be stopped for any reason during the journey home, a subsequent check on VED status would show the vehicle to have been on the road without tax. Big fine...

Next question. My friend, being an honest and upright citizen, has already obtained insurance quotes, and can activate one of them, by phone, as soon as he decides to buy the car. But the DVLA won’t know this, because it takes several days to update the database. So how can the DVLA agree to re-tax the car if they have no proof of insurance? Answer: the DVLA still checks for MoT status (where relevant) but no longer checks for valid insurance cover before issuing road tax. Great! While everyone else is concerned about the number of uninsured drivers on our roads, the DVLA stops making one of the most basic checks of all! I’ve been a car/bike owner for a very long time, and it has always been necessary to produce a current insurance certificate before you could get road tax. Yet the DVLA has abandoned this vital safeguard simply to make its paperless system work. (Exactly the same applies to VED bought online or through a Post Office.) Cost savings are evidently more important.

I’m pleased to say that we collected the car without any problems. Instead of SORNing it, my chum had decided to keep it in use, so shelling out for additional road tax was less of an annoyance. Yet it’s worth noting that the DVLA now gets paid twice for the month in which any such transaction takes place. Nice little earner... Even if you signed the papers just before midnight on the last day of the month, and waited a few minutes before buying the new tax, there’d still be one day unaccounted for. Since the new owner’s tax liability commences at the start of the day on which ownership changes, that would mean a month’s tax for no more than a few minutes of theoretical use! However; in the case of a vehicle that’s currently in use, but which the new owner intends to take off the road, it should be possible to get the existing owner to deliver it, then sign the papers and immediately SORN it.

It seems pretty obvious that whoever devised this new system has never, ever bought or sold a secondhand car. They have no idea of the hassles involved - and they evidently didn’t understand the selling power of an advert that included the phrase, “Full year’s tax and MoT”. More worryingly, though, many buyers (and sellers) are unaware of the new rules. Although no longer required, tax discs expiring in late 2015 are still being displayed in many windscreens. People buying such a car sometimes believe that this confirms valid VED status, and are then horrified to receive a fine from the DVLA. Worse still are the cases where recently acquired vehicles have been clamped or towed away without prior warning - the owners being forced to pay many hundreds of pounds to get them back. It’s thought that, since the new rules came into effect last October, the number of vehicles clamped/impounded for lack of road tax has almost doubled - now running at over 8,000 per month. And don’t think that tax exempt classics are safe. Bizarrely, the fact that ‘nil’ tax is payable makes no difference at all.

The DVLA claims that the new taxation rules have been properly promoted and are generally well understood. A spokesman said: “We continue to operate a comprehensive package of measures which make vehicle tax easy to pay but hard to avoid. We know that the vast majority of motorists continue to tax their vehicles on time with over 23 million drivers taxing their vehicles since 1 October 2014.

The changes have been widely publicised and we write to every vehicle keeper to remind them of the new rules before the vehicle tax expires. We also write to every new vehicle keeper when they buy a used vehicle to inform them that they must tax the vehicle before they use it.”

In future, recent buyers will also get a warning letter if their vehicle is untaxed - which rather suggests that the scheme is not as well understood as the DVLA would like us to believe. As for the advice letter that is supposedly sent to every new keeper of a used vehicle, some of these have arrived after the vehicle had been towed away! In any case, that letter couldn’t possibly prevent someone from inadvertently driving an untaxed vehicle on the day of purchase.

David Landers - [email protected]

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