Figures released from the DVLA show that around 1.9% of vehicles on UK roads are being driven without tax. That equates to around 719,000 vehicles.
The numbers are a little higher than the 634,000 unlicensed vehicles recorded in 2019 – although the DVLA stresses that due to margins for error the change is statistically insignificant. The figure works out to approximately £119 million in lost revenue – although some of this is recovered through enforcement action and back-payments.
“Some of this will have been recovered through DVLA enforcement activity or through vehicle keepers paying arrears of VED to cover the untaxed period,” the DVLA said. “Vehicles are often unlicensed for a relatively short period and often related to the change of keepership of vehicles. This means that revenue will ultimately be recovered once reminders and enforcement actions take place.”
The majority of unlicensed vehicles fell into the PLG (Private, Light Goods) category – i.e. privately owned cars and vans (motorcycles were not included in the survey). PLG vehicles accounted for an estimated £114 million of lost revenue for the treasury. Lorries and goods vehicles accounted for £1.4 million in lost revenue, buses for £0.3 million and other categories accounted for £0.7 million.
The majority of offenders (55%) were unlicensed for less than 2 months – most likely people who had just bought a vehicle and hadn’t got around to taxing it yet, or people who didn’t use their vehicle anymore but had forgotten to declare it off-road. But a staggering 38% of vehicles had been unlicensed for over 10 years!
What to do if your car isn’t taxed?
Driving a vehicle without road tax (and therefore without insurance) is illegal in the UK, and if you get caught you could face a fine, points on your licence, having your car seized, and potentially a driving ban.
If you are buying a new car the dealer might include road tax with the sale. If you are buying a second-hand car, the outstanding road tax is no longer transferred with the vehicle (this ended in 2014). You should tax the car before you drive it away.
Responding to the news, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “It’s hugely concerning that we’re seeing ever greater numbers of unlicensed vehicles on the roads with the total number now standing at nearly three-quarters of a million. While we’d like to think the abolition of the paper tax disc back in 2014 isn’t responsible, the fact remains evasion has increased significantly since then to the point where a shocking two in every 100 vehicles on the road aren’t taxed.
“The cost from VED evasion in 2021 alone is set to be a whopping £119m, a substantial sum that should be spent on improving our road network. We urge the DVLA to step up enforcement and to do all it can to bring evasion down, as it is clearly not fair on those who do pay their fair share to drive on the road.”
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “Today’s official figures show that the law is still on the hunt for car tax evaders. However, the increase in non-payment of Vehicle Excise Duty is not as bad as might have been feared, given the hundreds of thousands of cars granted a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) status during the lockdowns. Some of those vehicles will have been put back on the road with the owners either mistakenly or deliberately forgetting to tell the DVLA.
“High inflation, particularly with pump prices that refuse to drop despite big falls in the wholesale cost, always pressures many low-income drivers to run the gauntlet and not pay their tax. It is foolish for them to chance their arms because the penalties are severe, even potentially having the car crushed.”
Julie Lennard, DVLA Chief Executive said: “We work hard to drive down vehicle tax evasion and the vast majority of motorists are doing the right thing with over 98% of vehicles on the road taxed correctly. “Estimated evasion rates fluctuate and the pandemic is highly likely to have impacted some motorists’ behaviours. Those who choose to evade will be tackled using our proven package of comprehensive enforcement measures.
“These include penalties and court prosecutions through to the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras, wheelclamping and the removal of untaxed vehicles.
“You can tax your vehicle using our quick and easy online services – available 24/7 – and the costs of vehicle tax can be spread throughout the year by opting to pay in instalments by direct debit, which is a popular choice with nearly 15 million vehicles taxed this way in 2020.”