Government motoring agencies - the user perspective - Transport Committee Contents

3  Digital strategy

Digital services

22. "Digital by default" services are defined by the Government's digital strategy as:

    … digital services which are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use digital services will choose to do so, while those who can't are not excluded.[49]

Each Government Department and agency is expected to prepare and publish its own departmental digital strategy. The DfT and its motoring agencies are actively involved in the digital transformation of services. The DVLA has developed three of the Government's 25 digital "exemplar services" enabling customers to:

·  view their driving record (in beta—tested by the public);

·  apply for a number plate (in alpha—tested only internal and by stakeholders); and

·  transfer ownership of a car online (in beta).[50]

This is in addition to the number of other digital services provided by the motoring agencies over the past few years, including those mentioned below. These are easily accessible on the website.[51]

23. Uptake of the agencies' digital services is very high. 96% of all new vehicle registrations are done through the Automated First Registration and Licensing (AFRL) system, which enables manufacturers and new car dealers to pass vehicle and keeper details electronically to DVLA; and 97% of driving theory tests and 94% of driving practical tests were booked online in 2013-14.[52] Oliver Morley, Chief Executive, DVLA, said over half of the DVLA's 100 million transactions each year were online.[53] He argued that the DVLA had a 'multi-channel' rather than digital-by-default approach. This means that for some services traditional forms of delivering the service—the Post Office already provides access to a number of motoring services on behalf of the DVLA[54]—would continue alongside newly designed digital channels. He expected the DVLA would continue to handle a considerable number of transactions through the Post Office (over 20 million motoring service transactions are carried out by the Post Office annually, about 20% of all DVLA transactions).[55] Alastair Peoples, Chief Executive of the DVSA, said the DVSA also had a multi-channel approach.[56]

24. The AA said its members were very happy with the motoring agencies' digital channels, in particular payment of vehicle excise duty (VED, often referred to as 'car tax') renewal.[57] John Lepine, general manager of the Motor Schools Association of Great Britain, told us the DVSA provided "a really good service online".[58] These positive observations were confirmed by a January 2012 AA-Populus poll of over 20,000 people which found that:

·  83% had used online services;

·  87% rated DVLA online services as good or very good; and

·  87% supported delivery of services online. [59]

25. However the same AA-Populus survey pointed to a recurring theme: concern about digital exclusion. It found that:

·  50% would oppose 'only online' services; and

·  53% would oppose third parties carrying out DVLA services (31% would strongly oppose).[60]

26. John Lepine echoed these concerns about access: he said that the DVSA did not give enough detail of non-digital access routes to services and this risked those who, for whatever reason, did not wish to engage with the DVLA digitally being excluded from various processes.[61] He went on to say:

    … driving instructors by the nature of what they do are practical people who teach real people to drive real cars. They do not have computers sitting on their knee all day. Therefore, in many cases they are not digitally aware.[62]

He noted that broadband access might be a problem in some areas and that some people preferred not to use online services. The AA said care was needed to avoid disenfranchising those who "lack [digital] connectivity".[63] The FTA wanted digital services to be designed with the needs of business users in mind.[64] The Department noted that the agencies offered a variety of options to access their services, with digital options being the most popular.[65]

27. The Government is embracing a 'digital first' policy and clearly the motoring agencies are well engaged with this approach, which should be welcomed on the grounds of convenience and cost. The Government told us that the digital services provided by the motoring agencies are popular and assisted digital services are available for those with no or limited access to digital channels. [66] An example of an assisted digital service is the DVSA's provision, in its replacement for the current Operator Licensing System, for a member of staff to complete an application over the phone for an applicant.[67] Digital services must cater for all users not just individual motorists and the agencies' assisted digital strategies must help and support those who cannot access services online. The Department needs to ensure that its motoring agencies have viable plans for assisted access, which recognise the distinct needs of individuals and businesses. The motoring agencies must ensure a good standard of accessibility to their services is provided to users who are unable to benefit from investment in digital services. They should also monitor outcomes and customer feedback to ensure that their assisted digital strategies are working.

Extending digital services

28. We heard several suggestions for how digital services could be further developed. The Motor School Association of Great Britain called on the DVSA to provide an online booking service for Approved Driving Instructors standards checks. Jay Parmar, legal and policy director of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, gave the example of transfer of ownership, which for fleet operators can be a significant cost to industry; businesses in the rental and leasing sector have to send annually by paper five items for every single vehicle that is disposed of (about 1 million vehicles every year are disposed of).[68] This is one of the "exemplar services" that is being developed as a digital service.[69] Fourdot Affinity Ltd called for improvements to number plate proof-of-entitlement and secure, validated on-line plate purchase.[70]

29. Some of the services provided by the motoring agencies require a physical presence at the roadside, at operators' premises or in a specialist testing facility[71] and there are limits to how far services can be moved online. For example, what can be done on the internet with driving licence applications is limited by difficulties in assuring identity.[72] Clearly driver and vehicle testing require a physical presence. But there are always elements of administration associated with these services that could deliver cost and time savings if they were delivered online, such as appointment and test bookings.

30. Digital services are clearly popular and they have the potential to reduce costs for the taxpayer, motorists and businesses. We recognise the need for the multi-channel approach that the agencies are adopting; and lessons learned from the progress made so far should inform the planning and roll-out of new digital services. Concerns about digital exclusion and access to services for people who cannot use online services are valid. The move to digital provision and recent organisational changes (for example, the closure of DVLA local branches) have the potential to make access to some services much more difficult and costly for certain groups of people and some businesses. The Department and the agencies need to show how they are addressing these concerns and what steps they are taking to ensure that there is alternative provision for those unable or unwilling to use digital services, especially in the context of changes to local networks and branches. The Department should also consider the extent to which reliance on the Post Office and other providers is an adequate means of dealing with digital exclusion. In addition, digital services must work seamlessly with those that will continue to require some degree of physical presence.

Copycat websites

31. The existence of non-Government websites that charge a fee for services available free of charge on official websites without adding any value can mislead motorists into thinking they are using an official website, causing them to incur unexpected and unnecessary charges. In 2011 the Advertising Standards Authority found a website offering to book driving tests was misleading and contained unsubstantiated claims, and that a company offering to book driving tests online could mislead customers into thinking they were dealing with the DSA (now part of the DVSA). In November 2013 it ruled that a website was misleading in that it implied a connection between the company operating the website and the DVLA that did not exist.[73] The AA has seen an increase in complaints about 'impersonator websites' charging for free Government motoring agency services such as applying for a driving test or driving licences. It recognised a case for services that added some value—'checking services' or 'fast track services'.[74] But it said the Government agencies appeared to co-exist with alternative, unofficial 'service providers'. The AA thought it "almost immoral that [such sites] can ply a trade that basically tricks people".[75] They called for the agencies to be much tougher where they had an official relationships with such websites. John Lepine suggested this was a bigger problem for the DVSA than the DVLA.[76] Leon Daniels noted thousands of people were paying the congestion charge via a third party website that charged extra.[77] Transport for London wanted the DVLA to send letters to those drivers identified as having used an unofficial website to pay the Congestion Charge.[78] The DVLA was initially reluctant but has since changed its position; TfL and the DVLA are working to finalise a letter that will be sent to drivers who have paid unnecessary charges and directing them to the official website to pay the Congestion Charge.[79] TfL is consulting on a proposal that it should refuse to accept payments from copycat websites or other unauthorised third-parties.[80] The Government has stated that it has taken "decisive steps" against misleading websites acting as a middleman between the DVLA and the public, by raising awareness and enforcement actions.[81] The DVLA has sought to advise the public through Twitter, the official Government website, the press, and through its own forms, leaflets and envelopes, that they may be charged an additional fee if they do not use the website.[82]

32. The problem of misleading websites goes beyond the Department and its agencies, and Ministers have stated that the Government Digital Service, part of the Cabinet Office, is leading cross-departmental efforts to address the problem. The GDS tracks the activity of such sites, and shares this information with Google, and other search engines, so they can identify and take action against "websites that add little or no value to existing online Government services".[83] The National Trading Standards Board has also received an additional £120,000 in funding to "clamp down on misleading websites".[84]

33. Misleading copycat websites are an issue for many Government services.[85] The Department for Transport and its agencies cannot solve the problem in isolation and their efforts must be backed by effective cross-departmental action; the Government Digital Service, Advertising Standards Agency, trading standards bodies and search engine providers all have a role to play.[86] Motorists who choose to use a 'reviewing and forwarding' service should be free to do so and the providers of such services may not be doing anything illegal. It is illegal to deliberately mislead the public or obtain money by fraud; the agencies providing services on behalf of the Government should do everything practicable to prevent users of their services from being misled or becoming the victims of fraud. Transport for London's agreement with the DVLA to alert drivers using unofficial websites is an interesting model that the Department should evaluate to see how well the approach works and whether it can be extended to other services. It will be important to understand how much any alternative approach costs to administer, what effect it may have on fees for users of services and whether it results in fewer motorists using unofficial sites. In such an evaluation it will be important for the Department to consider the effect of the scheme on unofficial operators and any unintended consequences for legitimate providers of value-added services. We also ask the GDS to provide specific details of its progress so far in identifying and alerting search engines to misleading websites offering services to motorists, and to report on what enforcement action has been taken against such sites.

49   Cabinet Office, Government Digital Strategy, November 2012, p.5 Back

50, Digital Transformation [accessed 1 September 2014] Back

51, Driving and transport, [accessed 1 September 2014]  Back

52   Department for Transport (GMA0010) Back

53   Q112 Back

54   Post Office Limited (GMA0019), para 3.1 Back

55   Q119 [Mr Morley] and Post Office Limited (GMA0019), para 3.1 Back

56   Q119 [Mr Peoples] Back

57   Automobile Association (GMA0006) Back

58   Q33 Back

59   Automobile Association (GMA0006) Back

60   Automobile Association (GMA0006) Back

61   The Motor Schools Association of Great Britain (GMA0013) Back

62   Q47 Back

63   Automobile Association (GMA0006) Back

64   Freight Transport Association (GMA0015) Back

65   Department for Transport (GMA0010) Back

66   Department for Transport (GMA0010) Back

67   Department for Transport (GMA0010) Back

68   Q49 [Jay Parmar] Back

69, Digital Transformation [accessed 1 September 2014] Back

70   Fourdot Affinity Ltd (GMA0008) Back

71   Q93 Back

72   Q113 Back

73   ASA rulings [accessed 01 September 2014]  Back

74   Automobile Association (GMA0006) Back

75   Automobile Association (GMA0006) Back

76   Q53 Back

77   Q107 Back

78   Transport for London (GMA0025) Back

79   Transport for London (GMA0025) Back

80   Transport for London, Have your say on the proposed improvements to the way you pay the Congestion Charge, August 2014 [accessed 1 September 2014] Back

81   HL Deb, 6 May 2014, cols 345WA Back

82   HL Deb, 6 May 2014, cols 345WA Back

83   HC Deb, 10 March 2014, cols 54W Back

84   HL Deb, 6 May 2014, cols 345WA Back

85   House of Commons Library, Standard Note, SN/HA/6826, Websites charging for Government services, 17 Feb 2014 Back

86   House of Commons Library, Standard Note, SN/HA/6826, Websites charging for Government services, 17 Feb 2014 Back

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Prepared 7 October 2014