Driving licence backlogs at the DVLA – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Driving licence backlogs at the DVLA

Date Published: 17 March 2023

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Since April 2020, many customers notifying the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) of medical conditions or applying to the DVLA for a driving licence through the post have been badly affected by delays processing their applications. Around three million customers experienced delays. Complaints about the DVLA increased markedly, particularly those raised with MPs by their constituents. For this inquiry we also received around 40 submissions from customers of the DVLA, some of whom had lost jobs, lost income, could not hire vehicles, or were unable to arrange insurance. Some people told us of the great stress they suffered as a consequence. This state of affairs persisted for around two years despite the DVLA changing the law to postpone driving licence renewals, investing in new buildings and additional staff, and making more services available online. Customers’ poor experiences were exacerbated by huge difficulty contacting the DVLA during the pandemic to enquire about the progress of applications.

In the same period, almost all of the 17 million customers without notifiable medical conditions who applied online for a new or renewed licence had their applications processed within three working days. Despite turnaround times for paper-based applications being many times longer, online take-up is not as high as it could be. While it is right that the DVLA should keep the option to apply for a licence on a paper form, so as not to exclude people who would find it difficult or impossible to apply online, the DVLA’s own assessment found that 60% of these paper-based applications could have been submitted online.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic was inevitably going to make operations more difficult, the DVLA and its sponsoring department, the Department for Transport, were not prepared for the challenge of keeping driving licence services running as normal. The Department has taken a hands-off approach to the DVLA, failing to ensure that the DVLA’s services are periodically reviewed and improved through timely adoption of modern working practices and up-to-date technology. We are unconvinced that the DVLA is ready for the impact of any future crises on driving licence services. Some of the DVLA’s operations are antiquated, and it lacks a comprehensive strategy for modernisation and improving its resilience to unexpected events. We recognise that the Department and the DVLA have improved and modernised some of the DVLA’s services, and the DVLA is indeed praised for the ease and efficiency of some services, such as paying road tax. However, they have not addressed more challenging service areas, in particular processing drivers’ medical information, and it is when problems arise in these services that the DVLA’s more vulnerable customers suffer.