Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA; Welsh: Asiantaeth Trwyddedu Gyrwyr a Cherbydau) is the organisation of the UK government responsible for maintaining a database of drivers in Great Britain and a database of vehicles for the entire United Kingdom. Its counterpart for drivers in Northern Ireland is the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA). The agency issues driving licences, organises collection of vehicle excise duty (also known as road tax and road fund licence) and sells personalised registrations.

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency

The DVLA in Swansea
Agency overview
TypeExecutive agency
JurisdictionUnited Kingdom
HeadquartersSwansea, Wales, United Kingdom
Agency executive
  • Julie Lennard, Chief Executive Officer
Parent agencyDepartment for Transport

The DVLA is an executive agency of the Department for Transport (DfT). The current Chief Executive of the agency is Julie Lennard.[1]

The DVLA is based in Swansea, Wales, with a prominent 16-storey building in Clase and offices in Swansea Vale. It was previously known as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre (DVLC). The agency previously had a network of 39 offices around Great Britain, known as the Local Office Network, where users could attend to apply for licences and transact other business, but throughout the course of 2013, the local offices were gradually closed down, and all had been closed by December 2013. The agency's work is consequently fully centralised in Swansea, with the majority of users having to transact remotely - by post or (for some transactions) by phone.[2]

DVLA introduced Electronic Vehicle Licensing (EVL) in 2004, allowing customers to pay vehicle excise duty online and by telephone.[3] However, customers still have the option to tax their vehicles via the Post Office. A seven-year contract enabling the Post Office to continue to process car tax applications was agreed in November 2012, with the option of a three-year extension.[4]


Originally, vehicle registration was the responsibility of Borough and County councils throughout Great Britain, a system created by the Motor Car Act 1903. The licensing system was centralised in 1965 and administered from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre (DVLC) in Swansea. In 1990, the DVLC was renamed as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), becoming an executive agency of Department for Transport.[5]

British Forces Germany civilian vehicles

Civilian vehicles used in Germany by members of British Forces Germany or their families are registered with the DVLA on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.

Diplomatic and consular vehicles

Official diplomatic and consular vehicles are registered with the DVLA on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

DVLA database

The vehicle register held by DVLA is used in many ways. For example, by the DVLA itself to identify untaxed vehicles, and by outside agencies to identify keepers of cars entering central London who have not paid the congestion charge, or who exceed speed limits on a road that has speed cameras by matching the cars to their keepers utilising the DVLA database. The current DVLA vehicle register was built by EDS under a £5 million contract signed in 1996, with a planned implementation date on October 1998, though actual implementation was delayed by a year. It uses a client–server architecture and uses the vehicle identification number, rather than the registration plate, as the primary key to track vehicles, eliminating the possibility of having multiple registrations for a single vehicle.

The Vehicle Identity Check (VIC) was introduced to help reduce vehicle crime. It is intended to deter criminals from disguising stolen cars with the identity of written off or scrapped vehicles however this scheme was later scrapped in October 2014.

When an insurance company writes off a car, the registration document (V5 logbook) is surrendered to them and destroyed. The insurance company will then notify the DVLA that the vehicle has been written off. This notification will set a "VIC marker" on the vehicle record on the DVLA database.

DVLA database records are used by commercial vehicle check companies to offer a comprehensive individual car check to prospective purchasers.

However, the accuracy of the data held remains a continuing problem. Anyone can request information from the database if they purport to have just cause to need it, for a fee of £2.50.[6]

The database of drivers, developed in the late 1980s, holds details of some 42 million driving licence holders in the UK. It is used to produce driving licences and to assist bodies such as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, police and courts in the enforcement of legislation concerning driving entitlements and road safety.

The DVLA revealed in December 2012 that it had temporarily banned 294 public bodies, including local councils and police forces, for not using their access to the database correctly between 2006 and 2012. A further 38 bodies were banned permanently during the period.[7]

Financial information

Between 2002 and 2015 it is estimated that the DVLA spent £500 million on information technology from IBM.[8]


Staff of the DVLA are predominantly female whereas other parts of the Department for Transport are predominantly male. Starting salaries are just over £12,500.[9] In November 2007, a Public Accounts Committee report criticised the "amazingly high" levels of sick leave among staff at the DVLA, where employees took an average of three weeks per year of sick leave. The report said that overall sickness leave at the DfT and its seven agencies averaged 10.4 working days per full-time employee in 2005, which they calculated as costing taxpayers £24 million. While sick leave rates at the department itself and four of its agencies were below average—at the DVLA and DSA, which together employ more than 50% of all DfT staff—they were "significantly higher". Committee chairman Edward Leigh said it was surprising the agencies could "function adequately".[10] In 2008 DVLA staff went on a one-day strike over pay inequality arguing that they should receive similar salaries to other employees of the Department for Transport.[9] The most recent level of sickness absence for 2012/13 was 6.7 days.[11]


Missing documents

In 2006, 120,000 to 130,000 vehicle registration certificates went missing. A BBC investigation in 2010 found that vehicles worth £13 million had been stolen using the documents in the 18 months preceding the investigation. Around ten cars are found each week to have forged log books and police said it would be decades before they were all recovered.[12]

DVLA letter bombs

On 7 February 2007, a letter bomb was sent to the DVLA in Swansea and injured four people. It is suspected that this is part of a group of letter bombs sent to other organisations that deal with the administration of motoring charges and offences, such as Capita in central London, which was targeted a few days earlier. Miles Cooper, aged 27, a school caretaker, was arrested on 19 February 2007, and charged on 22 February. The DVLA have since installed X-Ray machines in all post opening areas to reduce the effectiveness of any further attacks.

Wrong confidential records on surveys

In December 2007, it was revealed that while sending out surveys to 1,215 drivers, the DVLA sent out confidential details, but to the wrong owners. The error occurred during the sending out of routine surveys, and was not discovered until members of the public contacted the DVLA to notify them of the error.[13]

Lost entitlements

In 2009 BBC's Watchdog reported that entitlements, specifically the entitlement to drive a motorcycle, were being lost from reissued driving licences.[14] In 2005 the same programme highlighted drivers who had lost entitlements to drive heavy goods vehicles in a similar way.

Sale of details

In 2010 it was revealed that the DVLA had sold drivers' details from the database to certain private parking enforcement companies run by individuals with criminal records. The DVLA sells details to companies for £2.50, but it was found that the agency had sold some of these to a business which had been fined weeks before for unfair business practices.[15]

Fines, vehicle seizure and civil penalties

The DVLA uses advertising to warn drivers that if they do not pay their road tax, their cars may be crushed.[16] This is despite the Bill of Rights 1689, Section 12, which states: 'all fines and forfeitures before conviction are illegal and void.'

In the UK, all legal persons have equality before the law. The DVLA therefore stands equal to private citizens, not above them. It is not a court of law. When seeking a civil penalty such as a SORN 'fine', so-called, the DVLA has the right to sue car owners in a civil court. In practice the DVLA illegally usurps this judicial procedure, bypasses the presumption of innocence, and levies a fine of £40, £80 or more, without regard to extenuating circumstances such as illness, documents lost in the post, etc. [17]The SORN scheme, which was never debated in Parliament, is also 'daft, pointless legislation' in which motorists; '...are asked to confirm what the DVLA already know. If their acknowledgment is lost in the post, you might need proof that they've confirmed that you've confirmed what they already know...if the DVLA makes a mistake, (it claims that) (car owners) are responsible, not them.'[18] The clamping of vehicles, explicitly outlawed in Scotland, may in English law constitute the common law offence of 'holding property to ransom'.[19]

According to Peter Oborne the fines levied by the DVLA are grossly disproportionate and do not represent justice, but are part of an unofficial, supplementary tax-gathering system. [20]

Complaints resolution

The DVLA handled 12,775 complaints in the year 2015/16, of which it failed to resolve 14.9% at first contact. Overall complaints for that year were down by 6.5%. The DVLA 'customer service excellence standard' was retained. No details were provided on how this was measured. Customer satisfaction levels varied between 76% to 97% in the four categories surveyed; vehicle registration, driver licence renewal, vehicle taxation, driver medical transactions. No data was provided in respect of complaints about the SORN scheme or other fines levied. [21]

The DVLC in Swansea is regularly referred to in the British political sitcom Yes, Minister. Bernard Woolley is regularly threatened with reassignment there. In the episode "Big Brother", Jim Hacker is scheduled to give an address there.


  1. "Julie Lennard was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of DVLA in May 2018". DVLA. 23 May 2018. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  2. "DVLA local office closure plan announced". DVLA. 21 June 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  3. "Freedom of Information Request relating to EVL". Department for Transport. Archived from the original on 18 December 2010. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  4. "Post Office wins DVLA contract for car tax supply". BBC News Online. 13 November 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  5. "History of road safety, The Highway Code and the driving test". Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency. Crown. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  6. Oates, John (20 January 2010). "DVLA makes £44m flogging drivers' details". The Register. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  7. "DVLA bans councils from database over abuses". BBC News Online. 8 December 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  8. "DVLA doubles annual contract spending". Kable. 23 November 2009. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  9. "DVLA strike causes widespread disruption". Archived from the original on 5 February 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2008.
  10. DVLA sick leave 'amazingly high' BBC News - 20 November 2007
  11. "DVLA's annual report 2012 to 2013". GOV.UK.
  12. Kemp, Phil (31 January 2010). "Theft of DVLA log books fuels cars scam". BBC Radio 5 live. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  13. "Drivers sent wrong DVLA details". BBC News. 6 December 2007. Retrieved 7 November 2007.
  14. "DVLA Removing Licence Entitlements". BBC Watchdog. Archived from the original on 3 August 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2010.
  15. "DVLA sells details to convicted criminal". The Telegraph. 1 April 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  17. The A-Register, 'DVLA off-road system seriously off-message'. 3/5/2010
  18. Rod Ker, 'Petty legislation alienates car owners', Daily Telegraph, 22/3/2010
  19. anon, 'Motorist given £100 fine after car was clamped on own driveway', Daily Telegraph, 12/5/2009
  20. Peter Oborne, The triumph of the Political Class, Simon and Schuster, 2007, chapter four.
  21. DVLA annual report and accounts 2015-2016
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