Ongoing DVLA crisis leaves UK’S classic car owners in limbo

Ongoing DVLA crisis leaves UK’S classic car owners in limbo

Classic car enthusiasts and businesses continue to grow frustrated by crippling DVLA postal application delays, with continued strike action over coronavirus safety concerns threatening to gridlock paper applications for months to come — and a petition is now established for an enquiry into the government agency’s performance.


The DVLA’s Swansea offices have endured a torrid time during the pandemic. Back in September, it emerged employees were off work with stress amid claims social distancing rules were not being adhered to. By April, DVLA sites in the city had recorded almost 550 Covid cases among the 6,000-strong workforce, leaving staff “scared to attend work” according to the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union representing its members. It’s claimed one in three of the agency’s employees were required to work from DVLA offices during lockdown. Members of the union staged walkouts in April and May as they fought against this requirement. Strike action then continued during June — union bosses claimed a deal to solve the dispute had been agreed, but it was scuppered at the last minute. PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, stated the DVLA and Department for Transport were “not interested” in settling the dispute and accused managers of hiring contractors to carry out the work of those on strike. The union said a new phase of “targeted and sustained” industrial action (which could last for months) was beginning unless negotiations resume.

The DVLA, meanwhile, says it has taken measures to ensure the safety of workers and claims it has followed all official guidance. Investment in fitting Perspex screens and temperature check stations, as well as more vigorous cleaning, has seen the agency shell out more than £4.7m in attempts to keep staff safe. Thankfully, the DVLA’s digital services are unaffected and have been accelerated — last June, an online service was launched to allow addresses on V5Cs to be changed, followed in September by a service to enable registered keepers to obtain a duplicate V5C document. Even so, paper applications continue to mount up. According to Rachel Maclean, a minister at the Department for Transport, 800,000 outstanding items of mail had yet to be processed, with a further 60,000 arriving each day.

The DVLA says paper applications can take “up to six weeks to be processed” but that “there may be additional delays in processing more complex transactions.” It has also asked owners not to chase their applications, claiming it is dealing with them as quickly as possible in the order in which they’re received. However, the DVLA’s social media accounts are awash with complaints over applications taking much longer, with some claiming delays of more than fifteen weeks.

Some applications can’t be made online, such as the ability to register a classic vehicle as ‘historic’ for road tax and MOT testing exemption. It’s an issue affecting collectors and specialists alike, and it’s these frustrations which have led to a UK government website petition calling for an enquiry into the DVLA’s performance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition was started in June, with various complaints, such as a six-month wait for a medically restricted driving licence to be reissued, highlighting what a mess the DVLA is in right now. At the time of writing, the petition has attracted more than 5,500 signatures.

Sadly, unless problems can be quickly resolved, it looks as if things will get worse. If you’re concerned about losing important documentation as a consequence of the current DVLA delays, consider having a solicitor make a certified copy instead of posting irreplaceable originals. You’ll have to pay for the service, but it will be a tiny percentage of the hit from ending up with, say, an imported car free of documentation.

It also pays to be prepared. If you know you’ll need to register a rebuilt or imported vehicle, get the application rolling as early as possible, rather than waiting until every last bit of polishing and preparation has been done. 

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