Three million driver’s license delays since 2020, report finds

  • By Jemma Dempsey & Lucy Hooker
  • BBC news

image source, Getty Images

Three million people applying for driver’s licenses during the worst pandemic faced major delays, a report shows.

Some applicants lost their jobs or income and suffered from social isolation and mental health problems, the parliament’s public accounts committee said.

The delays affected people who applied by mail or had medical conditions.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) said it had prioritized its online services during the pandemic.

That was because most applications were made online, it told the committee.

It had also targeted services where it thought processing delays would cause bigger problems, it told MPs.

The number of complaints to the DVLA has risen sharply in the two years since April 2020, the Public Accounts Committee report said.

According to the report, about 17 million applications submitted online that did not involve reportable medical conditions were processed within three days.

But three million applications on paper, or requiring a DVLA decision on fitness to drive, had major delays.

The committee heard of applicants who became isolated and depressed, and people who sometimes lost income for months as a result.

The commission said it was aware of a bus driver who was in danger of losing his job and a shift worker in a rural community who was unable to work.

Others had difficulty arranging car insurance, driving abroad or renting vehicles, it said.

The commission said that despite changes in the law allowing license renewals to be delayed and the DVLA to hire additional staff, problems at the DVLA have persisted for two years.

The poor customer experience was compounded by “enormous difficulties” in contacting the DVLA during the pandemic, it said.

It found that between April 2020 and March 2022, about 60 million calls went unanswered, 94% of the total received by the DVLA.

The committee was also critical of the Department for Transport (DfT) saying it had dealt with problems at the DVLA “hands-off” and failed to ensure the organization adopted modern working methods. Committee chairwoman Dame Meg Hillier MP described the DVLA’s activities as “obsolete”.

“The pandemic inevitably made operations more difficult, but the DVLA and DfT were unprepared for the challenge of keeping essential driving license services running and especially for those who needed it most,” she said. In a series of recommendations, the commission said the DVLA needed better systems to identify and expedite driver’s license applications when the customer would be severely impacted by a delay.

The DVLA said it had recently modernized its telephone systems so it should be able to better handle any future spikes in demand.

“We are back to normal processing times for all our services,” it said. “All standard paper applications were back to normal by May 2022.”

It added that “online services worked well during the pandemic and for the vast majority of our customers, their dealings with DVLA would have been trouble-free”.

During the pandemic, the DVLA has issued more than 24 million driver’s licenses, “the vast majority of which were issued within 3 business days,” he added.

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