Road vehicle taxation has been around since … well, road vehicles. The UK’s first road tax schemes for ‘light locomotives’ were introduced in 1896, and then under the Motor Car Act 1903, all road vehicles were taxed at 20 shillings per year.

No doubt that motorists of the day were slightly less aggrieved at paying a fee to actually help build roads and infrastructure, rather than shoring up failing local authorities, or feeding a greedy government.

Car tax evasion

Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) is the correct name for what we all know, and call, car tax. It’s been through a few minor shake-ups over the years, and more recently been tweaked to suit the increasing desire to incentivise cleaner transport, but essentially it amounts to the same thing; along with fuel duty, it’s just another way of eeking out a little more money from the motorist.

When the decision was made to drop the physical paper disc to save money (with estimates putting the savings at an expected £10m per annum), car tax evasion levels were around 0.6%, today, that level is around 1.6%, or approximately 634,000 vehicles. Or to put it another way, around £94m lost.

That figure is down slightly from the peak in 2017 – 1.9%, but it’s still very significant.

Financial burden?

Clearly the loss of the paper ‘tax disc’ has had an impact, but figures released by the Department for Transport don’t give any clear picture as to why; we know that around 40% of the unlicensed vehicles were over ten years old (around 51% in 2017), and that approximately 11% of the vehicles have been unlicensed for a over a year, so it’s more than a momentary lapse of judgement or memory.

Could this be ‘Austerity Britain’ hitting home? Or just a simple criminal element maximising the lack of enforcement procedures and resource?

Police numbers have fallen by 14% since 2010, that’s over twenty thousand less officers within the service, and of course that has an impact on catching persistent offenders for any crime, least of all car tax evasion.

Solutions

In our previous VED article, we talked about scrapping the normal VED charge and opting for a pay-as-you-drive style charge – a small incremental extra on top of the regular fuel price would mean that those using the roads would pay more, equally so for ‘dirty’ gas-guzzlers, and of course, there would be no costs associated for collection or enforcement. Quite a simple solution to what seems to being made into a difficult problem.

Perhaps the danger of that would be that those on or below the poverty line would simply shift from risking driving without road tax, to driving without insurance instead; the dilemma of only being able to afford one or the other.

Technically speaking, driving without road tax will automatically invalidate any insurance policy in place anyway, so there’s no difference in the eyes of the law, but there would of course be a saving on the insurance premium.

ANPR

With the increase of ‘safety’ cameras seemingly being used to replace good old fashioned human resource, you’d have to wonder just how hard it would be to convert them to be ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) capable – automatically detecting those cars driving without road tax, and issuing a fixed penalty notice or at least, triggering a warning for investigation.

Of course, as with any other systems or solutions, there will be instances that are incorrect (like heading to a pre-booked MOT for example), but surely, including some sort of notification system (for the driver to the DVLA) isn’t beyond the realms of possibility?

While it’s easy to think that for whatever solution, the criminally minded will have an answer, but this is about making the whole system easier. Perhaps with an increase in revenue, and fewer costs, the price could be subsidised for those that genuinely can’t afford to run a car, but practical reality dictates that they must.

Time and technology changes everything – from having to write out a cheque, send it through the post and wait for the disc to arrive, to simpler payments at the post office and instant delivery of the tax disc, through to direct debits and no disc. Yes the system is easier than before, and with opening up the process to monthly direct payments it’s more affordable, but we’re a long way short of being optimised, and it’s time for a revamp of the whole system.

Should the government scrap the VED and just place an increment on fuel duty? Do you have a solution as to how we can stop persistent evaders? Let us know in the comments.

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