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DVLA off-road system seriously off-message

SORN shambles

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The DVLA’s off-road notification system is a shambles: legally unenforceable and administrative chaos. Two recent court cases suggest that the DVLA has been acting unlawfully and does not have the powers it thinks it has when it comes to pushing motorists around.

First up was a case heard in Clerkenwell District Court in October 2009. The DVLA was seeking a judgment against Reg reader James Collins, on the grounds that he had failed to notify it when took his vehicle off the road (SORN).

Mr Collins told the court that he had notified them – and it was not his fault if the DVLA had lost his details. To the surprise of several people present – not least the DVLA – the judge accepted this argument and, according to Mr Collins, agreed that he only had to send details back to the DVLA.

He did not have to send his documents by recorded delivery: he did not even have to obtain proof of posting.

This is less surprising than it first seems: if members of the public were legally required to send documents by secure means every time they communicated with an organisation, then the same requirement would almost certainly apply to those organisations, adding immensely to their postage bills and making simple debt collection infinitely more costly.

It did not help the DVLA’s case that Mr Collins had been doing a bit of research. From earlier correspondence, he was able to demonstrate that the DVLA was capable of losing post in its internal mail – although it had no idea of how much post it lost.

He then used a Freedom of Information request to establish that the DVLA did not actually log what communications were sent out to individuals. Instead, it relied on a cumbersome "aggregate matching procedure" which has been described by one communications expert as insufficient to "prove" who is sent what – and it destroys even these records after just three months anyway.

Our second case features another Reg reader, Duncan Peck, who also fell out with the DVLA over the matter of a lost SORN. In Horsham County Court last month, Mr Peck explained that he had sent back his notice in compliance with the law.

The DVLA first claimed that he hadn’t: then that he had done so late. Besides, even if it had lost it, he should have phoned it when they failed to send him an acknowledgement. In this, it was relying on the small print on the relevant forms (V11 and V890) which stated that if do not receive an acknowledgement letter within four weeks, you need to ring.

Once more, according to Mr Peck, a judge begged to differ. In his view, the DVLA have no statutory power requiring anyone to ring them – or otherwise respond - should they not receive an acknowledgment letter.

This could turn out to be a serious blow for an organisation which has the until recently covered up its own inadequacies with a mixture of bluster and bluff, claiming legal powers it does not have, and being quick to send in the bailiffs should anyone dare to cross it.

The evidence from both Collins and Peck is that the DVLA does lose mail internally. Despite a claim that it "never loses mail" – allegedly made by an individual working in the office of the DVLA’s chief executive – the fact that it does, and that they do not have a clue how much it loses, was confirmed in yet another Freedom of Information request made by Mr Peck.

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