The two year disruption caused by covid related restrictions in the UK continues to have serious repercussions in 2022. For some motorists in particular, their very livelihoods are being threatened because of a government agency which gives or denies them permission to drive their vehicles at all on public roads. As with other backlogs like that in the MOT test regime, the issue of revoked driving licences is a very serious issue for thousands of British drivers. Sadly, with no end in sight, this backlog is causing significant hardship to families up and down the country, due to factors completely beyond their control.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has been the centre of disputes for quite a few years. This was already the case before pandemic restrictions were introduced in March 2020, and has continued since. Not only that, but the background of tension was made much worse by those restrictions, which also affected the MOT test sector. As of 2022, the net result is that many British motorists face delays of up to five months while they wait for their driving licences to be issued. In total, there are reportedly about 400,000 applications waiting to be be processed; these were submitted by post, rather than online. As time goes on, these “old fashioned” applications are gathering dust somewhere within the bowels of the DVLA.
This backlog of paperwork is the result of the time being taken by Agency staff to check each applicant’s documentation. For the majority of these people, it is still possible to drive legally on public roads thanks to a section of the Road Traffic Act. This gives temporary dispensation to use vehicles under Section 88, while the documentation is verified by the Agency. Unfortunately, this dispensation does not apply to one section of applicants; namely, those who have had their license revoked for medical reasons. Once these reasons have been dealt with, license holders are free to apply to have them reinstated; a process which should take a few days at most.
Unfortunately, delays in processing medical renewals seem to be by far the longest. Not surprisingly, applicants waiting for their license to come through are concerned as each day goes by; after all, they are not allowed to drive legally on public roads until they do. This problem is, according to many applicants, being made worse by a lack of communication from the DVLA. In the meantime, the Agency has made it known that this backlog will not be cleared until late September 2022. With such scant information to go on, holders of medically revoked licenses are worried that they will not be able to drive until then.
There is already evidence that such worries may be well founded. One old age pensioner in Scotland waited fully six months before his licence was reissued. Having had it revoked in September 2020 for medical reasons, his doctor subsequently cleared his patient one year later, in September 2021. At this point, the driver in question applied to have his license reissued, along with medical proof of his fitness to drive. He eventually received his license in March 2022. As a resident in an isolated Highland community, this situation caused the applicant significant hardship; all without any communication from the DVLA.
For their part, the DVLA state that their processing times are back to normal for “the vast majority of transactions”. They do not make any effort to explain their communication failures, nor apologize for any inconvenience caused. On this basis, their strategy seems to be that, by the end of September, things will be back to normal, and nobody should have to wait more than a couple of weeks to have their paper based application processed correctly.
What the Agency does say, however, is that any problems in processing time are the direct result of industrial action. The underlying problems at the DVLA have indeed been the focus of long standing disputes with the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union. Among other things, lack of funding, staffing and training are all cited in the union’s actions against the Agency. As far as that Agency is concerned, however, it is this ongoing situation which is to blame for processing delays. An Agency spokesperson has referred to “PCS union strikes purposely impacting customers”.
While this game of political football gets played out, however, it could be many months until medically revoked driving licenses are finally renewed.