So, those little coloured paper discs which prove to all and sundry we have paid our car tax, and which have caused so much grief over the years, are to be abolished from October 2014. Perhaps I’ll save my final one and with some nifty handiwork, turn it into a paperweight or a coaster for my desk, just as a reminder in the future.
The goal, according to Roads Minister Stephen Hammond, is to provide simpler bulk transactions for big customers such as the motor trade, fleet operators and hire companies, who claim the savings benefit will be around £10m a year. The Office of Tax Simplification – isn’t that a great name? – wants fleet operators to be allowed to buy multi-year road fund licences to ease administration further. Buying in advance would avoid future uplifts in price, presumably the offset being that Government would gain a little from getting more money up front.
From an administrative point of view all of this is great. The fleet operator or leasing company no longer has the hassle of posting out tax discs and making sure they actually arrive, and at the right person’s address. It also means the leasing or rental company can get a new vehicle on fleet and paying its way more quickly, as they don’t have to wait for the tax disc to arrive. Yes, I know there is a 14-day grace period on first registration but most leasing companies – and their fleet customers – elected to opt for a “no tax disc, no delivery” rule.
DVLA will rely on its digital record of taxed vehicles and the idea is that there will be a public online check facility for you and I to see if a vehicle is taxed. Whether this means you can check your own, and your neighbour’s, as at present should you feel so inclined, remains to be seen. Maybe it’ll become a bit like www.askmid.com, where you can check your own vehicle for free, but pay a fee for legally checking others.
Whether the fleet manager takes responsibility for ensuring their cars are taxed, or believes this is within the remit of their leasing company as owner of the vehicle, is up for discussion. And will I really want to check each and every shorttterm rental vehicle for its VED validity? Am I really bothered, or is it in fact my liability as the user of the vehicles?
Private motorists will be able to pay by direct debit monthly, enabling them to spread the cost equally throughout the year, albeit at a 5% increase in cost, or annually, with renewal being automatic, provided you have a current MOT in place. That’s fine for the majority of honest citizens out there but given the individual has to set up their own payment before the bank can take it, I’m not sure how that forcibly captures the errant half a percent who are already willing to take their chance against being spotted by ANPR cameras. That said, non-compliance is at an all-time low so ANPR is working, even if the loss of revenue amounts to a cool £35m.
I’ve heard the direct debit method won’t be available to fleets, although reading the DVLA blurb, it says it is available to businesses. The BVRLA says it is “working closely” with DVLA on the method its members will use to pay VED in the future. But at the time of writing this piece there is no detail forthcoming. Shouldn’t we be slightly concerned that, with less than six months to go, the mechanism is not yet in the public domain?
I can’t help wondering if this is just a stepping stone to opening the way for a complete change in policy and a move towards pay-on-use road pricing, perhaps by adding VED to the cost of fuel. I’ve always thought this would be a fairer system, provided it were a tax-neutral alternative, and that you could guarantee the revenue was subsequently used appropriately and visibly. Then we would all have to get much smarter around journey planning, and there would be no easy avoidance – although we might see increasing fuel theft. But that’s a problem for another day.