Posted by: talkjack | June 8, 2008

The risks of renewing your car tax disc online

In the UK you have a legal requirement to renew your car tax (vehicle excise duty) and display a special circular piece of paper known as a tax disc on your car windscreen. It is an old fashioned tax which serves one useful purpose. Namely that you cannot buy a tax disc without having car insurance or an MOT certificate to prove your vehicle is well maintained within legal requirements.

The act of paying this tax was always cumbersome. The most popular way of paying is to waste an hour or more driving to a large post office, paying to park your car, queuing up behind a large number of people and eventually someone behind the security screened counter will check that your paperwork is in order and provide you with a tax disc to put on your car. Then you can drive home again. Multiply that by the UK population of car drivers and you have the following:

A.      A huge amount of pollution caused by all those unnecessary journeys. (a bad thing)

B.      A huge amount of parking revenue for the local authorities (in Coventry it appears to be Council policy to reduce the number of on-road parking spaces available which in turn raises their parking tax income. (a bad thing)

C.      A huge amount of wasted hours of people’s time spent queuing. (a bad thing)

D.      A lot of extra business for Post Office Counters Ltd (which you could argue is a good thing because there is an ongoing policy of closing Post Offices throughout the UK so they need the business to stay open. However due to this policy it means that drivers are forced to travel further and further, and queue for longer and longer, which make points A and C above worse.)

E.       The requirement to have valid MOT and insurance paperwork means that people avoid paying car tax usually lack insurance or MOT certificates, so these drivers are targeted by the authorities. (Which you would think is a good thing, to have an easy way to identify these drivers using traffic cameras. However the press report massive numbers of uninsured drivers on the UK’s roads, often immigrant drivers, so it simply doesn’t work properly.)

So when in recent years the DVLA announced that the public could renew their tax disc online via the DVLA website I thought ‘Finally!’. In 2006 I renewed online. The website crashed; I am lucky that way. A few days later I tried the website again and it worked. It correctly identified that I have valid insurance etc. using the magic of sharing private personal data about the general public. A week later my tax disc arrived in the post. All well and good, apart from the flaky website.

When 2007 came around I was all set to try again. Here’s where I ran into trouble, and I think you should take note.

In 2007 there were a series of strikes by postal workers in the UK. In my area the press reported several incidents where sacks of post were dumped rather than delivered. Some sacks were found in a river a mile or so from my house. An item I ordered from was never delivered, nor did my magazine subscription.

So I decided to check with DVLA purely for peace of mind about the safety of renewing your car tax online. I figured that if I paid online and subsequently suffered delivery problems with the tax disc then the authorities could simply check their database and show some understanding. I was wrong!

The response I received was not at all understanding. The DVLA  informed me that be in trouble if the tax disc got lost in the post or simply arrived late. By failing to display a valid tax disc then I would be committing an offence. Having the disc in the post is not a valid defence any more apparently. Even though the DVLA chose to use the cheaper, regular postal service and not a courier during the postal strikes. Even though the DVLA would have taken my money (i.e. I had actually paid my car tax). Even though DVLA computer system would have been updated their database system to record the fact that I had paid. Even though all security checks have been carried out to confirm you have valid car insureance and valid MOT.

I find this appalling.  I asked the DVLA if they would be understanding under this circumstance. The authority told me otherwise. Despite any protests of having already paid the tax, despite the fact that the DVLA  had chosen an uncertain delivery method especially at a time of widespread disruption to service by the Post Office, if the authorities themselves make you unable to display a valid tax disc in your car on the day after yours expires then YOU not them have committed a legal offence and can be punished. The authorities will punish you with a court appearance, fines and the risk of having your car destroyed, according to their radio adverts. That is because failure to display a valid tax disk is a legal offence in the UK. End of story.

As a private individual trying to pay his tax correctly, I feel that I am on the moral high ground here:

A.    It is not my fault if I pay on time and the authorities fail to provide a correct service – why would I be the one risking going to court not them?


B.    I would have renewed earlier, but the DVLA do not let you renew until 15 days before your tax disc expires, so you only have eleven working days to do this. (Update – see my comment dated February 8th, 2009 below)


C.    You can still be punished even if you do not drive your car or park it on a public road while waiting for the disc to arrive. The DVLA explained that I still risked punishment because I would have failed to file a SORN, which is an alternative legal form you have to submit if you plan to keep your car off-road. (SORN stands for Statutory Off Road Notification). Hardly my fault if I pay the tax and the authority fails to deliver the tax disc to me.

D.  In the event of a car tax disc being lost in the post, or simply delayed by the postal service, it hardly seems unreasonable to expect the authorities to check the DVLA database, confirm you have paid your car tax and apologise for any inconvenience if you are unable to display your car tax for this reason. To be told you have committed an offence in this circumstance feels very unfair.

The lack of sympathy or understanding that the DVLA representative showed towards me in 2007 made me rethink using their website. I would have expected an official government website to offer some protection for honest customers in this circumstance. After all, if I order goods from an online shop then I have some legal protection, but apparently not in the case of the DVLA’s web site.


I asked the DVLA representative if there was any way he could guarantee that they would get the tax disc to me if I paid the tax via the DVLA website. He told me that if I did not want to accept the risk then I should not use the DVLA website to renew my car tax. He recommended that I pay at the Post Office. So I did! So much for reducing my carbon footprint and not wasting half a morning to pay this tax then.

You might want to bear this in mind if you are planning to pay your car tax disc online. Forewarned is forearmed and there was no warning of the risks involved on the DVLA website.

(c) Copyright Talkjack 2009



  1. Those buying their vehicle tax online or by phone will now be able to tax on the last day of the month and still be able to legally continue to drive their vehicles for up to 5 days while they wait for their new tax disc to arrive. This will only apply where the new tax disc has been applied for before the current one expires and motorists should continue to display the expired disc on their vehicles, until the new one arrives.

    To renew vehicle tax or SORN quickly and easily, log onto: or phone 0870 850 4444.
    Talkjack’s response:

    Hi Wally.

    Bit of a sales pitch there, sounded a bit like you work for the DVLA! Funnily, I did ask the DVLA if there was a grace period when I last tried to renew my tax disk and I was told no, there is no grace period.

    If this five day grace period you mention is a new thing then I think it is a step in the right direction, but is still inadequate. Remember I was facing a postage strike at the time I was about to renew my tax disc, which meant that post was delayed far, far more than five days. It was reported in the press that sacks full of post were dumped in the river near my home, and I did not receive several items of post that were sent to me. Fortunately the likes of Amazon customer service were far more lenient and helpful than the DVLA and gave me no trouble about resending me the items I never received from them during the postal strike. The DVLA just told me that I would be committing an offence by failing to display a valid tax disc if it did not arrive when it should, which I found unhelpful and worrying, so I chose not to take the risk.

    Frankly for someone who renews on the last day of the month as you suggested, five days grace seems insufficient time for a paying customer of the DVLA website to realise that their car tax disc has been lost in the post, contact the DVLA, get the DVLA to issue a new tax disc, and for the replacement disc to arrive safely. I guess it might just be possible, but it seems a bit risky to me. I would assume that after the five day period is up, the website customer is then deemed to have commited an offence by failing to display a valid tax disk, even though a disk that is lost in the post would not be the customer’s fault in any way.

    Personally I still think buying online is risky despite a five day grace period. It would be much more reassuring if the DVLA were to tell their website customers “Don’t worry, you are on the DVLA computer system and we know that you have paid. If your car tax disk is delayed or lost in the post then you have nothing to worry about.”

    I have not heard anything that reassuring yet about the DVLA online tax disc renewal system, so I am still hesitant to renew my car tax online via the DVLA website.

    In the 21st century I reckon it should be realistic for the authorities to use joined up thinking, and, via the magic of computers, ensure that no one who has paid for their tax disc is deemed to have comitted an offence if the disk is delayed or lost in the post.

    … Talkjack

  2. My experience in using the DVLA Web site was dispiriting. As it happens, I renew my insurance at the beginning of September; have the MOT done shortly after; and my tax disc must be renewed by the end of September. Funny that – when I bought the car I had to insure it and get a tax disc (in that order), so evr since the two events have happened close together. I could change the timing, but why should I just because the government can’t run such a simple operation properly?

    Last year, and again this year, I received the promising brochures and went to the DVLA Web site – only to be told, after laboriously typing in the 16-digit ID code (why? when you only need 9 digits to distinguish everyone in the UK) that the database showed my insurance was not paid up. Now I had received the renewal documents in the post 10 days before, so I knew I was insured. How long would I have to wait until they get the database up to date? No way of telling.

    So I went to the Contact page and wrote a sharp, but polite piece of feedback. After typing in all my personal details and the long ID code again (funny because the site should already have known who I was after I typed the code in the first time) I composed a carefully-worded message, ending with Ronald Reagan’s quote “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’”. I hit Submit – and got a timeout message! I had taken 5 minutes tops, probably 2-3 minutes, much of which was required to give all the personal details and type in the long ID number. The message informed me that I could not use the Back button, and that if I wwanted to send another message I would have to return to the home page and start all over again.

    God help us all.

  3. It makes no sense – the local police have the ability to run a cars registration number through their mobile computers located in their cars, even automatically through numberlate recognition equipment, yet we have to wait for our tax disc to make the perilous journey through the notoriously bad Royal Mail?

    I don’t buy it, the system the police use is very likely linked to the same database that the DVLA car tax website uses to check your cars MOT/Insurance/Tax status which is very quickly updated and accessed – any authority is in a position to make a quick reference to this database should they want to determine the tax status of a vehicle. Displaying a tax disc is no longer necessary in this day and age. The law needs to be changed.

  4. Having just renewed my tax disk again, I was disappointed to see that in 2008 the DVLA are charging an additional fee to pay your tax through their website.

    So now it is more expensive to renew your car tax via the DVLA website than it is to pay by old fashioned cheque at the post office. It is a credit card surcharge for paying online.

    This time around, knowing that my car tax and MOT were due on the same day, I was forced to book my MOT extra early (a few weeks in fact) to allow the DVLA service time to recognise the fact that my MOT had been passed, and for them to get the tax disc to me. If they did not get the disc to me in time then I was at risk of being done for failure to display a disc. How unfair.

    Given that credit cards are the default way to make online payments with any web site, it sucks that the DVLA can get away with charging an extra fee for the privilege of paying them the tax they want.

    In my tax renewal paperwork I found that the DVLA are now including adverts for SEAT cars, in the form of a competition you can enter to win a car. In reality of course, it is a damn good advert for SEAT which will promote their car sales. The DVLA did add a comment that they cannot endorse SEAT products. I wonder if the DVLA made a decent amount of money for this advertising?

    It is ironic really, when the DVLA are in fact discouraging online renewals by surcharging you for paying online as opposed to driving to a Post Office to renew your tax disc.

    What do you think about the DVLA’s ethics? I cannot but help notice so much room for improvement still.

    … Talkjack

  5. Another update:

    The DVLA allow you to renew your existing tax disc a little earlier in the month now. You can renew from the 5th day of the month, rather than the 15th.

    This will help because if you remember to renew your car tax early you have ten more days for the disc to arrive.

    Its a bit better, but there is still plenty of scope for your tax disc to get lost in the post, or for an error at the DVLA end causing your tax disc to arrive late or not at all. If that happens, then you still risk punishement for failing to display a valid disc after the time runs out.

    Still scope for improvement guys – get rid of that dumb surcharge for paying by credit card online, and sort out the legal situation regarding the ‘failure to display’ offence for those people who have already paid their tax online and are waiting on the DVLA and Post Office.

    … Talkjack

  6. I agree – there appears to be a fairly high-tech way of discovering who’s paid their tax and who hasn’t, but it’s competing with the old ‘little round paper circle’ system from the past!

    I got clamped (actually by my own housing association who use the same rules) because my tax expires at the end of Dec each year, when I’m invariably abroad visiting relatives, and don’t get back in time to actually stick the paper circle in the car. I bought online…

    It’s the injustice that sends me mad! Clamp and crush all you like, there are plenty of dodgy drivers about who probably deserve it, but I have paid the extortionate tax.

    All cars can be checked by anyone on the DVLA website, but where clampers can make money they aren’t interested in justice.

  7. I was aware of the “surcharge” that the DVLA put on for using a credit card….BUT when I went to renew my licence online the actual TAX RATE WAS £5 HIGHER than it should have been….on top of which they were wanting a credit card surcharge. BUNCH OF THIEVES!!

  8. Although I renewed my tax disc online several weeks before my current one expired, after nearly 2 months, I have still not recieved the disc and after several weeks of liasing with the DVLC where they claimed it was not their problem, I have now been summoned, as although I didn’t drive my car and had to pay for taxi’s to and from work, my car still had to be left on the open road as I live in a rural area with terrace houses (no driveways). All in all with the lost months of tax disc duty (they say I cannot reclaim), £1000 so far in taxi fares (£25 daily), forthcoming fines and possible penalty points it has been very costly using the online route. THE DVLC have said I should count myself lucky as they agreed not to crush my car (at least yet) and they have been so rude, threatening and unsympathetic. Everyone I have spoken to said the DVLC make no mistakes and even said I could get a criminal record when I go to court which is not true.

  9. At the end of last month my current car (vauxhall) road tax and mot run out,so i decided to put my other car (mazda) on the road after several years of sorn on it.
    I managed to get the mazda mot’d before the end of last month.
    As a friend of mine was insured to drive the mazda down to the mot.
    The car passed the mot,so i arranged my insurance to change over to the mazda on the 1st of march so i can buy the road tax online.
    This is now where the problems start,i am still unable currently to get the online tax as the motoring insurance database is still showing my old vauxhall car as insured but my current mazda as uninsured.
    As i cannot buy the online tax i am unable to legally drive the mazda down to a post office to tax it,even though i have the insurance certificate to prove the mazda is insured.
    Also by the time the mid is eventually updated and i buy the road tax online,i will not be able to drive the car until the road tax disc received in the post!
    So i am still waiting until the mid is updated,looks like i might as well take out the online road tax next month!

  10. My tax disc failed to turn up last year – odd that so many peoples discs don’t turn up bearing in mind that the post office lose less than one item in 4 million – makes me wonder if there’s an issue with the issuing of the discs in the first place.

    Being slightly a) hopeless and b) slightly anarchistic I though well I’ve paid for a disc therefore I’m taxed – when a copper saw my vehicle with a disc nearly 6 months out of date and I explained he simply said I’d get on to DVLA if I were him – as he’d checked I was taxed. I didn’t bother and waited another fortnight until tax was due. So I’m not so sure that the police are actually enforcing the “failure to display” rule…

  11. As at 07/04/2012 The D.V.L.C. Database is still not up to date. It is now 6 months out of date being last updated on 10/10/2011.

  12. Can I say that I am having one hell of a time getting my tax disc from the DVLA. Firstly, they got my house number wrong on my V5 document, they put in an extra 6, so it was 3 digits instead of 2, but the V5 arrived safely, so I never spotted it. The tax reminder came through the post with the extra digit, no problem. I renewed the tax disc on line on the 30th of April, money taken out of my account and waited still no tax disc by the 8th of May, I phoned the DVLA, who checked my address and spoted the extra number, this was amended by them and a new V5 document issued, will take 7-10 days they said, the duplicate tax disc would take 3-5 working days. Well..yesterday the new V5 documents turned up, 4 working days and still no sign of this blessed tax disc! My husband renewed his the smae day as me, and he received his by the Wednesay. I am loosing faith.

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