Room for improvement at DVSA and DVLA say MPs

The government’s motoring agencies are paid for by those using them – including operators. An inquiry by MPs has found that, while overall they do a good job, there are aspects of the DVSA and DVLA that need improvement.

“The Driver Certificate of Professional Competence may not be delivering all the benefits expected of it and the Government should negotiate changes at a European level.” This is one of the recommendations delivered to the government by the Transport Select Committee.

Its new report, Government Motoring Agencies – The User Perspective, examines the experience of people using the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which uphold legal standards relating to driving tests, MOT tests and driver licensing.

The DVSA is itself a merger of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) (routeone, News, 9 April).

Louise Ellman MP [pictured], chair of the cross-party Transport Committee, says: “The Department for Transport (DfT) must ensure that the recently reorganised agencies serving motorists work harder to deliver a better service for all, including business customers.

“The DVLA and DVSA are important for delivering essential services related to tax, licensing, testing, and vehicle safety.

“The DfT must ensure that its current re-organisation programme for these agencies delivers high quality services that benefit everyone.”

She adds that the recent problems experienced by users when road tax renewal went online demonstrates “the importance of responding to change, having clear communication with the public and an effective contingency plan to maintain confidence.”

While the government is pursuing an ‘online first’ approach for all its services, Ms Ellman says: “The motoring agencies must continue to meet the needs of those customers who can’t access or use digital services.”

Copycat websites

Especially damning is the Committee’s verdict on copycat websites. Run by third parties, they look almost identical to the government websites, with the difference that they charge a fee – even if the service they are offering is free through the official website – or extra ‘handling fees’.

They survive thanks to Google and other search engines offering them to people, and low public awareness. While car and van drivers are the main target, routeone is aware of transport operators who have been unwittingly caught by these rogue sites, which add no value during the course of their transaction – unlike, for example, the Post Office’s passport application checking service offered at counters, that checks all the documents are correct before sending them off.

Giving evidence to the committee, Transport for London (TfL) Managing Director Surface Transport Leon Daniels revealed that “thousands of people were unwittingly paying the London Congestion Charge via a third party website that charged extra.”

TfL eventually managed to persuade the DVLA to send letters to drivers identified as having used an unofficial
website to pay the Congestion Charge and unnecessary charges, and directing them to the official website. TfL is consulting on a proposal that it should refuse to accept payments from copycat websites or other unauthorised third-parties.

The Committee’s report says that the DfT should evaluate to see how well the approach works and whether it can be extended to other services. “The Government must do more to warn users about misleading ‘copycat’ websites that charge for services provided for free by motoring agencies.

“Work must take place in partnership with the Government Digital Service and others to address the problem of misleading ‘copycat’ websites, which charge users for services that are available free from official websites.”

Parking conundrum

Another issue is the release of personal data by the DVLA to private parking enforcement agencies.

Says the report: “We call on the DVLA to do more to explain the legal basis for the sharing of personal data with organisations engaged in parking enforcement, and the steps it takes to deal with private parking companies caught misusing personal data supplied by the motoring agencies.”

The inquiry also found that the DVLA is currently making a loss from charging for providing information to parking companies.

It charges 2.50 for each enquiry but it costs the DVLA 2.84 to process each request, leading to a 700,000 shortfall. Says the Committee: “The DVLA should not subsidise private parking companies by providing data at a loss; if anything, it should err on the side of making a small surplus. “

Driver CPC

One of the most contentious measures to be introduced in recent years, the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) “may not be delivering all the benefits expected of it and the Government should negotiate changes at a European level,” says the Committee.

When the DCPC was proposed, the UK successfully argued for a flexible approach, allowing a wide-ranging syllabus – rather than a rigid approach covering specific subjects that may not be relevant to certain types of work, such as coach or bus. The inquiry heard from several witnesses who doubted that the DCPC was delivering the benefits expected of it. Senior Traffic Commissioner Beverley Bell said that the quality of training of a “small percentage” of companies was poor and failed to engage drivers.

Mr Daniels, from TfL, said: “I could have got my DCPC by going to the same course in the same office on five consecutive days and sitting through the same syllabus. It is entirely inappropriate that there is a shortcut that allows people to get their DCPC in that way.”

The Committee says: “If businesses and drivers must commit time and resource to mandatory training then that training must be worthwhile and effective. At the present time this is not the case.

“We welcomed the proposals made by the Government in November 2013 when it reported to the European Commission on the effectiveness of the DCPC and called for more flexibility and for the training to take account of other road users, particularly cyclists.

“But under the current regulations the Government could not add modules on vulnerable road users to the DCPC or compel drivers to select them. If the Government unilaterally amended regulations to make such modules compulsory, drivers from other countries using roads in the UK would not have equivalent training.

“For that reason, we recommend that the Government lobby the European Commission to introduce an amending Directive to require the inclusion of a compulsory new training module in the Driver CPC focused on vulnerable road users.”