The allegations surfaced a few months back when motorbike courier James Collins noticed that the penalty notice he had received for not declaring a vehicle to be off-road (SORN) carried the date when it was printed – and not the date when he received it.The exact date when a penalty notice is deemed to be received is legally quite complicated.
The DVLA maintain they answered this promptly and in full, although Mr Collins feels he only received a comprehensive response last week.This quite clearly says that notices are deemed to be delivered within a period from the time they go into the post. "Notices issued with a print date on them are misleading – especially when you realise that by the time they have gone through the DVLA’s systems it is not unusual for them to turn up a week to ten days after that date." If Mr Collins is right, the consequences for the DVLA could be severe.According to the DVLA, in the period from March 2003 to November 2006, 995,000 SORN penalty notices were issued, and the number of SORNs issued has been going up annually since they were first introduced.Mr Collins has since spoken with the Office of the Information Commissioner: "They were not sure that this was a correct use of legal privilege, so I shall be pursuing the matter further." Although the immediate effect of this case could be serious problems for the DVLA, legal experts are already wondering how widespread the issue might be.According to one expert: "It does look as though the DVLA have just done what felt right and not been too careful about what the law actually is in this area.Assuming that these all collected the reduced charge of £40, that represents nearly £40m of revenue over a three year period.
In practice, many motorists will have paid the full £80, and some will have been taken to court or been subject to debt collectors.
Motorists who received wrongly-dated notices would still owe the penalty.
However, any legal action taken against them could itself have been unlawful – and additional penalties would therefore not be enforceable.
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