Interviews News

Interview: We put YOUR questions to DVLA chief executive Oliver Morley

Time 11:25 am, August 22, 2014


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What challenges is the DVLA facing at the present moment?

We’ve got a clear strategy which we have published and we have a real focus on providing good services across the board. I see the DVLA being a multi-channel business with really good digital services. The future is definitely digital and we believe the DVLA and Swansea can be a centre of excellence for digital transactions. We want to provide really, really good services – people may have to pay a tax or register a vehicle or get a licence but we want them to at least feel as though it has been a good experience.

Is this mission to provide a good customer experience the reason behind new initiatives such as licence fees being reduced?

Yes and we are making efficiency savings too. I think everyone is amused when the government plans to cut fees – but we can genuinely make these savings and pass them on to the customer. When the consultation comes to an end I would be surprised if there is a strong lobbying against the fees reduction.

Why are you going digital so much?

People want it. One really important thing is that customers really matter – and customers really want digital. We will carry on providing the Post Office as a channel for lots of digital transactions, but we also know that what people would like is a really streamlined and effective digital service. You can see that with the tax disc and the growth in licences – people want to use it, it fits with their lives and we believe we can do this really well.

Despite this, the V5 is still a document that isn’t digital. Dealers are saying they are waiting for too long for V5s in the post – why aren’t these digital?

This is certainly something we are planning to do. Effectively, we are going to allow people to ask us to hold back on printing a paper version of the V5 over the next year – this is a clear part of our digital deliverables. Actually, to be honest, there are a huge number of people who would like to have the paper copy, but this digital V5 will be very much for the trade.

Question from Gavin@Rousdon on the Car Dealer Forum: Would you consider changing the way the plates system works? How about changing the system so dealers can text the car’s number plate instead of carrying around trade plates?

There are no plans to change this and this is more of a government policy point – it requires legislation to change the way the trade plates system works, but there is no view to change this.

…but do you think this is a system that has worked well for a long time and isn’t something that is likely to get changed?

We know that the motor industry finds them incredibly useful, so we would need to think quite carefully about how to change the way trade plates are managed. We don’t want to suppress the flow of vehicles. It is something that if it did come up, it would need to be thought about really carefully.

Question from the Car Dealer Forum: Would you consider allowing people to tax a car without it being registered to them? (At present, you can tax a car with a V5C but you have to be the registered keeper if you want to tax online.)

We do recognise there are occasions when the registered keeper will be unable to do so. I was at Swansea’s call centre only yesterday and I heard many examples of people being on holiday and they couldn’t tax their cars. We do understand that people may well ask a relative or a friend to tax a vehicle on their behalf, and the best way to do this is by using the online system.

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Will the new tax system spell an end to the roadside trader selling dodgy cars?

I certainly think our ability to enforce and promote honest trading and dealing is going to be much enhanced to the benefit of all of us, including the Treasury. When I say much enhanced, this is in terms of a much more digital landscape. It will be much harder to be dodgy – as it were – in that kind of environment. From our point of view, we really are thinking about this much more, but that does mean there will be greater scrutiny and greater support of good practice. In the past, the DVLA hasn’t focused enough on the needs of the trade and industry.

I personally think there could be an explosion in roadside traders and people selling dodgy cars. If there isn’t a visual way of seeing whether a car has got tax, it’s going to be easier to pass on a suspect car surely?

Well, except we need to make sure the public understand that the tax disc is going. Certainly, our communication on that is building up well and we believe that by October, people’s understanding is going to be pretty much universal. It’s not as if the tax disc itself was an incredible protector of the probity of the motor trade, so I don’t think it will make a significant difference. Of course, we will keep an eye on this matter, but the most important thing is the awareness that the tax disc is going and when you buy a car you will need to buy tax.

 Is this more a case of people’s buying habits having to change?

In the future, you can go to which is a place you can trust and look at the vehicle you’re looking at right in front of you and you can check tax, MOTs and insurance. In some ways, this is far more trustworthy than the tax disc, which can be forged or amended.

Used Car Seller asked on our forum: ‘I lost a sale today thanks to the DVLA. My customer comes back tomorrow to get his deposit back because I can’t tax his car. I could have taxed his car if the local DVLA office was still open. The Post Office can’t do it. I phoned the DVLA but the previous owner hasn’t put it into trade and it’s still registered in his/her name. I was told ‘Sorry sir, there’s a four-to-six-week wait.’ In other words, ‘We don’t care.’

Our response is that we are generally giving pretty good service. We are being very clear that we dropped the ball on the local office closure this time last year, and we didn’t provide a good enough service. We are now, generally, well within our performance targets and we are building a terrific new system for being able to do this digitally and we are working with the trade on how this can work more effectively. Our evidence certainly suggests we are well under our 10-day target. I have to admit a four-to-six-week time to do a vanilla tax disc is excessive. It’s interesting – we need to work with the trade to get this stuff to work smoothly. People need to get the details of a vehicle into DVLA nice and promptly when the transaction takes place. So, for us, it is how we work with the trade to make this work well, but for the most part, dealers are happy with our service now – that’s not to say they were a year ago.

‘So how can it be lawful to sell drivers’ details to parking firms?’

Question from Countryman on the forum: When a customer wants to pay for their tax by monthly direct debit, how is the dealer able to arrange this for them prior to them collecting the vehicle?

In terms of the direct debit, they will need to set this up themselves and this goes for the tax. It’s a very easy thing to do and, to be honest, what I would recommend would be that the dealer takes the customer through it during the sales process. A good car sale would include the element of saying, ‘Okay, before handing over the keys, let’s take care of the tax now so you can drive out of the showroom now.’ That would work with the direct debit as well. This way everyone feels comfortable.

So, would you say the whole sales process needs to change to incorporate this?

I think a well-designed sales process would include it – and there’s also the question of disposing on to trade and how you would do this. We see quite a lot of problems with disposal on to trade because you haven’t got that robustness with, say, the address details and so on. Knowing that the car is taxed is great if it can be tightly integrated into the sales process and completes it for the customers.

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A lot of dealers are telling us the cherished number plate system doesn’t work when it comes to part-exchange cars. They say it’s far too complicated and needs simplification.

It’s very dependent on legislation and we have to meet the requirements of the legislation surrounding cherished transfers. I think it is something that could bear some simplification and I would like to review this. At the moment we are trying to review our own internal processes to make it as simple as possible and build the computer systems to support this, but I think there will be a point at which we really need to make this simpler.

Why is the DVLA selling drivers’ details to parking firms? How is this lawful and how can you say it’s right to do this?

Well, the first point to make is that if you have private land and someone parks on it, you have the right to enforce parking restrictions on it – although I acknowledge that not everyone agrees with this. I think that for a landowner to be able to enforce parking on their own land is fair. That question of how we release the data is effectively based on reasonable cause and you can look on the information commissioner’s website and you can see their view on whether we should be releasing this data – and there is the view that reasonable cause does apply to this data. We are saying that if you park on someone’s land without permission, the landowner has the right to find out who it was. It’s very clear they comply with the parking code of conduct and there’s a right to appeal by Popla. We’ve significantly increased the number of times we audit this and we’ve suspended 22 companies in the past year and I am looking to increase the level of audit.

This is a question of balancing the rights of two groups – landowners and vehicle owners, and I don’t think we are ever going to be in a position where we are satisfying both. My view is that we should charge appropriately for the data to cover our costs and we should ensure that charge is supporting a full structure of audit and that we have the support of the parking associations to ensure we have compliance with those terms.

The DVLA is never going to be in a position where it is not criticised for this, but fundamentally we do have reasonable cause to supply this data. My philosophy here is that the DVLA is never in a position where it is making money – we are in a position where our fees are slightly too low simply because it is expensive and we are increasing the audit. We should be very clear on us trying to cover our costs as well.

So, when national newspapers are quoting you’ve made £6.7m on selling data, isn’t that true?

We haven’t made £6.7m – we’ve charged £6.7m to cover costs of audit and administration.

So, if you’re charging/making £6.7m, you’re always going to fall down on the side of the landowner?

No, because the evidence is that we’re losing money. The irony is that I have news stories critiquing me for making £6.7m out of parking data and other stories that are critiquing me for losing £1.2m for providing parking data – how am I going to win this? We will never win this argument. We have to supply this data because the parking industry is a significant industry.

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James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer. In October 2021 he became Car Dealer's associate editor.

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