Alastair Dalton: Road tax dodgers are a big problem

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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TAX dodgers are not helping squeeze on parking spaces, writes Alastair Dalton

Do you find it increasingly difficult to park anywhere near your home? If so, that’s not surprising, because the number of vehicles on Scotland’s roads has been steadily rising for years.

The squeeze on parking spaces looks likely to get even tighter with the news yesterday of record UK new car sales last year.

There are now around 2.5 million cars and vans in Scotland – one-sixth more than a decade ago. More and more of us have cars, and we all need somewhere to park them. For most, there’s no option but on the street.

We also want to park for free. No-one likes parking charges, which often don’t even guarantee a greater chance of getting a space.

In addition, one in four Scottish households now have more than one car. That means that residents of high-density housing, such as tenements, are likely to be getting more and more frustrated about the situation.

What may make them even angrier is that some of those other cars and vans parked along their street have been left there illegally.

These include vehicles whose tax has run out, or, even worse, those declared as being “off road”, and so not liable for tax.

However, since October 2014, there has been no way to immediately identify such vehicles, because windscreen tax discs have been abolished. In theory, that might have made some savings for the UK government from not having to issue them, but it doesn’t help the law-abiding motorist check that others aren’t taking advantage at their expense.

A survey by the RAC motoring group when tax discs ended found that two-thirds of those polled thought the change would lead to an increase in untaxed vehicles, and almost half thought it would encourage people to break the law.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) rubbished the figures at the time, saying it was “nonsense” to suggest there would be an increase in vehicle tax evasion. However, the RAC’s poll proved correct, with official figures last November showing the number of unlicensed vehicles had doubled since 2013.

So what can you do about the car that’s been parked outside your house with a flat tyre, condensation inside the windows and a general look of abandonment?

Handily, you can easily check whether it is untaxed or has been declared off-road with a Statutory Off Road Notification (Sorn). That means it must be taken off public roads and put on to private land such as a garage or driveway.

It’s a free online process, requiring just the vehicle’s number plate and make. That instantly shows when both the vehicle’s tax and MoT certificate has run out, and whether it has a Sorn.

Even better, you can then anonymously report – also online – any untaxed vehicle you come across. The DVLA states: “Your report will be investigated”. And that’s the key. Few people will go to the trouble unless they are personally inconvenienced by such vehicles.

In areas where free parking is at a premium, they will be anxious that something is done about it, and promptly.

Taxpayers are losing £80 million a year from untaxed vehicles in addition to the extra grief caused to other drivers just trying to get a space near where they live.

The DVLA must demonstrate it is making a rapid response to such reporting to ensure public confidence in the system, considering the widespread misgivings at the decision to do away with tax discs.