Over the last few years, several administrative tasks that formerly required a physical form to be filled in and sent off have moved to an online process. This includes many government services, such as applying for a passport and renewing road tax.
Many of us find going online quicker and more convenient and in most cases allows government departments to work more efficiently.
In theory, automating the process should also make it easier to keep records, cutting down on inconsistencies, errors, and non-payment. However, since the vehicle tax disc was scrapped back in 2014, non-payment of vehicle road tax has almost tripled!
The once ubiquitous coloured paper disc, which clearly showed the month and year of expiry; was replaced by an online system in a cost saving measure.
The paper tax disc already feels like something that belongs on a classic vehicle, along with a metal AA badge and a fluffy tiger tail swinging from the petrol cap.
In 2014, the last year in which vehicles were required to display a tax disc, unpaid road tax accounted for £34 million in lost revenue. In the latest financial year, the figure is predicted to be nearer £94 million.
Drivers of new and used cars seem to be the worst offenders, with private and light vehicles accounting for the bulk of the lost revenue.
Northern Ireland was named as the area with the highest percentage of non-payers. Motoring organisations and the motor trade have expressed concern about the loss of revenue from road tax, since this money is used, in part, to fund improvements to the road network.
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Non-payment of road tax carries heavy penalties, including fines of up to £1,000, and can invalidate a driver’s insurance policy in the event of a claim. An untaxed car may be clamped, towed, or impounded, requiring a fee to release it. Paying road tax, on the other hand, has never been easier.
The DVLA still sends reminder letters by post and runs regular campaigns to warn motorists that untaxed cars are easy to spot. In spite of this, many drivers fail to pay their annual or six-monthly tax, either intentionally or by accidental omission.
The lack of a tax disc also means that it is more difficult for a police officer or passer-by to tell whether a car has been taxed or not.
It seems that even in an age when we have smartphones constantly available to keep us on top of lists, events and appointments, a physical reminder is still sometimes necessary.
Maybe it’s time to go back to the good old-fashioned remedy of tying a knot in your handkerchief if there’s something important we need to remember.