Back in 1998 the government introduced what is commonly known as the 'card licence.' This replaced the 'paper licence' that had been in existence for donkeys years. The card licence improved upon the old version by introducing a photo ID and bringing our licence format in line with the rest of Europe.
The problem is that the introduction wasn't handled very well. When the card licence was introduced it wasn't a card licence at all - it was a paper and card licence, with all licences actually consisting of two parts, a credit card style plastic card and an A4 paper sheet. Whereas the old paper licence was valid until you reached 70 years old, the new one needs renewed every 10 years. In principle this makes sense because having introduced the photo ID element of the licence, the DVLA needs to keep updating the photo as the holder ages.
And within those two facts lies the problem. Firstly, when told that their paper licence is being replaced by a card licence, many people simply threw away the green A4 paper part and stuck the conveniently small card part in their wallets. It is telling that a simple Google Images search on 'UK driving licence' overwhelmingly brings up images of the card part. It doesn't help that even the DVLA refers to the paper part of the licence, which contains the actual licence details, as the 'counterpart licence.' Which makes it sound like an appendix or subsidiary to the card. It isn't.
For car hire companies like Great Escape this presents us with a major problem - we need to check address details and licence endorsements, but the card part of the licence doesn't contain any of that information. The first time most people realise the problem is when they come to hire a car - and trying to obtain a paper licence quickly is impossible.
In such circumstances the DVLA offers hire companies a licence verification service via phone. This enables us to call the DVLA and check licence details, once the licence holder has given us permission. The trouble is that this service isn't open 7 days a week (most of our hires are at weekends) and it isn't open 24 hrs. Oh, and it costs £1 per minute. I won't suggest that there is no incentive for the DVLA to clarify the situation when they send out licences, but you, dear reader, may come to that conclusion.
The second problem is around the 10 year expiry date on the licence. The DVLA sends out one reminder letter (or in fact sometimes it doesn't). If you miss the letter or fail to recognise its importance (because nobody ever told you the licence would expire) it is extremely easy to end up with an invalid licence. An invalid licence obviously makes it illegal to drive and negates your insurance. It is fairly easy to renew your licence at most main Post Offices but it will cost you at least £25 to do so.
So, since 1998 we've moved from a free licence that is one piece of paper valid for over 50 years to a two-part licence that renews every 10 years at a potential income to the DVLA of around £125 per person. But that isn't really why I've posted this article.
At Great Escape approximately 15% of the customers we deal with have either lost the paper part of their licence or never realised they had to keep it. As we ask for licences in advance we can usually get around this by using the DVLA premium phone line. But if those customers were stopped by the police and given a 7 day producer they'd be stuffed. All because, in our view, the DVLA has failed to explain the new licence arrangements properly. In addition a large number of customers present expired licences to us. Again, we can solve it but again a stop by the police could result in a hefty fine.
At Great Escape Classic Car Hire we feel that this problem is sufficiently prevalent that it can't be down to individual oversight. So we're highlighting the issue in the hope that it prevents anyone reading it suffering a nasty shock, either when they hire a car or if they get stopped by the police. And we hope that maybe the DVLA will concentrate on customer service rather than premium rate phone lines.
http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk 01527 893733.