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Up to 500,000 drivers risk fines by not taxing their cars: Here’s what you need to know

By Ted Welford | December 15, 2023

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You can quickly and easily check if your car or another is taxed by entering the number plate into Regit’s online tax checker

Up to 500,000 drivers risk fines by not taxing their cars: Here’s what you need to know

Paying vehicle excise duty (VED) - or road tax as it’s often known - is a part of owning and running a car.

Even on some cars that are currently free to tax – such as electric cars and older vehicles emitting under 100g/km of CO2 – it still needs to be declared. 

However, new figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that there were an estimated 498,000 unlicensed vehicles in 2023, equating to 1.2 per cent of ‘active’ vehicles on the road that were untaxed, or around one in every 84 cars.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means, how much money is being lost, and the punishments for not taxing a vehicle. 

Which areas of the country are most likely to tax evade with their cars?

The DfT’s survey looked across all areas of the country, exposing key differences between vehicle tax evasion depending on location. 

While the average of vehicles evading VED was 1.3 per cent, areas such as the South East (1.0 per cent), South West (1.1 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (1.2 per cent). 

By far the area with the highest rates of tax evasion was Northern Ireland at 2.9 per cent, where one in every 35 cars is untaxed. The East of England (1.7 per cent) and North East (1.4 per cent) were also above the average. 

What’s the most common reason why cars have expired tax?

Based on the DfT’s survey results, the most common reason vehicles weren’t paying tax was because it had expired and had not been renewed (79 per cent). This was followed by vehicles having tax refunded and had not been taxed since (12 per cent), such as when a vehicle is sold and the new keeper doesn’t pay the VED.

Eight per cent of untaxed cars seen were also registered as having a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN), while two per cent had no record of previous tax, such as new or imported vehicles. 

What’s the typical period that a car is untaxed for?

The DfT’s study on vehicle tax evasion is quite in-depth and even shows the last time that a car was taxed. On more than half (54 per cent) of vehicles seen, the tax had expired in the last two months, while 15 per cent had not been taxed between two and four months.

Perhaps of more concern, however, was that 11 per cent of vehicles had not been taxed for more than 12 months, equating to 54,780 vehicles. 

How much money is the government missing out on with untaxed cars?

With almost 500,000 motorists evading tax on their vehicles, it’s clear that the government is missing out on a significant sum of money. 

The Department for Transport said it would not publish any estimates on the loss of money because it questioned the reliability of its findings. However, data available from two years ago estimated the annual figure at £114m, showing a significant loss in earnings. What are the punishments for not taxing a car?

If your vehicle is used on the road, or even parked on it, you must tax it and if not, there are some quite significant punishments if things escalate. 

The police operate Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, which feature a ‘live’ database that shows if a vehicle is taxed, as well as things like MOT and insurance. 

The system can instantly flag if a vehicle is untaxed and not declared SORN, and an automated letter and £80 fine will be sent to the registered keeper. It will reduce to £40 if you pay the fine within 33 days, however. 

If you don’t pay the fine, it will be referred to a debt collection agency and prosecution could follow. The penalty could increase to a maximum of £1,000 fine if it goes to court, too. 

The DVLA also has the power to clamp, impound and even destroy any untaxed vehicle. 

How do I know if my car is taxed and can I get reminders?

You can quickly and easily check if your car or another is taxed by entering the number plate into Regit’s online tax checker. It can also tell you when the MOT expires and if it’s compliant with the various clean air zones across the UK. You can also add in your service dates and insurance renewal date so you won’t forget. 

A benefit of using the Regit car tax checker is that you will be alerted when your tax is due to expire, along with other information about your car, such as the MOT date. All this will help make sure that you aren’t one of the 500,000 drivers going around without valid road tax, risking having your vehicle impounded and facing significant fines. 

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