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Persistent evaders: It’s time for action

CDER Group’s John Mason calls on the DVLA to help tackle persistent evaders and nuisance vehicles

John Mason
12 April 2022
John Mason
Walking for Everyone
Walking for Everyone

 

What is a persistent evader? A vehicle owner can be classed as a ‘persistent evader’ if there are three or more recorded contraventions for the vehicle and the penalties for these have not been paid, represented against or appealed against within the statutory time limits, or their representations and appeals have been rejected but they have still not been paid.

CDER Group has developed two in-house definitions to help us deal with repeat offenders. A ‘persistent offender’ is a term we use for those who continually end up in the enforcement process because they have not paid a parking penalty or road user charge. But these generally pay as a result of our enforcement actions. These are perhaps regarded as the “rich and forgetful” people.

We define a ‘persistent evader’ as a debtor with three or more outstanding live warrants for the debtor where there has been no payment. It is the persistent evaders who are causing an increase in the need for the use of civil enforcement to collect unpaid charges. The problem is going to get worse because regulation of the highway is increasing. In the past five years there has been a significant increase in the use of civil enforcement through the implementation of new road charging schemes such as Dart Charge and Mersey Gateway, as well as the expansion of bus lane and moving traffic enforcement. Looking ahead, we will see schemes such as Clean Air Zones and road user charging using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) to collect charges against a registered number plate.

There are two other groups that it is worth noting:

  • Hire and lease companies: The likes of Alphabet, Hertz, Northgate Vehicle Hire and Enterprise have thousands vehicles and these commit thousands of contraventions every day. But these companies generally transfer liability to the driver or pay when engaged with by civil enforcement agencies.
  • Vulnerable people: We frequently encounter vulnerable customers who “own” the vehicle but are not the cause or person responsible for the contraventions committed. These vulnerable people live at an address through which a persistent evader has registered the nuisance vehicle. This is the sort of tactic used by unscrupulous individuals to avoid receiving penalties and correspondence. We need to keep such scenarios in mind when we talk about developing solutions for the persistent evader problem.

Understanding the problem

So what is the impact now and going forward? Well, clearly there is loss of penalty charge notice (PCN) revenue to local authorities as a result of persistent evaders. I know not many people will get their violins out because of uncollected council debt or the loss of revenue incurred by civil enforcement agents. But unpaid debts amount to a cost to society, to each and every one of us.

When pursuing unpaid PCNs, civil enforcement agencies and our clients incur the cost of following the statutory processes. The reality is that sometimes we spend a huge amount of time chasing down persistent evaders and do not get anywhere.

To better understand the costs involved, CDER undertook an analysis of the top 200 persistent evaders in the road traffic and road user charging space across all of our clients. These 200 persistent evaders have generated an astonishing 58,962 cases. Some 285 warrants were issued the top persistent evader. All those cases generated £530,000 in TEC (Traffic Enforcement Centre) fees, which are required to make the debts actionable.

We have invested much time and money in engaging with these 200 repeat offenders.

We have sent them 72,012 letters.

We have sent them 34,671 SMS messages.

We have carried out 6,200 visits.

All of those cases account for £9.8m worth of debt.

Yet, despite all the work done on trying to engage with these 200 persistent evaders we have not received a single penny. None of our activity has generated a single penny that I have been able to pass back to my clients, not one penny of fees that I can use to offset the cost of pursuing this position.

I hope that helps puts the challenge the traffic and parking sector faces into perspective.

So how do they evade?

There is clear evidence that some persistent evaders are using cloned number plates, which is a risky thing to do because if you get caught with a faked number plate that is a criminal matter.

But I believe the single biggest root cause of persistent evasion in England and Wales and Scotland is the DVLA and DVLA’s data. It is far too easy to “opt out” of the vehicle keeper database. One call or letter is all it takes to obtain a letter from the DVLA that you are not the keeper of a vehicle. The level of DVLA “No keeper details” in response to queries by authorities and enforcement agencies continues to increase and ranges between 10-20% based on client estimates.

The disconnect between vehicle and driver licensing database is a real problem, as is the ability to register false information and non-drivers such as children.
Thus, it is my belief the driver and vehicle licencing process, and the current regulations, are not fit for purpose. There are flaws in the policies and procedures that exist and a systematic failure by the DVLA to correctly record or enforce. Then there is DVLA’s inability to provide accurate or even any vehicle keeper details.

DVLA was sent an Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking for the number of requests where name and address was provided and DVLA did not or was unable to provide name and/or address of the keeper in response to the requests.

The agency’s answer was that this information is not held by DVLA. It wrote: “While the DVLA knows the number of requests made via the WEE [Web Enabled Enquiry] and KADOE [Keeper At Date Of Event] services, the process is an electronic one which returns an appropriate response (i.e. keeper data or no keeper data held) in each case. Therefore requests are neither declined nor refused. There is no business need for DVLA to record separately what information was returned to the local authority. DVLA has a process in place to audit local authorities who make requests electronically via the WEE and KADOE services.”

When the DVLA states “there is no business need” it is saying that the data is not collected because it has no direct impact on the DVLA’s performance targets, revenue or objectives. It does not matter. Who cares? It is apparent that there is no pressure on DVLA whatsoever. The issues we face have no impact on them.

The lack of meaningful enforcement by the DVLA for driver and vehicle licensing offences other than untaxed vehicles is a pressing issue. The agency does not look for or take action against vehicles without tax or lacking an MOT. DVLA has got the resources on-street, but when driving down a road its vehicles could pass six or seven cars where they do not know who the register keeper is, but they will clamp the one that was untaxed. I could be going down the street and using those resources!

And it is all too clear that the current regulations do not support the notion of continuous registration of a vehicle.

So, how do we solve these problems? I suggest that this can be done by addressing the issues in two time frames: one immediate and one with a longer perspective.

Things that can be done now

In the immediate and near term there are number of things that can be done by local authorities and their civil enforcement agency partners, including:

  • limit progression of cases through TEC until enforcement provider establishes contact/obtains payment
  • utilise third party data sources to validate DVLA data pre-TEC
  • active and dynamic links between on-street civil enforcement officers (CEOs) and enforcement agents to prioritise vehicle immobilisation and removal
  • early identification of persistent evaders to engage alternative legal options.

A strategic plan is needed

The short-term solutions are ones that those working in the traffic and parking sector can deliver, but in the longer term the persistent evader problem will never be resolved without fundamental changes to the vehicle keeper licensing system and the DVLA being held to account. We can all raise the awareness of the financial and wider impacts of missing and incorrect DVLA data with government and decision-makers.

We need to demand a clear, strategic plan for improving the completeness and accuracy of the vehicle licensing database. This plan must be backed up by consistent and effective enforcement to at least the same level as untaxed vehicle: No keeper data means clamp and removal until a keeper is identified and recorded.

So in the long term, let’s get the government to undertake a proper review of the regulations. Let’s work together to get a fit-for-purpose continuous licencing system, because without these changes this persistent evader problem is not going to go away.

The author

John Mason is CDER Group’s board member lead for parking, traffic and road user charging contracts. He has over 27 years parking, traffic and road user charging enforcement industry experience. His was responsible for the City of Westminster’s vehicle removal operation and was director of Transport for London congestion charging and traffic enforcement. Mason is also an executive member of CIVEA, the civil enforcement agency association.
www.cdergroup.co.uk

 
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