Tuesday, November 29, 2022

“If DVLA was a company, it would have gone broke”: Backlog hits drivers with illnesses

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Tens of thousands of drivers with health problems are waiting more than three months for the applications to be processed

300,000 pending driver’s license applications are on the desks of the DVLA, 77,000 of which are more than three months late,I can reveal.

In March, the government agency came under fire after admitting it had a backlog of more than 700,000 applications. That number rose as many workers were able to work from home during the initial lockdown.

Two-thirds of the pending applications were made by people with conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes and heart problems, whose applications take longer.

Around 9,000 people a week who apply for medical approvals find that their applications are not reviewed within the three-month deadline set by the DVLA.

This is according to an FOI request from Heycar, a used car marketplace, and the delays have left tens of thousands of motorists without a valid driver’s license.

Drivers who fail to report these conditions can have their insurance void, face a £1,000 fine or even face criminal prosecution.

The DVLA says applicants can continue unless they have been instructed by a doctor not to do so “in most cases”.

Between March 2020 and June 2020, the number of employees working on site fell from around 3,300 to around 1,000 each, according to data from the National Audit Office (NAO).

Another strain on processing times has been the suspension of referrals to the DVLA by the NHS during the pandemic, meaning many drivers with medical conditions have been unable to obtain official medical confirmation.

From July, a new law allowed specialist nurses and other health professionals to conduct examinations, gradually easing the deadlock.

The backlog in the pandemic led to then-Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pledging to digitize DVLA, while then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened to “privatize the ass” government agencies that were underperforming.

Earlier this month, Gareth Davis, head of the NAO, said that while the DVLA is currently digitizing its processes to make the application process more efficient, “full benefits are still three to five years away”.

Of the 24.3 million applications DVLA processed between April 2020 and September 2022, 3.3 million took longer than their targets of three weeks for most licenses and three months for medical licenses, the NAO said.

An increasing proportion of late applications are due to drivers with medical conditions, whose applications take longer. Many of them are vulnerable people who depend on their car to go about their daily lives.

A separate FOI request earlier this month revealed that 926,000 motorists have not renewed their licenses that expired in the past year, accounting for one in 50 overall.

Sarah Tooze, consumer editor at Heycar, said: “We still hear regularly from elderly, vulnerable drivers – and their concerned loved ones – about how difficult it is to renew a medical driver’s license or speak to someone at the DVLA about the application.

“We urge the DVLA to release monthly figures showing the average processing times for medical driver’s license applications.

“We would also like the DVLA to set up a dedicated telephone hotline for medical driving license applications, as the system in place is failing some of the most vulnerable members of British society.”

A DVLA spokesman said the backlog for standard applications was “cleared” earlier this year.

They added: “There are some delays in processing applications where drivers have reported a medical condition to us, but around half of the applications currently being processed are waiting for further information from a third party (usually a doctor or the customer themselves) before doing so a decision can be made.”

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