YOU COULDN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP IF YOU TRIED
Exactly three years ago as I write these words – to the very day – I was putting the finishing touches to my submission to this column for the January 2015 edition of the magazine.
Central to my rant back then was the recent abolition of the paper ‘tax disc’ (right), which since 1921 had served as a simple, convenient and actually pretty efficient way of proving to anyone who cared to look that you had paid your road fund licence – or, as it has come to be known (on the grounds that no one ever fixes the roads these days), Vehicle Excise Duty. The process would save our technology-obsessed government around £10 million a year, we were told, for a one-off ‘conversion’ cost of around £1 million (really?), and thanks to modern ANPR systems it would be far more difficult, if not impossible, to cheat the system. Result. Kerchinggg.
But guess what? Figures no doubt reluctantly released by the Department for Transport show that in 2013, before the abolition of the good, old-fashioned paper disc, some 0.6 per cent of vehicles were unlicensed at any given moment. Apparently, this has now risen to 1.8 per cent, or around 755,000 vehicles. Cost to HM Treasury? And thus, of course, to we taxpayers? Oh, only about (cough and say it quickly…) £107 million. And which figure surely casts further doubt on those projected benefits and costs.
Part of this shortfall is ascribed to confusion and/or so-called honest mistakes – and, indeed, one of the threads of my argument three years ago was that the system was becoming unnecessarily complicated. Certainly, it is quick and easy now to tax your car on-line, rather than having to queue up in some dismal Post Office. But you can no longer transfer any current tax when you sell a vehicle, instead having to rely on an automatic refund of any full months’ tax remaining, after you submit the seller’s portion of the V5 registration document. Which means, of course, that if you sell your car during the middle part of any given month, then the Chancellor will effectively trouser two lots of tax for the period in question. And still these halfwits manage to lose money… God help us if they ever have anything important to do. Like negotiate a Brexit deal, perhaps?
Even so, I seriously doubt that there are too many people out there who haven’t yet got their heads round the system – my 90-year-old mother, still a keen driver, is well aware of it, for instance – and given the all too obvious morals of a disappointingly large proportion of the British population I am willing to bet that many others reckon it’s worth just taking a chance. Winging it, basically. I have seen presumably untaxed cars wheel-clamped – as it happens, one only yesterday – and I expect there is plenty of low-hanging fruit for the enforcement teams in many inner-city boroughs, but out here in rural Oxfordshire we don’t even have on-street parking wardens any more. And you are more likely to see Lord Lucan than a police officer pounding the beat. As we sow, we reap the whirlwind. PW