YOU COULDN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP IF YOU TRIED

911 Porsche World - - The Usual Suspects -

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

Ditch­ing the fa­mil­iar ‘tax disc’ was meant to save gov­ern­ment – that’s us, ul­ti­mately – £10m a year, but guess what? So far, it has cost £107 mil­lion

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