Learner driver exploitation: the ongoing saga of driving test scalping

L Plate on hood of black car

Months after media outlets highlighted the problem, brokers flogging driving tests to driving schools like ticket touts are still scalping learner drivers.

The issue of computer bots hijacking the DVSA driving test booking platform was previously highlighted, along with a raft of other scams and schemes used by crooked individuals to make money from the woeful provision of test opportunities, which continue to cause problems and extra costs for learners desperate to take their driving tests and secure a driving licence.

According to the Guardian’s own investigation, brokers are now ‘acting like ticket touts’ and soliciting bids from driving schools for the tests their web bots have already arranged, charging up to £400 for the privilege. The official price is shown as £62 for weekdays and £75 for weekends or evenings on the DVSA website.

The Guardian also provides information on the numerous social media pages and discussion boards where recently published driving tests are shared and exchanged.

Back in 2023, Auto Express reported that social media platforms including TikTok and Facebook are hosting adverts from fraudsters offering illegal assistance to learner drivers taking their tests, ranging from offers to substitute ‘lookalikes’ who will take the test in place of the real candidate to scams helping candidates with theory test answers via a Bluetooth earpiece.

Approximately 670 social media accounts with close to 140,000 followers were found as a result of a BBC investigation at the time, and according to the network, these accounts “advertise driving licence services without taking a test.” 

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, where internal data shows allegations of impersonations during driving tests have tripled since 2018—last year, there were more than 2,000 documented instances—is also aware of the scope of the issue surrounding fraudulent exams.

Just 30 prosecutions were brought last year, according to Marian Kitson, chief of legal enforcement at the DVSA. She also acknowledged that, because of the size of social media platforms and the cunning of fraudsters, the DVSA was unable to assess the scope of the issue. 

The BBC investigation found numerous adverts in multiple different languages. Investigators made contact with several advertisers outside the UK by posing as interested parties, and they were told they could be helped to acquire licences for fees that varied between £720 and a hefty £4,200. However, the fraudsters don’t disclose much information about the methods used to obtain licences for “customers” in their open communications.

Since the actual cost of a theory test and practical test together is £85, it suggests that fraudsters could be making big sums of money by illegally substituting candidates for driving tests. That licence would be revoked if anyone was caught obtaining it fraudulently, and they would also risk being prosecuted. 

Last year, the courts jailed a woman for eight months after she was caught taking multiple tests as a fake candidate.

Long waiting lists for tests drive increase in fraud

In 2022, it was also covered how, in an effort to avoid lengthy delays brought on by the Covid backlog, drivers were paying hundreds of pounds for driving test appointments.

Automated software was already being used by companies to monitor part of the DVSA system meant for driving schools and grab test slots as soon as new dates are added or existing bookings are cancelled. Although reservations are made using a provisional licence number, a secondary market has emerged since reservations on the DVSA system can be switched between candidates. 

Investigators discovered businesses and websites charging exorbitant test fees for impending test slots, and according to their findings, even driving instructors are participating by charging exorbitant test rates for expedited exams.

According to one advertisement, which claimed to be able to guarantee test dates for applicants within three weeks, driving instructors who work with him can earn an additional £400 to £600 per week by selling tests to their students.

As part of this earlier investigation, the BBC created a fake driving school on the DVSA website and found it took five minutes to register with no authentication required. The government agency admitted to the BBC that their system was weak since it “relies on trust,” but added that it is lawful to book a test in another person’s name as long as you have that person’s permission.

While the DVSA claimed to have enhanced its system firewall to prevent exploitation, driving instructor bodies have denounced the sale of driving exams for profit.

The Driving Instructors Association’s chief executive, Carly Brookfield, said the backlog in the driving test system was creating “a desperation for test slots” and fueling fraudulent activities.

“If you’re facing the fact that if you don’t pass the test you have to wait for up to six months, then you’re going to think about cheating the system,” she said.

3 thoughts on “Learner driver exploitation: the ongoing saga of driving test scalping”

  1. Chris Mitchell

    I am a driving instructor. I am so incredibly angry and cross with the DVSA, Department for Transport (DfT), and the Government.

    they have been nothing but woeful in their handling of this continuous saga with crass ineptitude, and as a result are totally inert in their dealings with this problem.

    Loveday Ryder should be removed from post. She is a CEO in name only. A ‘puppet’ who is controlled by the DfT who restrict the ability of a CEO. she is nothing more than a supervisor with powers so limited she is less worthy than a cleaner. A cleaner achieves more, is more productive and better respected.

  2. This is all very interesting. But NO solution.
    Surly the DVSA can create a system that allows theory test candidates who have passed their theory test to go on a waiting list for their preferred driving test centre with times they are available. These candidates would have priority before the dates and times go live to the public.
    It’s no good trying to fight these Apps so change how the booking system works in favour of the test candidates.

  3. 1) Monitor and sanction unscrupulous instructors repeatedly and regularly sending
    pupils to the tests multiple times a day at the same or various test centres; some
    instructors only/mainly do tests (easy money). If found guilty an immediate expulsion
    and no mitigation entertained.
    2) No display of ADI badge at test centre = no test – make this compulsory.
    3) Link any payment card used by agencies, associates/partners of
    instructors (ADI number) booking tests (purporting) on behalf of pupils but not
    taking them to the test ie profiteering to HMRC eg the same card/associate/partner
    of an instructor booking 20 tests a month but only a small number eg 2 or 3
    (less than 5) actually turn up with that instructor ie the rest probably sold for
    a quick profit.
    I firmly believe (1) (2) and (3) will seriously dent their profit, and make this unscrupulous (possibly fraudulent) activity history.

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