According to a report by MPs, three million people who have applied for a driver’s licence since April 2020 have encountered delays, costing some of them their jobs or income.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) spoke about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLA) system to process applications, stating that it is “slow, inefficient and in need of major improvements.”
Individuals who testified before the committee spoke of losing their jobs or income and being unable to begin or resume work as a result of the delays. It was claimed that drivers with medical concerns were the most severely affected.
According to the PAC, the coronavirus pandemic “inevitably” had an impact, with three million suffering delays since the month after it first hit and around 60 million phone calls going unanswered in a two-year period.
The Department for Transport (DfT) was accused of taking a “hands-off approach” and failed to ensure DVLA is using modern working practices and up-to-date technology.
Labour’s Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Committee, said: “The pandemic inevitably made operations more difficult, but the DVLA and DfT were not prepared for the challenge of keeping essential driving licence services running – and especially not for those who needed it most.
“Some of the DVLA’s operations are antiquated, it lacks a comprehensive strategy for modernisation and on PAC we’re unconvinced they’re more ready for the next crisis.
“When that does arise, it will again be the most vulnerable customers – people for whom driving is a lifeline – who are worst hit. That’s just not acceptable. The DVLA has to get its act together.”
According to the PAC, several DVLA customers who were unable to conduct their regular daily lives without a valid driving licence reported isolation and deteriorating mental health.
About 60 million of the total calls made to the DVLA about driving licenses went unanswered between April 2020 and March 2022, it said.
The number of complaints about the DVLA received through MPs “increased tenfold” between 2019-20 and 2021-22, the report said.
The PAC suggested the DVLA: set up better systems for those experiencing delays, improve its communication with customers and implement a contingency plan to be shared with the committee.
Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: “These shocking delays show that DVLA customers are being let down on an industrial scale.
“Delays in getting a driving license are not just a minor inconvenience, they can lead to people losing their jobs or worsening mental health.
“The Government and DVLA must get a grip, and ensure people no longer have to experience these unacceptable delays.”
A DVLA spokesperson said: “We are back to normal processing times across our services. All standard paper applications were back to normal turnaround times by May 2022.
“Our online services worked well throughout the pandemic and for the vast majority of our customers, their dealings with DVLA would have been trouble free. 98 per cent of people who applied online received their driving licence within just a few days.
“During the pandemic, we issued more than 24 million driving licences, the vast majority of which were issued within three working days.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “The report does not represent a balanced picture of the work that has taken place in the department.
“As well as ministers closely monitoring DVLA’s progress, we provided practical support during the pandemic, including establishing workplace Covid testing in Swansea and facilitating additional office space in Birmingham.
“We continue to support DVLA’s investment in developing and promoting online services, as we did prior to and throughout the pandemic.”