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How to avoid car hire calamity without a paper driving licence

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 01 July 2015
  2. Cars and Motoring
  3. 0 comments
Driving licences

Change is often hard, but the DVLA’s latest bid to cut red tape could have particularly serious consequences for the summer holidays of many British drivers.

As we discussed back in December, the DVLA has now stopped issuing paper driving licences, as part of their bid to reduce their reliance on the tyranny of paper.

The changes came into effect on 8th June 2015, meaning that paper driving licences are no longer legally valid, unless they were issued before the introduction of the modern photocard licence in 1998.

The DVLA has now advised motorists to destroy their paper licences – however, it may be worth holding onto them for a while longer, as drivers once again find themselves battling through the twin storms of unforeseen consequences and sloppy DVLA implementation.

Chaos for car hirers

Those attempting to hire cars after the change quickly encountered problems, as many car hire firms required drivers to flash their paper driving licence before they would allow them to hire a car.

To get around this, the DVLA created the “Share a Driving Licence” service, a means to show details of your licence to another party. By using this service, you generate a licence check code, which a car hire firm can use to look up details of your licence, including what types of vehicle you can drive and how many points you have.

However, this was of little help to motorists on the 8th June, when the site completely crashed under the weight of 30,000 users trying to access the site at once. With the service down, many drivers, particularly those abroad, were unable to hire a car.

This glut of users was described as “exceptional demand” by the DVLA – however, others have warned that the service is likely to face similar demand when the school summer holidays begin, and that many peoples’ holiday plans could be scuppered as a result.

“A lot of people will be checking the site at the same time as soon as the schools break up, as they hit the road for the ferries,” warned Edmund King, president of the AA. “The worry is that it may overload the site in the summer when people desperately need it.”

Limitations of the service

Even if the service is working perfectly, it is still likely to cause headaches for some drivers. The licence check code that you generate to allow your licence to be viewed will only remain valid for 72 hours, and will be unusable thereafter.

If you want to hire a car halfway through your holiday, you probably won’t be able to generate a code before you leave – you will need to generate a new code while you are out there, either by finding access to the internet somewhere or calling the DVLA over the phone.

Bear in mind that you will also need your National Insurance number to generate your licence code, and unless you are one of the few who has memorised yours, this could present a problem.

Oliver Morley from the DVLA has noted a National Insurance number is “pretty easy to get hold of”, as you could find it on a payslip or a pension slip.

However, it’s unlikely that you will have either of these on you while you are away, unless you are having a rather dull holiday. Make sure you take a copy of your NI number with you if you are planning to hire a car.

Lack of awareness

Another concern is that drivers and car hire firms alike are still largely unaware of the changes. The RAC reported in April that less than half of the UK’s drivers were actually aware that the paper licence was being done away with, and it’s likely that some car hire firms will also have been caught off guard by the changes.

This is a particular issue if you are hiring a car abroad – a firm in, say, the US, is unlikely to have any inkling of the changes unless they have actually dealt with a UK driver before.

For this reason, Edmund King has recommended that drivers ignore the DVLA’s command to destroy invalid paper licences… for now.

"It is possible that hirers overseas, who have been used to checking a British driver’s paper record in the past, may not know of the change and still ask to see the counterpart,” he said.

“Although the paper counterpart has now been rendered invalid, we are advising our members not to tear up their counterparts just yet, but to take them abroad as a ‘belt and braces’ measure if they intend to hire a vehicle.”

You can find more information in our driving licences section.

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