This news article was originally reported by Benefits & Work on 3 July 2014 and is published here with permission.

A new vehicle check service on the DVLA website allows visitors to find out whether their neighbours are receiving the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) or either rate of the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP). The system is likely to be in breach of data protection laws and will be of enormous concern to many disabled claimants.

Unhappy [Benefits & Work] member

The issue was brought to our attention yesterday by a very unhappy member who emailed us to say:

“My neighbour was able to tell me that I was on the higher rate of disability living allowance.

“She found out that people on the higher rate of disability living allowance and other similar high rate benefits get free road tax.

“The DVLA vehicle check system has been revamped and is now displaying taxation class as DISABLED on every vehicle where the registered taxation class is disabled.

“ It never used to be like this it was just blank .

“Anyone can put your car registration number into the system and do a vehicle check just like my neighbour did and find out you are on benefits and what type as a result of the taxation class DISABLED being on display

“What is the purpose of this system being open to the public to do a vehicle check on any vehicle they want?

“It’s a system of no use to anyone other than malicious people intent on causing problems for people on benefits”

Our member asked us to notify disabled people of the issue and lobby to have the data removed from the DVLA website.

We did our own check on cars in the street outside using the DVLA website and were indeed able to discover that the owner of one vehicle has a disabled tax disc and is therefore in receipt of benefits, as the screenshot below taken from the DVLA website shows.

Exemption grounds

Exemption from vehicle tax on the grounds of disability is only available for people on Higher Rate DLA Mobility Component, War Pensioners Mobility Supplement, Enhanced Mobility PIP (100% exemption) or Standard Mobility PIP (50% exemption).

The vehicle doesn’t have to belong to the disabled person, but it must be only used for their benefit. The vehicle’s registered keeper can be the disabled person or someone else who uses the vehicle only for the disabled person’s needs.

At present the tax disc displayed on a car in these circumstances will show a cost of £0.00. But there are other grounds, apart from disability, for getting exemption from vehicle tax.

In addition, where a disabled person keeps their car on a private drive or in a garage, neighbours will not be able to see the details on the tax disc.

Tax discs to disappear

More importantly, from 1 October of this year you will no longer need to display a tax disc on your vehicle at all.

In addition, when you sell a car from October 2014 the tax cannot be passed onto the new owner. Instead, the previous owner will get a refund and the new owner will have to tax the car themselves.

There seems, therefore, no obvious reason for information about the tax status of a vehicle to be displayed online.

Data protection

The issue here appears to be one of data protection.

The information that DVLA are making available is not about the vehicle itself. Instead they are publishing personal information about the benefits received by the individual who currently owns the car or for whom the car is solely used.

We spoke to a staff member at the DVLA press office yesterday evening [2 July 2014] and asked them if they were aware that they were making this information available and if they would suspend the look-up service as a matter of urgency, as it appears to be in breach of data protection laws.


DVLA refuse to back down over revealing benefits details online

DVLA are refusing to back down over publishing details of who gets certain disability benefits in a vehicle registration look-up service on their website.

Yesterday Benefits and Work revealed that a new vehicle check service on the DVLA website allows visitors to find out whether their neighbours are receiving the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) or either rate of the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP).

We ( Benefits & Work) asked DVLA for a statement, which we have now received.

A DVLA spokesperson told Benefits and Work:

“The Vehicle Enquiry Service does not include any personal data. It allows people to check online what information DVLA holds about a vehicle, including details of the vehicle’s tax class to make sure that local authorities and parking companies do not inadvertently issue parking penalties where parking concessions apply.

“There is no data breach – the information on a vehicle’s tax class that is displayed on the Vehicle Enquiry Service does not constitute personal data. It is merely a descriptive word for a tax class.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be much of a defence.

The road tax for a car in band F, for example, is £145. The car will be in band F regardless of who owns it.

But if you get the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA then you will be exempt from paying that £145 tax. If someone else buys the car off you, however, and they do not receive a mobility benefit then they will pay the full band F tax.

What DVLA is doing is not publishing the car’s tax class – that remains the same whoever the owner is – they are publishing details of the exempt status of the individual who currently owns it.

That is personal data about the individual, not data about the vehicle.

The claim that it is necessary to make this information public to ensure that local authorities and parking companies do not apply parking penalties is extremely questionable.

If that was the sole purpose, then the database could be on a site where access is restricted only to local authorities and parking companies. There is simply no reason for this information to be made available to the entire population – except that it is cheaper and more convenient to do so

From 1 October tax discs are being phased out and there will no longer be a requirement for you to display one on your vehicle. So, the only way that anyone will be able to discover if you are exempt from paying vehicle tax on the grounds of disability will be to access the new DVLA database.

There are many people who clearly have a condition that would allow them to claim DLA or PIP mobility. But there are also many other people with conditions such as ME/CFS where it will not be apparent at all – and they may prefer the fact that they are disabled to remain unknown to their neighbours.

In addition, many thousands of claimants are eligible for the standard rate of PIP mobility solely because they have an ‘invisible’ mental health condition which, again, they may not wish their neighbours to be aware of.

One of the most common tips for surviving life on benefits sent to us by claimants earlier this year was never to tell anyone who didn’t need to know that you were claiming benefits. There is such a degree of prejudice and hostility towards sick and disabled claimants that many people wish to keep their benefits status confidential.

DVLA, however, have decided that for the sake of their convenience those people will have to put up with this information being made available online.

If the DWP were to provide a similar service on their website allowing you to look up who is getting disability benefits there would be an outcry.

What DVLA are doing is no different – and no more defensible.

Readers who are concerned that their personal data is being made available in this way may want to contact DVLA and the information commissioner’s office.