Scottish newspaper The Daily Record reports today that the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) is under fire for allegedly selling on motorists‘ personal details, such as names and registered addresses to private car parking firms to chase unpaid fines. The DVLA’s selling of the data has controversially been said to have cost the British taxpayer £1 million to date. Drivers have expressed outrage after the DVLA processed 2.6 million requests from owners of car parks in order to put pressure on motorists who have failed to pay outstanding parking charges and fines.
Ironically the agency was forced to pay a total of £7.6 million to furnish driver’s details to the parking firms, which caused it to have a shortfall of £900,000, all of which was made up from taxpayers’ contributions. The DVLA is believed to charge a fee of £2.50 for administrative costs to parking companies acquiring its licence data, but then each final request ended up costing £2.84 after processing.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation – which own the RAC motoring club and driver assistance network, commented on the scandal: “Essentially you have got taxpayers bankrolling private companies.
“It is absurd that hardworking men and women are effectively subsidising private parking firms.”
Rival motorist assistance company The AA (Automobile Association) also spoke out against the DVLA’s selling of people’s private details in the name of revenue making. Its spokesperson Luke Bosdet said: “It’s a double whammy of these parking enforcers chasing up every fine that they can possibly pin on the drivers to maximise their profit while costing the taxpayer for the privilege.”
Hugh Bladon from the Alliance of British Drivers said: “First of all, our details should be held within the DVLA and not allowed to go anywhere except perhaps to the police.
“I’m surprised at the figures as my understanding was the DVLA were making a profit out of this. If they are making a loss they should stop.”
The DVLA’s selling of its registration only came to light recently when several motorists reported receiving letters from a debt collection company and private parking ‘enforcer’ called ParkingEye. One driver in Scotland claimed to have found a ‘Parking Charge Notice’ at their home from the company. Gavin Bell opened the notice only to find he had been hit with a £85 fee after the firm claimed he overrun a pre-agreed thirty-minute stay while parked at a piece of private land in the town of Airdrie. Angered at the steep charge, Bell refused to settle the charge and made a Freedom of Information request to the DVLA after discovering they had sold his name and postal address to ParkingEye.
Gavin, 35, from Cambuslang, near Glasgow, said: “The DVLA handed over my details with seemingly no questions asked. You would think they would have to show some kind of just cause.
“When I found out the fee for getting driver details is so low it effectively just encourages these private firms to ask for the information whether there’s any merit to the case at all, I thought it was crazy.
“It costs more than it brings in to administer.”
The letters sent from the parking firms, which are often printed on thick, officially headed paper to people’s home addresses are made to resemble ‘statutory penalty charge notices’ in a bid to confuse and scare drivers into assuming they have broken the law and must pay up immediately. In reality, the notices hold no ground legally at all. Firms use the letters to demand immediate payment of fines and charges and threaten car owners with increases and penalty charges which can double or triple the debt, if not worse. However, these are considered as ‘civil contracts’ legally, which means that the police will not bring non-paying motorists to court and that the parking operator cannot force a driver to pay the outstanding demand unless the claim is taken to a civil court first and a summons is issued. Nevertheless the letters have proved a lucrative ‘money-spinner’ for dubious parking firms eager to claw back what they feel they are owed, and they will still send out letters even for small amounts. In fact many parking firms have been said to have struck up deals with private landowners to collect parking fees from their lands at no additional cost to the landowner.
In response to the Daily Record’s uncovering of the secret handshake of data between the DVLA and parking companies, the agency replied and acknowledged there was a shortfall in the cost. They said: “DVLA sets fees to recover costs – we do not aim to make a profit.” The scandal over the selling of private data to companies solely out to make a profit is sure to anger many drivers and the general public already shocked by governmental ineptitude over the data of citizens, including losing thousands of names and addresses on USB memory sticks and patients’ records going missing from NHS clinics and laptops. Many private companies in the UK, such as banks and retail stores will sell the debts of customers to private debt collection firms for a pittance, who then threaten debtors with legal measures and bailiffs if money owing is not cleared. Councils and other local government bodies have also sold on the contact details of people owing rent arrears to private firms for many years, legally. This is however the first time that a national-level government agency has been implicated in doing the same.
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“Revealed: Government sell motorists’ details to private car park bosses chasing fines.. and it costs taxpayers £1million” – Lynn McPherson, The Daily Record and Sunday Mail (27 July 2014) www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/revealed-government-sell-motorists-details-3920642?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed
“File:DVLA.svg” – Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency/Kashmiri (via www.dft.gov.uk), Wikimedia Commons (28 January 2013) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DVLA.svg
“File:Car park -8.jpg” – heartbeaz, Flickr via Wikimedia Commons (13 July 2008) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Car_park_-8.jpg