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 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.