The DVLA is still letting visitors to its website find out if their neighbours are claiming certain disability benefits, in spite of assuring the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that it is no longer doing so after the ICO held that “releasing this information unnecessarily reveals the personal circumstances of individuals using their vehicle”. The DVLA vehicle check service is now receiving over 1.5 million visitors a month.
At the beginning of July we warned readers that a new vehicle check service on the DVLA website allows visitors to find out whether their neighbours, friends or relatives 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 argued that disclosing this information was a breach of the data protection laws. Initially, DVLA denied that this was the case.
However, after multiple complaints to DVLA and the ICO by Benefits and Work readers it seems that DVLA have now quietly made changes to their site. Unfortunately, we have been contacted by several members already to say that the changes have made no difference.
It appears that the tax class category has now been removed from the DVLA look-up service.
But at the top of the screen there is an entry entitled:
Vehicle excise duty rate for the vehicle.
For people in the disabled tax class this, we understand that this states:
12 month rate: £0.00
There are only very specific circumstances, other than disability, where £0.00 is charged for vehicle tax. Primarily these are that a vehicle has very low emissions and so is in tax Band A or it is in one of a very limited number of other exempt classes, such as classic cars or agricultural vehicles.
So, unless a disabled person’s car is very new or looks like a classic car or a tractor, it will still be possible to learn the disabled status of the keeper, or the person for whom the car is solely used, just from the information that the vehicle attracts £0.00 tax.
In other words, personal data about the keeper or user of the vehicle rather than the tax band of the vehicle itself is still being displayed.
We contacted DVLA about this and a spokesperson told us that:
“ We have been speaking to the ICO as part of our regular discussions we have with them.”
They went on to say that:
“Our Vehicle Enquiry Service is a simple and effective way for customers to check online what information we hold about a vehicle. It is proving very popular with more than 1.5 million visits every month. The service does not provide any personal information but displays details about a vehicle such as colour, engine size and when the tax is due.
“The service is currently being tested with the public. Having listened to feedback about vehicles in the disabled tax class, we have temporarily removed the tax class from the service and are currently considering alternatives.”
We contacted the ICO and told them of members’ continued concerns. We also asked them whether the changes to the DVLA site were agreed with their office and when their report into the was issue is due to be published. The ICO initially told us:
“We understood the DVLA have responded to our data protection concerns and were going to stop releasing tax information through the vehicle enquiry service. We have been clear from the start, that releasing this information unnecessarily reveals the personal circumstances of individuals using their vehicle. In many cases, these would be circumstances that the individual would not routinely choose to disclose and so this change is to be welcomed.
“We are still in contact with the DVLA on the subject.
“There isn’t a report into this issue.”
We then pointed out that the ICO had refused to accept further complaints from a number of our readers in July, on the grounds that they were already looking into the matter and instructed our readers to check the ICO website for updates. The ICO then responded:
“We raised concerns with the DVLA that their new online vehicle enquiry service could reveal personal information relating to an individual using the vehicle. We are pleased the DVLA has responded and has removed the tax class from the service. We will look into any concerns that the current information still unnecessarily reveals personal information.”
“We are currently not planning a statement as we are still in discussions with the DVLA.”
Readers who are concerned that their personal data is still being made available in this way may want to contact DVLA and the information commissioner’s office and insist that this matter is looked into again immediately.