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New report shines a light on major failings by the DVLA in assessing people’s fitness to drive

Vulnerable drivers have been left in limbo for years as a result of major failings by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in assessing people’s fitness to drive, leaving them unable to work and cutting them off from their friends and families, according to a new report published today.

The report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman highlights eight complaints investigated by the Ombudsman service where people with complex medical conditions and disabilities were unfairly left without driving licences, sometimes for several years, as a result of flawed decisions, severe delays, and poor communication.

A professional lorry driver who had suffered a heart attack had to wait 17 months to reverse a decision to remove his licence, despite being symptom free. He lost his business in the process. A piano teacher who had suffered a stroke, but recovered, was needlessly prevented from driving for years due to DVLA failures, leaving her socially isolated, distressed and unable to work.

In yet another case, DVLA wrongly interpreted a letter from a GP which explained that because their patient suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome he struggled to keep up with paperwork and that this should be taken into account if he was late submitting paperwork. DVLA wrongly assumed this was confirmation of a medical condition affecting the man’s ability to drive and incorrectly removed his licence a few days after receiving the letter.

The similarity of the eight complaints investigated by the Ombudsman service led to a wider review of the way in which DVLA handles medical fitness to drive cases.

It has found that DVLA is not currently meeting its obligations to make fair and safe licensing decisions and that:

  • fitness to drive tests are not fit for purpose and do not properly consider all the evidence, such as doctors' reports
  • the decision making process is flawed and lacks proper standards or criteria to fairly assess people with medical conditions and disabilities
  • guidance about the process is not readily available to people or to the medical profession, making it difficult for doctors to offer advice
  • the way in which DVLA handles complaints is poor and defensive

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

People’s lives have been put on hold for years because of severe delays and flawed decisions by the DVLA, leading people to lose their jobs, causing stress, worry and isolation.

'DVLA has accepted our findings and has taken steps to address some of the failures identified such as producing a new guide for medical professionals and improving its complaint handling and communications.

'But further action is needed to make the assessments of fitness to drive more robust, to prevent others from suffering the same injustice in the future.'

The report recommends that DVLA should improve the way it communicates with both licence applicants and medical professionals and produce robust standards to fairly assess people with medical conditions. Without robust standards, there is a risk that people who are fit to drive will be denied a licence to do so, and others, who pose a risk to the public and themselves, will keep their licence and continue to drive. DVLA has not accepted this recommendation.

Since other people will have been affected by the failures uncovered in the report, it recommends that DVLA puts in place appropriate arrangements to put things right for those people too, including, where appropriate, financial compensation. DVLA does not accept this recommendation, thus denying justice to others affected.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on unresolved complaints about UK government departments, their agencies and the NHS in England.

View our animation about this report on YouTube. 

AA president Edmund King OBE said:

A driving licence is a lifeline for many people. The licence enables mobility, independence, employment and freedom. It is essential that those that are fit to drive are able to do so and equally that those that aren’t fit to drive should not be allowed to put their own lives and the lives of others at risk.

'We welcome this important report and look forward to improvements being made. More resources and better communication are needed to enhance what is a complex yet vital process'.

Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Scope, James Taylor said:

The DVLA needs a system that supports disabled people to live as independently as possible, not one that relies on outdated assumptions.

'Transport is a lifeline for many disabled people, allowing them to get to work, live their lives and avoid inaccessible public transport. When people are unfairly denied the right to drive they can become isolated and excluded.

'It’s encouraging that the DVLA seems to be taking this report seriously and is now looking at its practices. By consulting disabled people they’ll be able to ensure that all customers are treated fairly and supported to retain their independence'.

Notes to editors

The complaints were brought to the Ombudsman service in the period between April 2014 and March 2015. They concern the Drivers' Medical Group (DMG), the part of DVLA that considers whether drivers with a medical condition are safe to drive.