Driven to despair

The complaints we have investigated

DMG is the part of DVLA that is responsible for investigating whether licence holders with certain medical conditions are safe to drive. DMG is made up of administrative and casework staff. It also has a pool of medical advisers who deal with the more complex cases. DMG relies on the Department for Transport’s Honorary Medical Advisory Panels (Panels)9to keep up to date on developments in the main medical conditions that are considered to affect a person’s ability to drive.

DMG makes between 600,000 and 750,000 decisions every year. The complaints that we received were all about cases that had been escalated to medical advisers. Around 10% or 60,000-75,000 cases a year are considered at that level. 

The drivers who complained to us have pointed to several common points of concern with the way that DMG has handled their cases. The complaints cover licensing decisions made between 2009 and 2014 and were about delays by DMG in making licensing decisions, poor communication, the quality of information provided, and poor complaint handling.

The time taken for DMG to come to a final decision ranged from six months to several years. In most cases a decision to revoke or refuse the licence was overturned once the complainant gave DVLA additional information or evidence. 

However, the complainants told us that the information they provided that later changed the decision, was in the main no different to the information that would have been available to DMG had it done what it should have. In one case the decision to revoke a licence was taken without any prior communication with the complainant or his GP. No investigation was undertaken into the complainant’s condition, even though it was not one that allowed DVLA to revoke his licence. In another case the complainant questioned the appropriateness of the test used by DVLA to revoke his licence. 

The complainants told us that DMG’s actions prevented them from driving (at all, or for their work in some cases) for an unreasonable period of time, causing them to lose their freedom and, in some cases, their livelihood. All of the complainants were significantly affected by the delay in DMG reaching a decision to issue them with a full, or time limited, licence10. The impact of DMG’s actions included social isolation, financial loss, and reduced quality of life. Many of the complainants told us that the stress of the situation also had a detrimental effect on their family lives. Many of them were vocational drivers whose sense of identity was closely connected to their occupation. Not being able to drive meant there was an additional impact on their sense of self-worth as well as on their family life and incomes. 

All the complainants expressed frustration at the way that DMG communicated with them. They said this made the whole experience even more stressful and frustrating. In reality there was no direct communication between DMG and most of the complainants while it was dealing with their cases. This, coupled with limited publicly available information, extremely poor complaint handling and a refusal to accept that it had mishandled or made mistakes in these cases, compounded the stress caused by DMG’s actions.

9 The Department for Transport has established six Honorary Medical Advisory Panels that provide it (in reality DVLA) with up to date scientific research results and information to support it in its role when considering medical conditions affecting road safety.

10 In certain instances a driver’s right to drive must be re-evaluated in one, two or three years to make sure that their condition has not deteriorated and caused them to pose a risk to road safety. Vocational drivers must be periodically re-evaluated regardless of whether or not they have a medical condition affecting fitness to drive.