Exclusive: DVLA makes millions from premium-rate phone lines

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency charges insurers and car-hire firms 51p per minute for phone calls, making almost £3 million from lines

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has taken nearly £3million over four years from premium-rate phone lines that cost 51 pence per minute to ring – more than three times the 16ppm standard 01 and 02 numbers cost to call. 

The majority of phone calls to the DVLA’s premium-rate lines were made by car-hire and insurance companies to check drivers’ licence details. Some 3.34 million calls – at an average length of 92 seconds – were made by car hire and other firms between the 2015/16 and 2018/19 financial years.

The DVLA informed us via our freedom of information request that it grossed a total of £2,958,992 from its premium-rate lines over the period in question. The lines brought in just under £600,000 in the last financial year, significantly down on the £971,713 they generated in 2015/16. The organisation wasn’t able to tell us what net profit the lines generated, nor were revenue records for the latest financial year available.

Financial year Number of calls Gross revenue
2015/16 1,174,664 £971,713.39
2016/17 852,875 £792,237.71
2017/18 721,971 £665,199.96
2018/19 598,354 £529,841.67
Total 3,347,864 £2,958,992.73

But while the lines may be declining in popularity, 408,270 calls were still made in the 2019/20 financial year, meaning they remain nice little earners for the Treasury - which is where the DVLA passes on its revenue to. 

Less lucrative, however, was the DVLA’s fax verification service, which performed a similar function to the phone lines. This cost £5 per fax, and closed in January 2018 due to lack of use.

Financial year Number of faxes Revenue
2015/16 17 £85
2016/17 70 £350
2017/18 18 £90
Total 105 £525

Faxes and phone calls pale into insignificance compared to the revenue the DVLA brings in for the Treasury via other channels, however. The organisation takes roughly £17 million a year through the sale of motorists’ details to private parking firms, while its personalised number plate operation has raised around £2 billion since it launched in 1989.

The DVLA highlighted the premium-rate line “was set up in the early 1990s at the request of the insurance and car hire industry”, and added that companies are able to perform the same checks online for free, adding: “we regularly communicate this to the industry through our different channels.”

The DVLA also pointed out that phone lines for private motorists are 0300 numbers, which are charged at the same rate as 01 or 02 dialling codes. The organisation added that the premium-rate lines were presently closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, slammed the DVLA's use of premium-rate lines; “Regardless of who has to use them, it’s shocking that government bodies continue to use premium-rate numbers.

“When the data was made available online, the right thing to do would have been to create a new local-rate line. Now that Auto Express has exposed this, we hope the DVLA changes the number. Even though the phone line is used by companies, these costs ultimately end up being paid by the consumer. They won’t be pleased to be on the hook.”

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