Digital use of vehicle tax and driving test services spiked in April

Written by SA Mathieson on 12 February 2021 in News
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Use of digital channels has fallen back since the first lockdown, Department for Transport data shows

Credit: PA

Digital use of vehicle tax and driving test services spiked during the initial Covid-19 lockdown in April but has since fallen back, according to data published by the Department for Transport.

Data from three high-volume processes – vehicle tax renewals, statutory off-road notifications and driving test bookings – shows that in autumn 2020 use of digital channels generally returned to levels only slightly higher than before the pandemic. This may suggest that some people’s shift to digital channels for government services will be temporary rather than permanent.

85.6% of vehicle tax renewals took place online in December 2019, with most of the rest processed by post offices and a small number taking place at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s main office in Swansea, the latter mainly for those who receive personal independence payments.

The online proportion peaked at 90.2% in April 2020 at the start of the first lockdown, but has declined since with 87% of renewals in December 2020 made online, 1.4 percentage points higher than the same month a year ago.

The year-on-year increase is in line with a trend since the abolition of paper tax discs in autumn 2014, which post offices could issue immediately but had to be posted to digital users. The shift to digitised taxation resulted in a jump in online transactions from 53.1% in December 2014 to 71% a year later and 78.9% in December 2015. Digital renewal has since increased much more gradually.

Statutory off-road notifications are a smaller process, with 3.6m transactions in 2020 compared with 47m vehicle tax renewals, with data available only for last year. However, they shows a similar pattern, with 95.4% of transactions made digitally either online or through an automated telephone systems in January 2020, rising to 99.2% in April then falling back to 96.9% in December.

The year-on-year increase is in line with a trend since the abolition of paper tax discs in autumn 2014

The government suspended practical driving test bookings from late March to mid-September, and tests for the general public were already almost all made digitally, with 98% taking place online in the four weeks from 3 February to 1 March. When bookings reopened on the week of 14-20 September, 99.5% of bookings were made online, with more than four times the usual weekly volumes. However, the four weeks from 5 October to 1 November saw the proportion fall back to 98.4%.

Data on changes and cancellations to driving test bookings show that disruption can generate greater demand for telephone services rather than online options. During the four weeks from 3 February to 1 March, 96.6% of changes and cancellations to public tests took place through the online channel, with fewer than a thousand weekly calls. But the week bookings reopened, 14-20 September, around 2,600 calls were received and the four weeks from 5 October to 1 November saw 95.4% of such transactions online.

The Department for Transport publishes current data on a range of services on the GOV.UK performance dashboard. Several other departments have service listed but have not updated their data for several years. The blog for the performance platform was last updated in March 2017.

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