West Midlands Police is one of six forces nationwide taking part in a test project that sees officers handed devolved Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) powers to impound vehicles being driven illegally on the country’s roads.
Foreign vehicles must be registered and licensed in the UK when they’ve been here for longer than six months in any 12-month period – a provision under EU legislation that affords the same privilege to UK drivers on the Continent.
Previously, police could only report any vehicles they’d found overstaying their welcome on foreign number plates to the DVLA for the agency to take action.
But the pilot scheme – codenamed Operation Jessica #OpJessica – now gives police powers to seize the vehicles and insist owners tax, insure and register them in the UK or leave the country within 56 days; any vehicles not claimed will be crushed.
Superintendent Paul Keasey said 134 vehicles had been seized across the West Midlands and West Mercia – one of the other forces involved – since the project launched on November 3.
He added: “We’ve stopped 210 foreign-plated vehicles in three weeks and 134 have been found to be illegal – that’s more than 60 per cent so it highlights the extent of the problem and why the pilot has been introduced.
“The DVLA has provided us with a ‘hot list’ of vehicles that have entered the country and stayed longer than permitted without licensing it here – we are actively targeting these vehicles and making stops on other foreign cars to check they are complying.
“It’s the responsibility of every driver, no matter where they come from, to ensure they obey the UK road laws and that includes falling in line with on taxation, registration and insurance, as well as those on safe driving.
“This initiative allows us to deal more effectively with criminality on our roads, thereby increasing our communities’ safety and security.”
It’s estimated up to 350,000 foreign registered vehicles entered the UK and overstayed the six month exemption period without registering and licensing between 2010 and 2013, costing the taxpayer £60 million every year in lost tax revenue.
The registered keeper of any impounded vehicles will have to pay a £200 release fee and a £160 surety, plus storage fees, to get the vehicle back. They then have 56 days to license it in the UK or leave the country.
The DVLA will also issue the registered keeper with an out-of-court settlement demand for the unpaid tax which will lead to a prosecution if the keeper fails to pay up.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced the pilot project last month. He said: “These vehicles are a danger on our roads and the government is determined to crack down on foreign drivers who deliberately refuse to register and license their vehicles. We will use all of the information available to us to make sure we take tough action where necessary to keep our roads safe.”
The police and DVLA pilot runs until next February.