The SORN – When an Englishman’s word isn’t his bond

In my previous post covering the rather bemusing and confusing situation relating to the incorrect date of birth on my driving license, I promised a further post to explore something that above many others really winds me up. Legislation that serves no purpose beyond wasting an individual’s time and creating a means of fining people who have done nothing wrong.

High up in the ranking of this type of legislation is the DVLA SORN or Statutory Off Road Notification.

The principle, if you are not aware, is that if your vehicle is not currently licensed to be driven on the road in the UK, it must be confirmed that this is the case with the DVLA and the vehicle concerned must be kept off of any public highway. Furthermore, on the annual anniversary of your declaration, if the vehicle is still to not be licensed for use, you must reiterate your declaration to the DVLA.

This requirement to reaffirm your intent to not use the vehicle illegally is apparently able to stop individuals from evading vehicle license duty although for the life of me I have yet to be guided to the method by which this requirement takes effect on evaders. It is somewhat similar to the still unanswered question relating to how people who regularly break a 30MPH speed limit will be forced to drive appropriately by local authorities simply by investing public tax funds on hundreds of 20MPH signs.

In fact, that reassertion is at the heart of what is wrong and makes the SORN a pointless piece of bureaucracy serving no purpose when set in the context of English law and which is why I firmly oppose the continuance of this legislative drain on DVLA resources and members of the public’s time.

Taking the legal perspective, if I were to go to a notary and swear an affidavit to the effect that I intend to take a position from a point in time and from that time forward until I make another assertion to change that position, it is understood in English law that I have made that assertion. It does not need to be reaffirmed repeatedly at times in the future to remain valid.

Therefore, as had previously been the case and as has not been improved upon by the creation of the SORN process, if I or anyone else owned a vehicle for which the license ran out, we would be expected to understand that the vehicle should not be kept or used on the public highway until taxed again or disposed of.

One of the favourite law enforcement mantras in the UK has always been “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”. If that is certainly the case, the responsibility of every individual is to be aware of what laws exist, particularly regarding vehicle use and to abide by them. Why then is it deemed necessary to make a declaration that you will not break the law once per year?

It is hard then not to form a cartoon image of the ‘nanny’ state looking down on the little people with voice bubbles stating “Have you been a good citizen today?” “Yes government, we have not been naughty, honest”. It also falls under the same principle surrounding camera and hacking based surveillance deemed acceptable as a means of anticipatory law enforcement which also undermines the existing principles of law (that a crime has to be committed before investigating/monitoring someone). See Who’s watching who? for a differing approach..

Beyond the fact that the SORN fails to provide any further benefit to the previously extant system it also causes British citizens to be required to repeatedly assert that they will not break a law that they have already not only acknowledged their awareness of by registering a vehicle as untaxed but which is a fundamental premise noted in the laws governing owning and operating a vehicle on the UK highways.

I do love to hear the dismissive term “Well everyone is entitled to their opinion” when someone wishes to avoid discussing a statement or point of view, often as they have little ability to contradict that point of view or alternatively as they purely can’t be bothered. So as the above could clearly be seen to be purely my limited opinion, however strongly I may feel about it. The following will hopefully help emphasise my point.

Whilst government representatives are always keen to state their policy of not discussing individual cases even though those cases are exactly what form the reality within which people exist, allow me to provide two contrary perspectives that are specific, current and relate to both the SORN and abolishment of the vehicle license tax disc.

I have owned several vehicles for the past few years, some have sentimental value, some are projects and they all have, even whilst I spent a year with no fixed abode, been either licensed or kept off the public highway if not. Whilst I do not object to confirming that I will not be re-licensing my vehicle for the foreseeable future, I do object to being expected to reiterate that I am not breaking the law each year. So, although I conform to the legal requirements for licensing of my vehicles and abide by the laws of importance and actual purpose, I am in contravention of the SORN legislation and thus subject to a fine.

There is a resident from the road I live in who salvages and repairs vehicles. From the day I moved in to this property, there have been a series of vehicles, some taxed, some not, parked blocking up various areas of the road impeding their neighbours and using the benefit of this being a very quiet cul-de-sac to keep these business related vehicles out of plain sight. The situation improved after a number of people checked tax discs and those vehicles disappeared but more recently after the abolishment of the tax disc and the question voiced by many, yet sidestepped by government, seemed worth testing.

Out of curiosity I thought I’d see if one particular vehicle of his was taxed using the new online service. I typed in the vehicle details and was told there was no such vehicle by the DVLA system. Ok, perhaps as the service is new, not all vehicles are on there yet, I thought, so to understand how one was supposed to check if a vehicle doesn’t show up on the online search (this considering the online search is supposed to replace that difficult process of looking in the front window of a vehicle), I telephoned the DVLA.

After stating I was checking a vehicle that was parked on the public highway and couldn’t find on the online service, I was informed that this vehicle was registered in such a way as the license status could not be seen publicly nor would it ever be in future. No reason was given for this type of registration but I was informed that the vehicle was registered with a SORN and therefore not being kept on the public highway as far as DVLA were concerned. For reference, although I did not originally intend to report the vehicle as untaxed, even on stating I was checking a vehicle that was on the public highway, the vehicle has not moved now for six months and has not been licensed nor, as proudly claimed by the DVLAs wasteful advertising, removed and crushed (nor has the caravan that has also sat attached to the vehicle for the entire period!).

Have the new bits of legislation introduced by the DVLA been undertaken well and for the benefit of the public or to reduce costs of the DVLA as could be seen by the closing of the most efficient departments of the DVLA, the regional offices? It would appear the latter so with the impending abolishment of the paper counterpart to driving licenses in June of this year and the already obvious situation that car hire companies around the world are not likely to always be able to check this information, even if the DVLA manage to keep it up to date and functioning, we will now see a paperless DVLA system run by fewer and fewer staff in coming years, costing the government less and incurring far greater time and costs wasted by the public in trying to get what they need.

The paperless vehicle license would seem to be a better system if the mechanism to replace it actually works. As has been shown in one simple check, it takes an online check and then a telephone call to confirm the status of some vehicles and even then when the DVLA are made aware of the breaking of the law that the SORN is supposed to uphold, untaxed vehicles are still left on the public highway.

So simply and for the benefit of the UK citizens, the SORN needs to be redesigned to not insult and waste the time of the general public. Yes, require a confirmation that a vehicle will not be relicensed at the end of a license period, no to fining people for not annually asserting an intent to not break a law they haven’t broken.

Perhaps then the resulting spare funds could be put towards enforcing the law for unlicensed and uninsured vehicles that are increasingly kept and used on the public highway.

In any case if, as my experience proves, people are now taking advantage of the fact that individuals have to go online or even make a telephone call to check a vehicle license status to leave unlicensed vehicles on the public highway.

As I can’t fix the enforcement of license evasion I intend to try a test case against the SORN by signing an affidavit and seeing if that trumps a SORN if the DVLA ever actually choose to take me to court rather than sending repeated demands for payment of a pointless fine that I will not acknowledge!

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