My son-in-law has been trying to get the DVLA to return ID documents he needs for a visa appointment so that he can go on his honeymoon. We’ve been told that it can’t make a search for outstanding applications in order to return supporting documents, and it can’t say how long it will take to process applications. It is still receiving and advertising applications, but an online search shows that thousands of people are unable to travel, work, drive or sell vehicles – all due to its inability to process the backlog or implement an interim process.
Among those thousands is the mother of ACM of Coventry, who has been awaiting the return of her Irish passport since she applied to renew her licence in May. “Mum needs either her licence or her passport as she is moving house and has to provide ID,” she says. “I have tried to ring the DVLA at least 50 [times] a day, but it is constantly engaged. I’ve tried using the chatbot service, and been told to stay in a queue. Then, after waiting for hours on end, I have been disconnected. I’ve also tried to email, but have been told this service is currently unavailable.”
SF of York was also required to submit a passport to renew her licence as an Irish national and has been waiting more than two months for its return. “Since it expires soon I’ll be left with no photo ID,” she says.
LM of London is trapped at home unable to contact the DVLA, four months after surgeons officially declared her fit to resume driving. “They have taken away my independence,” she says. “I’ve also spent a day on redial to the helpline after applying for a provisional licence. The website announced that my session had ended with the loss of all data due to 20-minute inactivity, the same second that I clicked the payment confirmation button. The £34 fee was duly debited, but the application has vanished, unacknowledged, into the ether.”
The DVLA tells me that while normal timescales apply to online applications, paper applications, which must be processed in person, are taking “significantly” longer than usual because social distancing rules has limited the number of staff in the workplace. It says more than 250,000 paper applications have been arriving every week since lockdown and it’s recruiting 400 extra staff to cope with the undisclosed backlog. Full photo licences due to expire before 31 August will be given an automatic seven-month extension, and the estimated 790,000 drivers over 70 who have applied for a renewal since March may be able to drive while the agency is considering their application, unless a doctor or optician has declared them medically unfit to do so.
The DVLA told the Observer that all of the above cases have been resolved. It has no plans to allow customers to contact customer services by email while the phone lines are overloaded and merely stated that customers should search the website for answers.