The estimated number of unlicensed vehicles on UK roads has risen significantly since the last survey took place in 2019, new figures released by the Department of Transport (DfT) suggest.
An estimated 1.9% of vehicles on the road in the UK are unlicensed and avoiding vehicle excise duty (VED) - notably higher than the 1.6% figure recorded the last time the survey took place.
The DfT estimates the owners of 719,000 vehicles in active stock haven't paid the tax, up from 634,000 in 2019, with a potential revenue loss of around £119 million over one year.
The government department attributes the rise in unlicensed vehicles to impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, including limited enforcement and economic issues meaning some drivers couldn't afford to pay.
Some of the lost revenue would have already been recovered by the Department for Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the DfT says, which can collect tax by enforcement or from late payments.
The abolition of the paper tax disc is still considered to be a key factor in the increase in untaxed cars.
“It’s hugely concerning that we’re seeing ever greater numbers of unlicensed vehicles on the roads, with the total number now standing at nearly three-quarters of a million,” said Nicholas Lyes, the RAC's head of roads policy.
“While we would like to think the abolition of the paper tax disc back in 2014 isn’t responsible, the fact remains that evasion has increased significantly since then to the point where a shocking two in every 100 vehicles on the road aren’t taxed."
Lyes believes that evasion is harming the road network and that the DVLA should ramp up levels of enforcement.
The AA believes the figures could have been a lot higher, due to the increase in cars given SORN (statutory off road notification) status during lockdown, then returning to the road in 2021.
“Today’s official figures show that the law is still on the hunt for car-tax-evaders. However, the increase in non-payment of Vehicle Excise Duty isn't as bad as might have been feared, given the hundreds of thousands of cars granted a Statutory Off Road Notification status during the lockdowns,” said Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA.
“Some of those vehicles will have been put back on the road with the owners either mistakenly or deliberately forgetting to tell the DVLA.
“High inflation, particularly with pump prices that refuse to drop, despite big falls in the wholesale cost, always pressures many low-income drivers to run the gauntlet and not pay their tax. It's foolish for them to chance their arms, because the penalties are severe, even potentially having the car crushed.”