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Delay for disabled drivers getting their licence is discrimination, says MP

Peter Grant said he knew of cases where drivers with medical conditions had to wait more than six months to get their licence.

14 March 2022

People with medical conditions and disabilities are suffering “gross discrimination” from the DVLA with waiting times for licence applications taking months, ministers have been warned.

Concerns have been raised in Parliament over the agency’s performance given the impact it is having on people’s lives.

SNP MP Peter Grant said he is aware of at least one case of someone waiting 10 months, “quite a few” waiting six months, and of “several” losing conditional job offers owing to the waiting times.

He told the PA news agency: “It’s having a real impact on people’s lives.”

MP portraits
Peter Grant has accused the DVLA of discrimination (PA)

One 60-year-old HGV driver said he lost his job as a result of a five-month wait while renewing his licence, while a 17-year-old said a seven-month wait for her provisional licence is impacting her career and social life.

Mr Grant, MP for Glenrothes, said the contrast in service for those with and those without medical conditions is “almost certainly unlawful”, and warned that the Government could be facing “a massive compensation bill if they do not get their act together pronto”.

Speaking in the Commons, he labelled the situation “gross discrimination against people who have to declare a medical condition”, adding they are forced to use an “outdated manual system” rather than the online one.

Mr Grant told the PA news agency he stands by the description of the situation being “gross discrimination against people who have to declare a medical condition” that he used when raising the matter in Parliament.

This is because they are forced to use an “outdated manual system” rather than the online one, Mr Grant said.

The DVLA has acknowledged the “vast majority” of applicants waiting 10 weeks or more have a medial condition that must be investigated, with successful online applicants receiving their licence within days.

Mr Grant said: “The crux of the issue is that DVLA are failing to provide the service that they are supposed to be providing to a significant minority of the population. It’s utterly indefensible.

“The gap in quality of service between two groups within the population is so vast as to be utterly unacceptable.”

He added: “It doesn’t mean that anyone at DVLA has deliberately decided to discriminate, but if you look at the end product, one group of people is getting a very good service, one group of people is getting shockingly bad service and the characteristics, that group of people have, don’t justify that level of difference in the service.

“It justifies a degree of delay, it justifies the fact that it takes longer, it doesn’t justify the fact that some people get their licence in three days, and for some people it takes 10 months.

“And because so many of these people that have to apply physically will be doing that because of medical conditions or because of disabilities, I think you can make a very clear link of, at the very least, indirect discrimination.”

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The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) building in Swansea (Ben Birchall/PA)

Jennifer Kirchacz, 17, lives in Windygates, Fife, and has epilepsy but says she meets the criteria for a driving licence.

She has endured a seven-month wait and her mother, Julie Brownlie, said: “I’m all for them checking with the specialists, but they need to do it in timely way and not discriminate against people who have a condition.

“I can understand a few days longer for processing, but to wait seven months to send a form that needs to be filled in – that’s just ridiculous.”

Mr Grant says such delays also have potential safety implications, warning long waiting times could lead to people not disclosing their full medical histories.

The DVLA said before the pandemic there were normally about 400,000 applications being processed at any one time, but there are currently just over 900,000.

Its paper applications peaked at 1.6 million in September last year, the DVLA said.

Transport minister, Trudy Harrison, in response to a written parliamentary question, said as of February 4 there were 178,926 driving licence renewal applications that had taken 10 weeks or more.

“The vast majority of these are applications where a medical condition must be investigated before a licence can be issued to ensure the required medical standards are met”, she said.

In response to another parliamentary question, Ms Harrison said that successful online applicants “should receive their licence within a few days”.

The DVLA said paper application services currently have longer waiting times and it says the service is expected to recover by the end of May, with medical services expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by September.

A DVLA spokesperson said: “Our online services are working as normal and without delay.

“We handle millions of transactions every year and are currently issuing 200,000 driving licences each week.

“However, where we require additional information, such as from a driver’s doctor or where we need to refer the driver for an assessment, we would be wholly reliant on receiving this information before a decision can be made.

“Once a driver has submitted their application, they may be able to continue to drive while we are processing it, provided they have not been told by their doctor or optician they should not drive.

“We have recruited more staff, have increased overtime and opened new customer service centres in Swansea and Birmingham to help reduce waiting times for customers.”

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