Death of the tax disc: What you need to know
August 7, 2014 by Perrys Content Team in Buyers Guides
As of October 1st this year, almost 100 years of motoring history will be torn up as the UK government abolishes the traditional car tax disc.
The bold move was first proposed in December last year when Chancellor George Osbourne’s Autumn Statement outlined measures to radically reshuffle public spending in order to save an estimated £3 billion in three years.
According to the official documents on the government’s website, the abolition of the tax disc will save the government up to £7 million a year on administration fees.
In addition to this, it’s also expected to save the Post Office a considerable amount of money on the storage and transportation fees associated with the paper discs.
Furthermore, government officials have said that the traditional tax disc has now become obsolete with the introduction of the DVLA’s new online system to track tax.
The number of windscreens checked for tax discs by officers has dropped by 75 per cent in the last five years, thanks to the electronic vehicle register that is used by both traffic police and the DVLA.
A police source said: “The tax disc is no longer needed for enforcement purposes. The police use numberplate recognition equipment. If they pull you over they can immediately tap into this database and see whether the car is taxed and insured and what the driver ought to look like.”
A Treasury spokesman also said that it showed that the government was moving “into the modern age” and that it would make “dealing with government more hassle free”.
History of the tax disc
Road tax was introduced during the middle ages and was a common occurrence throughout the country. Used for specific roads bridges rather than all the roads as a whole, it was one of the most direct forms of taxation used at the time.
The tax was based on road users, which meant that everybody, whether they walked, rode on a horse or in a carriage, had to pay.
Vehicle-specific tax wasn’t introduced until 1637, when the government at the time passed a law requiring hackney carriages to be licensed and in 1747 the law changed again to require any vehicle pulled by two or more horses to be licensed.
The advent of the steam engine brought the first licensing attempt to mechanical vehicles, but none really caught on until the early twenties.
As motorised vehicles became increasingly popular, thanks largely to the success of the Ford Model T, the road conditions in British steadily worsened until the crown set up a royal commission to solve the problem.
Following much research, the acts defined the rules for vehicle taxation, for construction of roads and their maintenance, and also laid out the framework for the modern tax disc and how it should be displayed.
The tax disc was officially introduced in 1921, but wasn’t actually a disc at that time at all. It was made of plain grey paper and printed in black ink and mounted in a circular holder because the circular format was easier and cheaper to manufacture.
Perforations had not yet been invented, so car owners would have to manually cut the disc out in order to fit the holder.
In 1923, colour printing was added along with two security measures: the embossed script that read “Road Fund Licence” to prevent forgeries, and a band of broad green.
The quarterly tax disc was also introduced at this time, which allowed drivers who were less well-off to license their vehicle for only the portion of the year that they needed it.
Perforations were finally introduced to the disc in 1938 and lasted until 1942, when the equipment used to put the holes in the discs was allegedly destroyed in a Nazi bombing raid.
Following the war, perforations were reintroduced and the disc has remained virtually the same until the present day, until the change will be made in the autumn.
So what does it all mean?
So what do the changes mean to the average driver? Well, the good news is that you’ll no longer have to struggle with the paper disc, trying to cram it into the holder and ripping the perforations.
You will still have to pay your road tax, of course, but the government are aiming to make the process easier for the public.
The DVLA now keeps a digital record of who has and hasn’t paid, and a paper disc is therefore no longer necessary as proof that your vehicle tax has been paid.
Police will use automatic numberplate readers to check taxation, which is quicker, easier and more reliable than a visual inspection of the disc. It means that for the average driver, once your tax is paid, there’s no more worrying about it until the next time you have to pay.
Abolishing the paper records also means that there’ll be significant savings for fleet operations and other businesses from not having to handle the administration of the physical discs.
Finally, the government have introduced a new pay-as-you-go system for road taxation, meaning that taxing your vehicle is now easier and more flexible than ever before. Presently, motorists can pay their tax in either six month or one year instalments.
However, as of early November, drivers will be able to pay their vehicle tax either annually, biannually or monthly for the first time via direct debit.
The Treasury claims that savings of £20 million will be available to Britain’s hard-pressed motorists as a result of the changes to the way that tax can be paid.
As well as that, it will also be cheaper to pay for a six month period. Due to a 10 per cent surcharge, it can currently cost £55 for a half-year disc or £100 for a year.
Under the reforms, the charge will be reduced from 10 to 5 per cent, reducing an identical six-month period to £52.50, while paying monthly will also attract a 5 per cent rather than a 10 per cent charge.
However, until October you will still have to apply for a road tax disc if your car’s taxation is due for renewal. Don’t forget, though, that tax exemptions and exclusions are available for certain vehicles.
Motability drivers, historic vehicles and drivers of electric cars like the Renault ZOE all can be excluded from road tax. For a full list of exemptions, refer to the government’s official website or contact the DVLA.