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Caught Driving Without Tax – Here’s What Happens Next

Caught Driving Without Tax

Driving without car tax is an offence in the UK. There are a few exceptions, but generally, if you use a UK-registered vehicle on public roads, you must pay road tax. Making sure your car is taxed is an annual requirement for registered keepers of all vehicles on UK roads. You must complete the process even if you don’t have to pay. If your car is not used on the road and you don’t want to pay the tax, you must notify the DVLA and register your car as SORN. (Statutory off-road notification).

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What is car tax?

Car tax, road tax or Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) are all the same thing. The money goes to the government and contributes towards maintaining roads and motorways in the UK.

When do you pay car tax?

When you buy a new car, you must ensure it is taxed before driving it. Often, if you buy from a dealer, the tax might be included in the price. The dealer will usually sort out the tax before you collect the car. Ultimately, however, your responsibility is to ensure the vehicle is taxed.

If you buy a second-hand car, you need to tax the vehicle before driving it – the remaining time on the tax period does not carry over to a new owner.

When buying a second-hand car, you need to get the V5C registration certificate from the previous owner to register the car. You can use that form to tax your vehicle online before you drive away. You can also register and pay at the Post Office.

You can choose your instalment period – making payments every month, or at six or twelve-month intervals. There is a surcharge if you don’t pay off-off annually.

All vehicle and tax details are stored on the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) database. The DVLA will send you a renewal notice with instructions on how to renew your tax.

This database is checked monthly, making it very difficult to avoid paying taxes.

What is the tax rate?

The tax rate is higher in the first year a car is registered than in subsequent years. The vehicle’s fuel type and carbon dioxide emissions determine the initial rate. Cars with the highest emissions can pay over £2,200 in their first year. Vehicles with zero emissions often don’t have to pay car tax.

The tax rate is also higher for vehicles with a higher list price. There is an additional fee if the list price is more than £40,000.

From the second year, the tax rate is lower. It is determined by whether your car uses petrol, diesel, electric or a hybrid.

The year the car was registered is also relevant.

  • Cars registered after 1 April 2017 – the rate is determined by fuel type and list price if more than £40,000.
  • Cars registered between 1 March 2001 and 31 March 2017 – rate determined by CO2 emissions and fuel type.
  • Cars registered before 1 March 2001 – rate determined by engine capacity.

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Is there a grace period for paying road tax?

No, there is no grace period for unpaid road tax. Since registration and renewals can be done online, there is no need for a grace period. You can pay online in the month your car tax is due, from the 5th of that month.

If you choose to renew your tax through the post office, you can renew it two months before expiry. You must include the following:

  • your V5C registration certificate;
  • an explanation of why you are renewing in advance;
  • a completed V10 form;
  • a valid MOT certificate; and
  • the fee.

What are the penalties for driving without tax?

driving without tax penalty

Penalties are determined by The Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 (VERA).

  • If you are identified from the DVLA register as the registered keeper of an untaxed vehicle, you will receive a DVLA fine of £80, which may be reduced to £40 if paid within 33 days. If you fail to pay the fine, you can be taken to court and face a fine of £1,000.
  • If you are caught using a vehicle on a public road without tax, an out-of-court settlement letter can be issued set at £30, plus one and a half times the outstanding car tax. If this is not paid, your matter may end up in the magistrate’s court as a criminal offence.
  • If your matter ends up in court, you can be fined £1,000 or five times the amount of tax chargeable, whichever is the greater.
  • If you use an untaxed vehicle on a public road with a SORN in place, an out-of-court settlement letter can be issued set at £30 plus two times the outstanding car tax. If this isn’t paid and your matter ends up in court, the penalty is either £2,500 or five times the amount of tax chargeable, whichever is the greater.
  • The DVLA can also clamp your vehicle. If you pay your outstanding car tax in 24 hours, your car could be released. You will have to pay a release fee of £100.
  • If your vehicle is removed and taken to a vehicle pound, you will have to pay £200 impound release fees as well as daily storage fees.
  • If you have yet to tax your vehicle by the time the vehicle is released, you have to pay a surety fee which can be refunded if you produce proof of car tax within 14 days.
  • Your vehicle is stored for 7 to 14 days. If not claimed by then, it can be disposed of by auction or destroyed.

How do you get caught for driving without tax?

Previously, police had to stop you and check your tax disc on the windscreen. These days the police use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and compare number plates with the DVLA database.

Are there any exemptions when you are permitted to drive an untaxed vehicle?

When talking about car tax, we need to understand that there is a difference between registering for tax and having to pay tax.

All vehicle owners must register and apply for car tax. Some vehicles or drivers are exempt and will not have to pay tax.

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Exempt vehicles include:

  • Historic vehicles made before 1 January 1982.
  • Vehicles used by disabled people who qualify for certain disability benefits.
  • Disabled passenger vehicles.
  • Mobility vehicles and powered wheelchairs if they have a maximum speed of 8mph on the road and are fitted with a device that limits them to 4mph on footways.
  • Vehicles that have a SORN in place because they’ve been taken off the road.
  • Certain agricultural vehicles.
  • New cars with zero-rated emissions, i.e., battery electric or hydrogen, which cost less than £40,000.
  • Cars registered between 1 March 2001 and 1 April 2017 that produce less than 100g/km.

Electric cars must meet specific criteria. The electricity must come from:

  • An external source, such as a private or public charge point.
  • An electric storage battery and not be connected to any other source of power when the vehicle is moving.
  • Hydrogen fuel cells.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, however, recently announced that from 2025, electric car owners would have to pay road tax. New zero-emission cars registered on or after 1 April 2025 will pay VED like all other road users.

Exempt circumstances

You may drive an untaxed car to a pre-booked MOT test. You cannot tax your vehicle without a valid MOT, hence the exemption. To rely on this exemption, you must have proof of your appointment and drive straight to the MOT garage.

Car tax and insurance

no tax on car fine

Many insurance policies state that your policy will be invalid if you drive your vehicle without tax. This would mean that you will be personally liable for all damages and injuries should you be involved in a car accident. Check with your insurer!

In addition, driving without tax can end up as a criminal conviction which could impact your ability to take out car insurance in future. If you can get insurance, your premiums might be much higher.

On the flip side, you cannot tax your car without valid motor insurance.

Can I check my own or someone else’s car tax?

Yes, anyone can use the government website to check if car insurance is up to date. If you use someone else’s car, you are expected to check that the vehicle complies with the law, even if you are not the registered keeper.

This means a neighbour or co-worker can check your car’s tax status and report you if your vehicle is not taxed.

To check a car’s status, you need the registration number.

SORN and car tax

If you want to take your vehicle off the road, you must inform the DVLA and register a SORN. You must do more than simply cancel your licence. You can SORN your car online or at the Post Office. If you still have tax left for the tax period, you may be able get a refund for the remaining tax.

Once registered as SORN, you do not have to pay tax. When you want to take your car back on the road, you must tax it before using it on the roads.

Do I still need to pay car tax if I’m not driving?

Yes, any vehicle kept on a public road is subject to tax, even if it is just parked and not driven. If you are keeping it on private property and not driving the vehicle, it must be registered as SORN if you want to avoid paying tax.

Can I cancel my car tax?

You can cancel your tax if your car is an insurance write-off, stolen or declared SORN. If your sell your car, you must inform the DVLA of the new owner’s details.

Car tax is not transferable. You can get a refund on any full month’s tax that you’ve paid.


Road tax contributes to the upkeep of roads in the UK. If you are a vehicle’s registered keeper, you are responsible for road tax. It is worth keeping up to date with your road tax since penalties for driving without tax can be substantial.

If you are caught driving without tax, you should speak with a lawyer to discuss if there are any mitigating factors in your favour.

Caught driving without tax? We can help

Send us a message or call us on 0333 443 2366 for friendly advice

Motoring Lawyer at Caddick Davies Solicitors
Caddick Davies is recognised as one of England and Wales’ leading motoring law firms, offering specialist Speeding Solicitors, Drink Driving Solicitors & Dangerous Driving Solicitors.We provide advice and representation on all motoring offences including speeding, the avoidance of disqualification on penalty points or “totting up” (exceptional hardship), driving without due care and attention (careless driving), dangerous driving, drink driving, as well as a range of services related to medical revocation of a driving licence.
Neil Davies

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