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Government ombudsman criticises DVLA over campervan confusion

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Communication failures by the DVLA about what a campervan is are leaving people confused and is a failure of its role, according to the national ombudsman

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) investigated two cases brought by people who converted vans into campervans but had multiple applications to change their vehicle’s log book rejected by the DVLA.

Having a vehicle registered as a van with windows rather than a motor caravan (the term ‘motor caravan’ is used by the DVLA for both campervans and motorhomes) means the owner can face a number of issues, including higher fees on toll roads, costlier MoTs, having to abide by different speed limits and not being allowed on some campsites.

Ombudsman, Rob Behrens says,

 

People expect and deserve clarity and openness from public bodies like the DVLA. When they don’t receive it, they feel let down and frustrated, especially in cases like these where they are likely to have spent a lot of time and money trying to meet requirements that remain unclear. We hope that these issues will now be rectified to improve the service for future users.

David Hollingsworth and Maddy Muffett brought their complaints to the Ombudsman separately. In both cases, they had built their campervans by following guidance on the DVLA website. During the investigation, the DVLA admitted it knew at the time that this information was out of date. It has since been updated.

After being rejected, Mr Hollingsworth and Mrs Muffett asked the DVLA for advice on what to do to satisfy the requirements. However, rather than being given specific instructions, they were only given suggestions that might make a difference, such as adding awning rails or stickers to the exterior. After doing this, including, in Mr Hollingsworth’s case, adding a big sticker that said ‘campervan’ on all four sides of the vehicle, both his and Mrs Muffet’s applications were rejected by the DVLA again.

Mr and Mrs Hollingsworth spent £15,000 to convert their van into a campervan. He and his wife, a retired lawyer, are now considering taking the issue to judicial review.

Mr Hollingsworth says,

 

The DVLA seem to just have a blanket, knee-jerk reaction to anyone self-building a campervan. We converted a van previously and had no problems, and we’ve done even more to this vehicle, we’ve added extra windows, skylights, an awning rail, an electric step.

The DVLA just says ‘It doesn’t look like a campervan in traffic’. But they won’t tell us why not. If they would say ‘it needs x, y or z’ then we would do those things, but they won’t give us a reason beyond ‘because we say no’. It’s disingenuous and nonsense and feels like discrimination against self-build campervanners.

My wife is listed as a vulnerable person and going away in our campervan is one of our biggest escapes, as it is for a lot of people, especially since the pandemic with the rise of staycations. Lots of people are building their own motorhomes, so this could affect many more people.

Mrs Muffett and her husband's applications to the DVLA were rejected four times.

Mrs Muffett says,

 

We spent a year building the campervan so that it complied exactly with the criteria on the DVLA website, and it still came back listed as a ‘van with windows’. At the time, that made it almost impossible to insure as that kind of vehicle doesn’t normally include a shower, kitchen, fridge, etc, which ours did. It was so frustrating and ground us down.

They utterly refused to tell us what we could do to make our application succeed. There was a suggestion that adding an awning rail would help, so we did that, sent off the application again and it was still rejected.

No one at the DVLA seems to be clear on what a campervan needs to look like. Their attitude was just ‘We make the rules, you abide by them’. One of the reasons we persevered with our complaint is because of that attitude and for all the other people building their own campervans who will be impacted by this.

The number of successful applications to the DVLA for a change in body type to motor caravan dropped by 95% from 2,447 to 133 between January/February 2019 and January/February 2020. The DVLA said this was due to making changes to the way it processed applications after realising in June 2019 that it had not been applying its existing vehicle body type policy as originally intended.

The ombudsman found that not communicating about this significant change in a clear and timely way was maladministration on the part of the DVLA.

The DVLA was also found guilty of maladministration for not being transparent about what’s required to register a vehicle as a campervan and its processes.

The PHSO recommended that the DVLA

  • Apologises to the complainants and gives them £100 in recognition of their distress, confusion, and frustration
  • Creates an action plan about how it intends to ensure that applicants have sufficiently detailed information available to them, before undertaking a conversion, about what elements constitute a vehicle of body type motor caravan
  • Provides the ombudsman with details of how it intends to make clear to customers the process involved in determining a body type and, in particular, making a decision on what body type to assign an application for a body type motor caravan.

Though these recommendations are not legally binding, it is unusual for the recommendations not to be actioned. In fact, we were told that letters of apologies and compensation had already been issued to the complainants in the case above and it seems the guidance on the DVLA website has been altered.

A DVLA spokesperson said,

 

The current guidance on vehicle body types reflects the police’s requirement to be able to easily identify vehicles in moving traffic. We are working with the police and other stakeholders to see what more can be done in this area. We have already accepted the PHSO’s recommendations in these two cases and made clear that work remains ongoing.

These cases took over a year to be investigated and resolved; however, we are assured that future related cases would take much less time.

The PHSO will deal with any complaint about a government department or the health service. However, you have to follow the complaints procedure with the department or organisation first and, if you don’t get a satisfactory answer, you can then address your complaint to the PHSO. There is an added complexity that the form is quite long and you will need the signature of your MP. The law also says that people should complain to the PHSO within a year of becoming aware of the problem. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, the ombudsman can decide to still consider a complaint outside of this if it has good reasons to do so.

Find information about this on the PHSO website.


 

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