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Your guide to car tax disc changes

As of October 2014, drivers are no longer required to display their car tax disc, but what does it mean for you? 

Vehicle tax disc

What happened to the car tax disc?

Car tax - or vehicle excise duty as it's officially known - was introduced in 1921. Since then it was always a legal requirement to display the disc.

This was even the case for vehicles that were exempt from paying the charge.

But from 1 October 2014 that changed. Car tax discs are no longer issued and even if you have a disc with months remaining, you no longer have to display it.

How will car tax evaders be caught? 

The DVLA, the police and other enforcement agencies now use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

With the electronic vehicle register, they can check if a car is taxed or not, so they no longer need to rely on physically checking a tax disc.

But why abolish the disc?

The DVLA said this is a cost-cutting exercise, and that getting rid of printing and postage costs will save £10 million each year. 

But doesn't this put me at risk of driving an untaxed car? 

Some motorists worry that without being able to check the disc, they could unknowingly drive an untaxed car - such as a hire car, or one from a car pool at work.

But the tax status of any vehicle can be checked on Gov.uk, using its make and registration details.

How has the payment system changed? 

Toy car next to savings jar

Motorists used to pay their vehicle tax in advance, in either an annual or six-monthly instalment with a 10% surcharge for the latter.

But now they have the option of paying via direct debit. This can be either annually, biannually or monthly, although there is a 5% surcharge for biannual or monthly payments. 

Have the changes had any effect on selling a car? 

Yes. In the past, when someone was selling a second-hand car they might offer it with, say, "six months MOT, four months tax". But now it's not possible to transfer car tax.

Instead the seller gets an automatic refund for any full months remaining, while the buyer will not only have to insure the car, but also tax it before they can legally drive it away.

Won't informing the DVLA of change of ownership slow down the sale? 

No. It's now possible to tax a car using only the "new keeper supplement" section of the V5C.

This means the buyer can go to the DVLA website or use its 24-hour automated call service, and tax the car straight away. You can also still buy car tax in a Post Office.

But isn't that just a way for the government to make more money? 

Given that it's only possible to get a refund for unused full months, if a car is sold mid-month both the buyer and the seller will pay car tax for that month, making it a double payment.

The DVLA says that the car tax changes are intended to be cost neutral. Despite this, it has emerged that these new rules are costing motorists millions.

Although in some cases there may be a double tax, this is offset by the automatic refunds, and by reducing the surcharge for spreading the payments.

Another recent change to road tax rules and how values are calculated, announced in July, may also impact you. Find out how in our summary.

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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