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SORN applications spike 77% in 4 months as 2.7 million cars are declared off road in 2022 (1)

The DVLA saw 297,770 Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) applications last October alone

Published on 21st March 2023
  • The Covid-19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis could be why so many motorists have declared their vehicles SORN. That’s as more than 2 in 5 (43%) have done so since 2020.
  • And with the cost of living a worry for many, 1 in 10 (10%) motorists say they’re considering the same. More than half (53%) say it’s to save money.
  • Declaring a vehicle off-road can mean it’s exempt from MOT, car insurance and car tax costs. But motorists should be wary of the limitations it brings.
  • Confused.com’s guide on how to SORN your car explains everything drivers need to know. The guide helps them to make an informed decision before committing to SORN.
  • Confused.com car insurance expert, Louise Thomas explains alternative ways drivers could save money before considering an off-road option.

Around 2.7 million vehicles were declared off-road in the UK during 2022(1). And DVLA records show that applications reached their highest in October, rising by 77% compared to the previous 3 months.

That’s according to new data obtained by Confused.com from the DVLA, which looks at SORN applications over the past 4 years. According to the data, 297,770 SORN applications were processed during October, compared to 167,383 in July. This 77% increase is the highest seen for this time period in the past 4 years, which could be attributed to the 40-year high inflation rates reported in the same month(2).

But is the highest number of SORN applications during October a coincidence or are motorists really feeling the strain of the cost-of-living crisis? Confused.com surveyed 2,000 drivers and revealed that financial commitments topped the list of reasons why drivers are debating SORN applications.

According to the survey, 1 in 10 (10%) motorists said they’ve considered declaring their car as SORN. Their biggest reason was to save money (53%). This was followed by not being able to afford payments (34%) and not driving enough to justify using the car (30%). With financial hardship a real worry since the pandemic, this response might be familiar for millions of drivers. Finding ways to save money continues to be a growing concern, and it has been for several years now. And with inflation rates reaching record-breaking highs, it might not come as a surprise to see spikes in the DVLA’s SORN application data too. With financial concerns among the main reasons for considering a SORN, it’s evident that some motorists could be looking for the best cost-saving exercises. But there’s still a lot to consider, and a SORN might not be the best option overall.

Getting a SORN is a legal process between a driver and the DVLA. It tells the DVLA that the vehicle won’t be driven on public roads and can be exempt from car tax, MOT and car insurance. But there are some rules motorists need to follow if they wish to declare their vehicle as off the road. For example, the vehicle must be kept on a private property, such as a garage or driveway. And you can’t drive or park the car on a public road, except to take it to or from a pre-booked MOT. Once a vehicle is registered as SORN, drivers can’t use it. And if caught doing so, they could be fined up to £2,500. That’s why drivers should be aware of the financial implications and practicalities before making the move. To help understand the laws and legal process, Confused.com’s guide on how to SORN your car can help.

The latest survey data gathered by Confused.com also reveals that more than 1 in 5 (23%) have previously declared their car off-road. The data also suggests that financial uncertainty in recent years might have been the biggest drive for applications. That’s as just under half of these applications (43%) were processed between 2020 and 2023, according to the research.

And when motorists were asked why they decided to SORN their vehicle, the top reasons were:

  • Not driving enough to justify keeping their car (30%)
  • To save money (24%)
  • Parking illegally (18%)
  • Not being able to afford payments (19%)

It’s clear from the research how finances may have influenced the decision, as the latest data also reveals the average monthly costs for motorists.

Area of expenditure Monthly average costs (£)
Electric charging costs
MOT & servicing
Car insurance

With average costs totalling more than £400 each month for both petrol/diesel and electric vehicles, the savings could be huge for drivers who are financially struggling.

But the temptation to save big could lead motorists to drive unlawfully. That’s as 1 in 3 (32%) said they’d use their vehicle if it was declared SORN and uninsured in some instances. This included to run errands (15%), if it was an emergency (10%), and to go to work (7%). Although some are willing to take risks, drivers should resist. Doing so could have serious consequences, such as court prosecution, and could increase your future car insurance costs.

It’s clear that money worries are a justification for some drivers wanting to legally declare their cars off-road. But there are also many motorists who wouldn’t ever consider it. That’s as data shows that more than half (55%) of drivers said they wouldn’t SORN their car as they still use it regularly. But the latest research also suggests that the costs around the running and maintenance of a car certainly remains a worry. That’s as almost 1 in 3 (30%) drivers told Confused.com that they’re worried about affording their car during the cost-of-living crisis. And 1 in 5 (21%) think that the government should offer more cost-saving solutions to ensure that motorists don’t have to give up their vehicles. But 1 in 3 (29%) think the government won’t help with costs, as it’s better for the environment if more vehicles are off-road.

Although there are many motorists currently on UK roads that are managing their financial commitments, it’s clear that there are also many who aren’t. Data shows that SORN applications have been noticeably high since the pandemic, and it could continue if the economy worsens. But it’s important for motorists to remember that SORN declarations don’t have to be the only option out there.

Louise Thomas, Confused.com car insurance expert, comments:

“The number of SORN applications has hit record-breaking figures since the Covid-19 pandemic. And with 2.7 million applications registered last year, it’s clear that some drivers are facing financial burdens due to the cost-of-living crisis.

“Although declaring your vehicle off-road might seem like a cheaper alternative, it might not always be the best solution. Once a car is registered as SORN, you can’t drive it, and the consequences of doing so could be costly. That’s why drivers should weigh up all options before going through the legal process with the DVLA.

“If motorists are looking for other ways to save money, there are a few things they can do to keep costs down. Taking time to shop around for things like car insurance, fuel and even vehicle maintenance can ensure that drivers aren’t paying more than they need to. It might seem time-consuming, but the financial benefits could really pay off. And it means that SORN applications are the last option, especially if drivers rely on their cars for everyday travel. For more information, our guide on how to SORN your car can help drivers weigh up their options before making a decision.”


Notes to editors

Media information:
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About Confused.com

Launched in 2002, Confused.com was the UK's first digital marketplace for car insurance and is one of the leading brands in the sector, generating over one million quotes per month. It has expanded its range of comparison products over the years to include home insurance, van insurance, motorcycle insurance, and car finance comparison, as well as a number of tools designed to save consumers money.

Confused.com is not a supplier, insurance company or broker. It provides an objective and unbiased service. By using cutting-edge technology, it has developed a series of intelligent web-based solutions that evaluate a number of risk factors to help customers with their decision-making, subsequently finding them great deals on a wide-range of insurance products, financial services, utilities and more. Confused.com’s service is based on the most up-to-date information provided by UK suppliers and industry regulators.

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