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Dealers will be at significant risk during road tests or whilst vehicles are collected or delivered, as driving an untaxed vehicle will be a criminal offence and will leave employees and businesses at risk of prosecution. Section 29 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 (VERA) makes it an offence ‘If a person uses, or keeps, on a public road a vehicle (not being an exempt vehicle) which is unlicensed’.
The Courts have long established that by driving a vehicle the driver has use of a vehicle. Furthermore, interpretation of the term ‘to use’ does not require that there is any knowledge or intention to commit the offence; if the vehicle is unlicensed the driver commits the offence. As the driver does not have to know that the vehicle is unlicensed or even intend to use an unlicensed vehicle to be guilty of the offence, where the use in question is by an employee during the course of their employment, then the employer is also guilty of the offence.
In practice, all car and commercial vehicle dealers will need either to check the license status for any vehicle they are test-driving, collecting or delivering, or carry out such activities under a valid trade license. As this check can only be carried out online, dealers will need to have sufficient access to the internet and know where to look. The Government is currently testing the online checking service, and the current address is https://www.vehicleenquiry.service.gov.uk/ It remains to be seen how this will hold up to full scale use and whether any changes will be made before October.
Dealers have to be aware that the site contains a clear warning that there is a delay in the current status becoming available. As such any recent licence or SORN applications would not appear. It is therefore not possible to be certain that a vehicle is taxed at any one time. However, if there is a significant period to run on the currently recorded tax disc then the risk to the dealer is minimal.
The only way to be certain that you will not be found guilty of such an offence is to ensure that all test/service drives, or vehicle deliveries are conducted under a valid motor trade license. We would strongly advise all car, van and truck dealers to consider their current procedures and how they will be affected.