The Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) has moved to ban the availability of Covid-19-related personalised number plates over fears they could be deemed offensive.
The government department has blocked the creation and sale of registrations with any coronavirus references, claiming they could cause offence, embarrassment and are in poor taste for those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.
But while Covid-hinting number plates are being outlawed, registrations with references to the NHS and health care services will remain available – and prices of these have recently spiked as Britons have looked to salute frontline workers in the last 12 months.
BANNED! The DVLA has confirmed that all private number plates referencing the coronavirus will be outlawed and their availability removed as to not cause offence, particularly to those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic
The DVLA takes the list of unsuitable number plates available to consumers more seriously than you might think.
Rather than using a computer algorithm to pick out the offensive combinations of letters and numbers, senior members from the DVLA have a bi-annual meeting at their base in Swansea to choose those it wants to remove from sale for being too rude.
The team of experts examines any potentially offensive meanings that can be created using the latest registration number and painstakingly tries to stop anything that could be deemed insulting being available.
It means the eagle-eyed team of experts now need to block any potential coronavirus references from going on sale.
A DVLA spokesman told This is Money last year: ‘The vast majority of registration numbers are made available but the agency holds back any combinations that may cause offence, embarrassment, or are in poor taste.
‘Many people enjoy displaying a personalised registration number and there are over 50 million registrations available on our website with almost endless possibilities of combinations to suit a person’s taste, interests and budget.’
The removal of Covid-19-relating plates is the first case of registration numbers linked to a health crisis being banned in the UK.
However, other nations have already taken measures to outlaw them, with Australia banning Covid-related registrations last year after a grey BMW 5 Series with a plate reading ‘COVID 19’ was spotted at Adelaide Airport in February 2020 and the plate later listed on a re-sale website soon at the height of the pandemic.
With the number plate listed with ‘all reasonable offers considered’, state transport officials acted swiftly to ban ‘Covid-19’ from being put on private registrations.
A BMW with ‘COVID-19’ number plates (pictured) was abandoned at the start of the pandemic by its owner
The plates were listed on website Mr Plates at the height of the pandemic last year. The South Australia website had the registration for sale with ‘all reasonable offers considered’ for potential buyers
In news confirmed to the Sunday Telegraph, the DVLA has said it will now ‘suppress’ registrations of Covid-referencing plates in the UK.
This includes the likes of ‘COV 1D’, ‘COV 11D’ and ‘COV 111D’.
A DVLA spokesman told the Sunday paper: ‘We suppress any registration number combinations that may cause offence, embarrassment or are in poor taste.
‘This includes combinations that could be interpreted as referring to Covid-19.’
Personalised number plates are available to the public for anything between £150 to over £200,000, with the most sought-after combinations of letters and numbers auctioned off by the DVLA each year.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, NHS plates have been growing in popularity since the virus hit, with one selling last year for a staggering £120,000 on an online auction.
One plate with the combination ‘WHO5 NHS’ is currently on the market for £11,000, having increased in value in the last year, it said.
The DVLA has been selling personalised number plates to drivers and businesses since 1989.
A key attraction is that a plate can stay with an owner forever – and be transferred to any new car driven. The transfer fee is £80 and can be done online using the DVLA website.
If a plate is not going to be put on to a car, a buyer must fill in a V750 certificate of entitlement or a V778 certificate of retention. They pay £80 – and must re-register if the plate has not been used after ten years.
Failure to properly register the car number means a registration plate can fall back into DVLA ownership.
According to the DVLA, the most search words on its private number plates auction sites in 2020 were ‘SAM’, ‘DAN’, ‘BEN’ ‘TOM’ and ‘AMY’
Number plates in Britain look slightly different post-Brexit, with the Euro flag replaced with a Union Jack. The front and rear plates with green flashes instead of blue are specifically for electric cars under a new scheme launched last year
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was the first to have a special green number plate fitted to his £40,000 Tesla Model 3 in December. They are designed to boost sales of plug-in motors
In 2019, the agency said that around six million private plates had been sold to motorists since they were made available, which in turn has generated around £2billion for the Treasury.
Another 370,000 personalised registrations were purchased using the DVLA’s online service last year, the government department confirmed.
The most in-demand plates are those featuring letters and numbers that appear to spell out names, though there have been other cases of combinations rising in value if they are linked to trends that come and go.
‘SAM’ and ‘DAN’ were revealed as the most popular names searched for by customers in 2020, the DVLA said.
In December, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps introduced green number plates specifically for electric cars.
The special registration boards have a green flash down the left hand side to make EVs more clearly marked but also open the door for future incentives, such as use of bus lanes, entry to low-emission zones and cheaper parking in town.
And in February, the Department for Transport showcased how all post-Brexit number plates will look, with the Euro flag replaced with a Union Jack in the top left corner.
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