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Licence changes could impact foreign car hire

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Going on holiday this summer? Good news! You don’t need to take the paper part of your driving licence to hire a car.

The bad news? You may find it very difficult to hire a car at all. The abolition of the paper part of the licence, which happens on June 8, is part of the DVLA’s measures to get rid of red tape – similar to the recent abolition of the paper tax disc. That may be convenient and cost-saving for the DVLA; but it’s much less clear that it will make life easier for drivers.

According to the RAC, 55 per cent of drivers are unaware of this proposed change.

There’s every reason to think that a large number of car hire firms abroad won’t necessarily know about it either, but they will still want to see your details. For car hire in the UK, there will be a premium rate telephone number on which your details can be verified, but for overseas car hire, drivers will have to visit the DVLA’s website and type in their driving licence number and their National Insurance number. They will then be given a code which they can give to the car hire firm.

Assuming – and it’s a fairly big assumption, given that many hire firms have not yet changed their terms and conditions – that the hire firm knows about the changes, and how to use the DVLA’s system, they’ll be then able to check. There’s one pretty serious problem with this, though: the code which you’ll be given is only valid for 72 hours.

So if you decide to rent a car on the spur of the moment, or only for the second week of your holiday, you’ll have to jump through the hoops of obtaining online access to the DVLA while you’re abroad. And given that the lack of online access while overseas is one of the most frequent and irritating difficulties faced by travellers these days, it’s hard to see that most holidaymakers will agree with the DVLA’s view that this system is a huge improvement.

It’s worth mentioning one other oddity of this proposed change. If you only have a paper licence, you should keep it, because it will still be valid. When the photographic driving licence was introduced, there were guarantees issued that it would not be compulsory (because there was a political row about whether they amounted to national identity cards by the back door). That’s still, technically, the case.

But in practice, it isn’t, because you need to change your paper licence if, for example, you change address or your name. Indeed, it’s an offence not to let the DVLA know if you do. And, despite the promises made in 1998, it now seems to be impossible to change your paper licence without having, or being issued with, a photocard.

If you think that all sounds strangely complicated, there’s one possible explanation for why the DVLA seems so keen for everyone to have a photocard – even if you don’t think it’s an Orwellian plot. And that is that you have to renew your photo driving licence every ten years, at a cost of £20.

But if you’re heading off to the Continent this summer, you might be sticking your hand still further into your pocket, given the extortionate rates of many data roaming plans. And it might be safe to take your paper licence, too, just in case the hire firm hasn’t heard about them being abolished – to be fair, if half of British drivers haven’t, there’s no reason why they should.

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