Crooks and chancers are making a packet out of the failing UK driving test system, and its learner drivers who are paying the price
Brokers flogging driving tests to driving schools like ticket touts are still scalping learner drivers, months after Auto Express and other media outlets highlighted the problem.
We highlighted the issue of computer bots hijacking the DVSA driving test booking platform, along with a raft of other scams and schemes used by crooked individuals to make money from the woeful provision of test opportunities, which continue to cause problems and extra costs from learners desperate to take their driving tests and secure a driving licence.
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Now, according to the Guardian’s own investigation, brokers ‘operating like ticket touts’ are inviting bids from driving schools for tests their online bots have secured, and charging up to £400 for the privilege. The official cost on the DVSA website is £62 for weekdays and £75 for weekends or evenings.
The Guardian also reports on the wide range of social media pages and forums, where newly released driving tests are swapped and traded.
We reported back in June 2023 that social media platforms including Tik Tok and Facebook are hosting adverts from fraudsters offering illegal assistance to learner drivers taking their tests, ranging from offers to substitute ‘lookalikes’ who will take the test in place of the real candidate, to scams helping candidates with theory test answers via a Bluetooth earpiece.
A BBC investigation at the time identified around 670 social media accounts with close to 140,000 followers, which the broadcaster says “advertise driving licence services without taking a test”.
The scale of the problem around fraudulent tests is also known to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, where internal data shows reports of impersonations during driving tests have trebled since 2018 – last year the number of reported instances was more than 2,000.
According to the DVSA’s head of law enforcement Marian Kitson, the organisation was responsible for just 30 prosecutions last year. She also admitted the DVSA was not able to judge the scale of the problem due to the vast nature of social media platforms and the wily nature of the fraudsters.
The BBC investigation found numerous adverts in multiple different languages. While the fraudsters don’t offer much info openly on the means used to obtain licences for ‘customers’, investigators made contact with several advertisers outside the UK by posing as interested parties, and were told they could be helped to acquire licences for fees that varied between £720 and a hefty £4,200.
The actual cost of a theory test and practical test together is £85, suggesting the fraudsters could be making big sums by illegally substituting candidates for driving tests. Anyone caught obtaining a licence fraudulently would obviously face having that licence revoked, and risk being prosecuted. Last year the courts jailed a woman for eight months after she was caught taking multiple tests as a fake candidate.
Long waiting lists for tests drive increase in fraud
In 2022 we also reported how drivers are paying hundreds of pounds for driving test slots in an effort to get around long delays caused by the Covid log-jam.
Companies were already using automated computer software to monitor part of the DVSA system meant for driving schools, and grabbing test slots as soon as new dates are added or existing bookings are cancelled. Bookings are made using a provisional licence number, but the secondary market has sprung up because bookings can be swapped between candidates on the DVSA system.
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One advertiser reckoned to guarantee test dates for candidates within three weeks, and claimed driving instructors working with him are making an extra £400-£600 per week selling on tests to their pupils.
As part of this earlier investigation, the BBC created a fake driving school on the DVSA website and found it took five minutes to register with no authentication required. The government agency told the BBC their system was flawed, because it ‘relies on trust’, but pointed out that it’s not illegal to book a test in someone else’s name unless you don’t have their consent.
Driving Instructor bodies have condemned the selling of driving tests for profit, while the DVSA claimed to have strengthened its system firewall to prevent misuse.
Driving Instructors Association chief executive, Carly Brookfield, said the backlog in the driving test system was creating "a desperation for test slots" and fueling fraudulent activities.
"If you're facing the fact that if you don't pass the test you have to wait for up to six months, then you're going to think about cheating the system," she said.
How to book your driving test safely
Booking a practical driving test should be pretty straightforward, but there are several unofficial websites online looking to take advantage of learner drivers and these can easily catch you out if you’re not careful. Make sure to only book your driving test via the official DVSA website.
Driving test bookings can be made via the DVSA website or over the telephone by calling DVSA driving test booking support on 0300 200 1122 (open Monday to Friday, 8am-4pm). The online booking service is available from 6am to 11:40pm every day and you will receive a confirmation email from the DVSA once you have successfully booked your test.
What do you need to book a practical driving test?
In order to book your practical test appointment, you will need your UK driving licence number, a credit or debit card and your driving instructor’s personal reference number if you want to check their availability. You will need the same information to hand should you decide to book via telephone.
How much does a driving test cost?
The cost of a DVSA practical test is currently £62 for a weekday or £75 for an evening, weekend or bank holiday slot – unofficial websites usually charge more or add on administration fees, so to avoid paying significantly more, make sure to only book your driving test via the official DVSA website.
How long will you have to wait for a driving test?
You can book a test up to 24 weeks in advance and there are no waiting lists, however, you will be told how long you will need to wait to take your test once you start the booking procedure. Once you have booked a test slot, you will be able to check for earlier or cancelled appointments.
If there are no test slots available within the 24-week period, you can try to book a test at other local test centres or ask your driving instructor if they have any available test slots. If you can’t take your test for any reason it is your responsibility to cancel or reschedule it at least three working days before the date of the test.
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