DVLA driving licence backlog for motorists with medical conditions up 65 per cent in 12 months

Published 23 May 2022
  • The number of drivers waiting for a medical driving licence increased from 203,890 applications on 25 March 2021 to 336,759 applications 12 months later. 
  • Almost 40 per cent of all delayed licence applications in the UK are medical licences.
  • Drivers are waiting up to six months for a new or renewed medical driving licence, research suggests.

More than 300,000 drivers with medical conditions are waiting for their driving licence application to be processed by the DVLA, according to a freedom of information request (FOI) by HonestJohn.co.uk's sister brand heycar.

The FOI found that on 25 March 2021 there were 203,890 applications awaiting a medical driving licence decision; however, by 25 March 2022 this had increased 65 per cent to 336,759 applications.

A medical driving licence is issued to a driver who suffers from a condition that needs to be declared to the DVLA. This can include diabetes, sleep apnoea, epilepsy or a heart condition.

Drivers with a notifiable medical condition account for 39 per cent of more than 800,000 people in the UK waiting for a new driving licence in March 2022. 

Paperwork

How long are drivers waiting for their medical driving licence? 

The research conducted by heycar suggests that drivers with medical conditions are waiting up to six months for their licence in some cases. 

However, there are also examples of drivers waiting considerably longer. 

One HonestJohn.co.uk reader, who did not wish to be named, said that his father has been waiting 15 months and has still not had his medical driving licence renewed. 

His father, who is in his 80s, lives alone in rural Yorkshire and is “very dependent on his car”, the reader said. 

Driving Licence 

His father had to renew his licence on medical grounds as he has glaucoma.

"His consultant believes him fit to drive, as does his GP. Nevertheless, off he went to have his eyes checked by the DVLA-approved optician,” the reader told us.

“The necessary forms were filled in and sent off to the DVLA. But then nothing from DVLA.”

His father continued to drive under Section 88 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which allows drivers to continue driving while their licence is being processed, provided certain conditions are met. 

Driving (6)

His local police force issued him with a printed statement confirming his eligibility to drive, which he carried in his car, along with the note from his GP. 

However, Section 88 only applies for 12 months so now his father can no longer drive.

“Now my father has an expensive lump of metal sat on the drive, and is, of course, paying for tax and insurance. After a couple of years of semi-isolation through Covid he is now faced with further isolation as a result of DVLA inadequacies in processing his application. His world was already small enough, without this additional restriction,” the reader said. 

“We have chased and harried the DVLA as best we can - phone calls, social media and emails. We have reference numbers from the DVLA confirming the email enquiries going back 15 months, but not one response. Currently, his local MP has agreed to take up his cause, but, as yet, no joy.”

Four-month wait for disabled motorist 

Barry Kirby

Disabled motorist Barry Kirby was severely impacted by a four-month wait for his driving licence. 

He made a paper application for his 70 and over licence renewal in September last year and declared that he had had sleep apnoea in the past, along with neurological problem, so the DVLA sent him a medical questionnaire to complete. 

He then heard nothing for two months and was left frustrated at being unable to speak to anyone at the DVLA - despite numerous attempts. 

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Barry said. “I found it impossible to contact anyone at the DVLA. When I telephoned them I would get redirected and wait and wait, and nobody answered. All I could do was check on the GOV.UK website and found that my licence had been revoked.”

Barry Kirby 3 (1)

That led to the leasing company which Barry leases his car from telling him to “cease driving immediately” and he was left making £250 monthly payments for a vehicle that he couldn’t use. 

“I live in a rural area and we only have a bus service every two hours during daylight hours so I was very restricted at home,” Barry said.

“I had to go to the hospital, which takes 10 minutes in a car. I tried to walk it and it took me an hour to walk to the next bus route and I was exhausted. And that bus never came. I ended up in the middle of the countryside ringing for a taxi.”

Towards the end of November, the DVLA wrote to Barry to inform him they had contacted his doctor and expected a delay in receiving a reply due to the ongoing situation with Coronavirus. 

DVLA Logo

Barry spoke to his doctor’s surgery and had confirmation within two days of the DVLA letter that the doctor had responded to say he was medically fit to drive. 

He then heard nothing from the DVLA and after a month of being unable to get through on the phone he contacted HonestJohn.co.uk for help. 

Within two days of HonestJohn.co.uk contacting the DVLA on Barry’s behalf in January 2022 he was informed his driving licence had been authorised. 

Barry said that it brought an end to “months of frustration”. 

When will the DVLA clear the backlog?

As we reported in April 2022, the DVLA expects to reach ‘normal’ turnaround times for paper drivers licence applications (up to three weeks including some time for postage) by the end of May.

For medical applications, the target by the end of September is for 90 per cent of cases to be processed within 90 days.

Why are medical driving licences delayed?

The DVLA said that during the pandemic DVLA medical checks were “deprioritised” by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and were temporarily paused again in December 2021 and January 2022 to support the Covid-19 vaccine booster rollout, which impacted processing times for applications needing medical investigations. 

It said the time taken to make a licensing decision can depend on the nature of a medical condition, particularly where a driver may have multiple medical conditions that may impact their fitness to drive. This can mean that these more complex applications are likely to take longer to process, whereas those which are less complex in nature could be processed more quickly. 

To help reduce waiting times for paper applications, the DVLA said it has introduced additional online services, recruited more staff, increased overtime working and has secured extra office space in Swansea and Birmingham. 

It said that it “recognises the impact on drivers who have to renew their licence more regularly and is working hard to improve the process”, and that drivers with diabetes, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, a visual impairment, a sleep condition or a heart condition can renew their licence online. 

Although the DVLA said that people can apply online there are still problems with its system which means not everyone who should be able to apply online can do. HonestJohn.co.uk uncovered a problem in April 2021 that some over-70s licence renewals cannot be done online, dependent on whether they had a passport with a digital signature. 

The DVLA said it was developing a new system which would allow customers to upload a signature online. That system went live in June 2021 but only applies to people making their first application for a driving licence. The DVLA is still developing a system that will incorporate the same functionality for people renewing their licence online and could not say when this would be available.

Can I still drive while my application is being processed?

While your driving licence application is with the DVLA you may be able to drive under Section 88 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, provided certain conditions are met. 

The DVLA must have received your correct and complete application within the last 12 months and you must have previously held a valid driving licence and only drive vehicles you have applied for on your current application and were entitled to drive on your previous licence. Any conditions that were specified on your previous licence still apply. 

You must also meet the medical standards of fitness to drive. If you have a medical condition and have been told not to drive by a doctor or healthcare professional, you cannot drive under Section 88. You also cannot drive if your last licence was revoked or refused for medical reasons.

You must not have been previously disqualified from driving as a high-risk offender (a high risk-offender is a driver convicted of a serious drink driving offence) or be currently disqualified from driving by a court. 

The DVLA said that while it is completing medical investigations to decide whether a licence can be issued, it cannot tell you if Section 88 applies to you. It said that you and your doctor or healthcare professional are in the best position to consider the Section 88 criteria and to decide whether you should drive while you are waiting for a licence to be issued.

Can I drive abroad while I am waiting for my licence?

If you are driving under Section 88 this may not be accepted in other countries because it is UK legislation. The DVLA's advice is to check with the relevant licensing authority before you travel.

Ask HJ

Been waiting nearly a year for my medical driving licence - is this normal?

Is it normal to have been waiting for my medical driving licence renewal for nearly a year? I sent the application in June 2021 and I have still not had it back yet.
There are currently long delays with paper driving licence applications for drivers with medical conditions but it is not acceptable to wait nearly a year. We suggest you make an official complaint to the DVLA. If that does not speed things up then you could also try contacting your local MP to make a complaint on your behalf.
Answered by Sarah Tooze
More Questions
Ask HJ

When will I get my driving licence?

I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy in May last year and the DVLA revoked my licence. On further review in March 22 the neurologist confirmed to the DVLA that I do not have epilepsy and no other condition to stop me driving and asked them to reissue my licence as I'm fit to drive. How long do you think it will take to get my licence back as it's having an impact on my mental health and career? Being a single parent too it's so hard to get around, my friends and family are exhausted.
Unfortunately, the DVLA does not give set timeframes for medical driving licence applications. Prior to the pandemic they processed 90 per cent of medical driving licence applications within 90 days and they intend to return to this by the end of September. Recent research from our sister brand heycar suggests drivers are waiting up to six months for their licence but we do know of some drivers waiting even longer than this. I would suggest calling the DVLA for an update on your application. If you cannot get through to them then the best course of action is to make a formal written complaint. You could also write to your local MP, asking them to make a complaint on your behalf.
Answered by Sarah Tooze
More Questions

Comments

exodice    on 23 May 2022

The DVLA are an absolute disgrace.They think that they dont have to answer to anybody. Covid has been a perfect excuse to cover all their inadequacies for the last three years and are still using it as an excuse despite the fact that most companies that have to earn a living have long since returned to work. My new licence five years ago took 6 months to process, and that was way before the pandemic.Anything that is done by computer happens instantly at the DVLA. Its purely work done by the staff that is way behind. Why they havent been dragged over the coals by the government is a very poor reflection on this governments ability to manage anything.

CS of SX    on 23 May 2022

I applied online in January for a 70 year old renewal declaring sleep apnea. Many weeks later I received a paper form with 2 weeks to respond or my licence would be revoked. I filled form in online and received a message I could continue to drive. I then received a letter dated 24 March saying they had written to my sleep doctor but with NHS delays in responding it might take some time. On 5th May -6 weeks later - the hospital informed me they had not heard from DVLA! So much for NHS delays it’s DVLA it would seem. Hospital very upset with DVLA as they respond quickly to enquiries knowing how important licences are to their patients.

Brian rowe    on 23 May 2022

Perhaps the Government would let our Local Post Office return to issuing drivers their licence at the nearest town.
Take the inadequate DVLA to task, come on you MP's help us in our quest.

tartlet    on 23 May 2022

I have just received my license back from DVLA. I am 71 and applied last May 2021.
It was the medical delay which meant it took 12 months.
Regards, Mr Ian Derbyshire

alan Rea    on 24 May 2022

Look at the whole HGV media circus last year, once the story that there were 55000 HGV licences in DVLA the story died.
This appears to be a combination of poor civil service management!, combined with unions taking deliberate action against the current government.
You will notice DVLA enforcement is working at full strength and their figures have not dropped.

signingrob    on 24 May 2022

I have been waiting for cancellation December 20 for the return of my licence can the dvla be any poorer.

Michelle Goodchild    on 24 May 2022

Michelle Goodchild

Hi I have tried on numerous occasions to contact the DVLA via Phone, Emails and Written Letters, I have been waiting for a year,
I am an Insulin Dependent Diabetic, have Fibromyalgia and other conditions, finally I managed to speak to someone last week, because it has been a year since applying for my Medical License,
I have been told that I have to re-submit my Medical Application,
just too keep my application open, if I leave it, I will have to start the process all over again, this is unjust, for everyone.

The Lazy Trumpeter    on 26 May 2022

I reported having had a pacemaker fitted early Sept. last year. Licence was 'revoked' as I'd ticked the wrong box - simple error - on the form. Took over six months to resolve the error made worse by having to renew as being 73. Many many attempts to speak with DVLA failed as their systems were 'busy' and just cut off. On the only time I did get through the agent was clearly WFH by the background noise. After numerous emails I did get a call back and an apology in February but it still took another two or three weeks for the licence to be issued. Shambles.

caryl thatcher    on 28 May 2022

8 months after sending in my husbands renewal,with names and addresses of consultants,we got a letter,saying they were writing to the consultants. Five months later,after we checked with the consultants, only to find the DVLA hadn't written to them,we got a letter stating we needed a gp fitness to drive medical.
This was carried out 3 weeks ago...so far we have heard nothing from the DVLA.
Really fed up.

Christina Tew    on 28 May 2022

I'm in the same boat as I'm waiting for my medical license to be renewed and paying£301a month with out being able to drive.This is beyond a joke

retiredspeedmerchant    on 7 June 2022

This sheer incompetence by DVLA has been happening for years. I know of vocational licence holders who have been unable to work for up to 2 years to get licences from medical reviews. This was happening way back in 2014! I was once told that the medical panel for vocational licences sit once a month for a day.. people need to lobby their MPs or the Transport Secretary Grant Snapps

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