As the last port of call for people with unresolved complaints about UK government departments and agencies, we see all too often the stress, frustration and misery public service failures can cause.
Our report about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) – ‘Driven to Despair’ – is a perfect example of this. It highlights eight very similar complaints about DVLA’s medical fitness to drive assessments. All were from people with complex medical conditions or disabilities who had been unfairly left without driving licences, sometimes for several years, as a result of flawed decisions, severe delays, and poor communication by DVLA.
One of the complaints was from a professional lorry driver. He had suffered a heart attack and had to wait 17 months to reverse a decision to remove his licence, despite being symptom-free. He lost his business in the process.
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In another case, a piano teacher who had suffered a stroke, but recovered, was needlessly prevented from driving for years due to DVLA failures, leaving her socially isolated, distressed and unable to work.
In yet another case, DVLA wrongly interpreted a letter from a GP which explained that their patient struggled to keep up with paperwork as a result of suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and that this should be taking into account if he was late submitting paperwork.
DVLA wrongly assumed this was confirmation of a medical condition affecting the man’s ability to drive and incorrectly removed his licence a few days after receiving the letter.
We upheld all of the eight complaints brought to our attention and DVLA has accepted our recommendations to put things right for the individuals affected.
But we didn’t stop there. The complaints we investigated were so similar, and the impact on the individuals so significant, that we decided to take a closer look into the way DVLA assesses people’s fitness to drive.
DVLA has accepted our findings and has taken steps to address some of the failures identified such as producing a new guide for medical professionals and improving its complaint handling and communications.
However, we are concerned that DVLA is not currently meeting its obligations to make fair and safe licensing decisions. Its fitness to drive tests are not fit for purpose and do not properly consider all the evidence, such as doctors’ reports. The decision making process is flawed and lacks proper standards or criteria to fairly assess the fitness to drive of people with medical conditions and disabilities.
Put simply, DVLA has wrongly denied people with certain medical conditions and disabilities the right to drive.
But we are also concerned that the problems that we have uncovered could mean that drivers who do pose a risk to the public and themselves are allowed on our roads when they shouldn’t be.
Our report recommends that DVLA should improve the way it communicates with both licence applicants and medical professionals and produce robust standards to fairly assess the fitness to drive of people with medical conditions and disabilities.
Since other people will have been affected by the failures uncovered in the report, we also recommend that DVLA puts in place appropriate arrangements to put things right for those people too.
Further action is needed to prevent others from suffering the same injustice in the future and to put things right for those who have already suffered at the hands of DVLA.
We have published our report today in the public interest.