The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has criticised the Department for Transport and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for failing to do more to find drivers who have wrongly lost their licenses because of failings with fitness-to-drive assessments.
A new report from the watchdog highlights the case of eight people with complex medical conditions who were left unable to work and socially isolated because of flawed decisions, service delays and poor communications.
The issues centred around the DVLA’s Driver’s Medical Group, which is tasked with assuring license-holders’ fitness to drive, and handles more than 600,000 cases a year – most with a simple questionnaire.
According to DVLA, nine out of 10 drivers who report a medical condition retain their license – suggesting around 60,000 drivers see their licences revoked on medical grounds every year.
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Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor said "similarities” in the cases brought to her office between March 2014 and April last year pointed to wider problems and prompted a full investigation, which revealed DVLA was not meeting its obligations to make fair and safe licensing decisions.
In particular, she said fitness to drive tests did not properly consider all the evidence, such as doctors' reports, and that the decision-making process was flawed and lacked proper standards or criteria to fairly assess people with medical conditions and disabilities.
The investigations also found that DVLA’s complaints-handling process was “poor and defensive”.
Dame Julie said she was “deeply concerned” that DfT had not accepted her recommendations to “put things right” for everyone who may have been affected by the failings identified, or by “improving the robustness of the criteria applied in future medical assessments”.
“The Department for Transport has accepted most of our recommendations,” she said. “It has not agreed to introduce arrangements aimed at others who may have been affected by the failings we have found.
“The Department for Transport’s response has been to say it will review previous complaints in line with our findings using its existing complaints process. This approach does not address the many other people potentially affected who have not previously complained.
“The Department for Transport has also not agreed to produce a set of evidence-based standards for assessing fitness to drive. In response to our report it has said its current standards will remain subject to continuous improvement.
“It is not clear to us how DVLA will be able to respond to the problems we have identified in this report recurring for other drivers in future without reviewing its current standards.”
DVLA chief executive Oliver Morley apologised to the people identified in the ombudsman’s report, but suggested they were not reflective of most cases dealt with by the agency.
“These eight very complex cases date back to 2009 and since then the vast majority of the four million cases we’ve handled have been dealt with swiftly and correctly,” he said.
“We have already made a number of improvements including more effective ways of managing cases, taking on more staff and introduced a new online service where drivers can tell us about their medical conditions.”
Civil Service World asked DfT for a response to the criticisms outlined by Dame Julie, but had not received a response at the time of publication