Friday, May 02, 2008

The best laid schemes …

Once or twice, we have been known to write about the End of life vehicle directive, which has been causing no end of problems.

Imposing as it does a raft of strict requirements on car disposal, the directive had the potential to cause absolute mayhem, adding so much to costs that the last owners would either be tempted to dump their cars or get rid of them via unlicensed scrap dealers.

To circumvent that, the directive imposed a requirement on car manufacturers to pay for the disposal of private vehicles – the so-called "producers responsibility" - so that the last owner bore no costs. However, this only applies to "vehicles put on the market on or after 1 July 2002".

Since by far the bulk of cars being scrapped pre-date 1 July 2002, that means that most owners cannot take advantage of free disposal. And, as could be predicted, a huge number of scrapped cars are not going through the official system.

In theory, this should not happen. Under the government's "continuous licensing scheme", owners have to pay tax on their cars unless they are officially deregistered. In order to do that, they have to obtain a "certificate of destruction" from an approved treatment centre licensed to handle end of life vehicles.

However, as reported today by The Times, government figures reveal that only 900,000 certificates were issued in 2006 despite more than two million cars being taken off the road that year.

The weakness in the system, as it turns out, is the necessary opt-out for owners who intend to keep their cars, but take them off the road and therefore avoid liability for road tax. This is the Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN), which owners can make simply by a number of means. These vehicles then drop out of the system.

What has been happening, it seems, is that many owners have been taking advantage of this "loophole" – as The Times puts it - then getting rid.

Although the paper makes a big deal about many of these going to unlicensed scrapyards – unsurprising given the current high prices for steel – an even bigger problem is the number of dumped cars.

According to the BBC, until recently 300,000 cars were abandoned every year, costing local authorities £26m to remove them. This year, however, the number of vehicles being abandoned is expected to reach 500,000.

One really is lost in admiration at how the combination of our central and provincial governments can take a problem and make it so comprehensively worse.

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