Driven to Despair

How drivers have been let down by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency

Full Ombudsman Report :  Driven_to_despair_report[1071]

As I’m sure most members of the National Association for Bikers with a Disability are aware, dealing with the Driver’s Medical Group (DMG) at the DVLA is rarely as straight-forward as one might hope though, in the main, I think it fair to say that they have a relatively good record when it comes to dealing with most straight-forward disabilities.

I also do not believe it fair or reasonable to blame the people who work at the DMG for those delays and problems that are obviously caused by the funding cuts and staffing cuts forced upon them by this dreadful government.

However we cannot ignore the fact that we have seen evidence over many years that they are often more interested in ‘covering their own backs’ than giving people with more complex disabilities a fair hearing.

There also seems to be something of an ingrained ethos in the DMG that causes them to pigeon-hole people with more complex disabilities based on the perceived limitations of their disability rather than taking account of any evidence relating to that individual’s abilities.

After a growing number of complaints about the DMG, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman began an investigation into the working practices of the DMG in 2015. 

I received a copy of their final report entitled “Driven to Despair - How drivers have been let down by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency” some time ago but as it was officially embargoed until 20/10/16 I have had to wait until now to publicise their findings.

The report makes some pretty damning criticisms of the ethos and certain working practices at the DMG and finds many of the complaints to be justified.  Hopefully the DVLA and in particular the DMG will now act on the recommendations of the Ombudsman and begin to treat each individual as a human being instead of as a set of established parameters.

The Ombudsman’s report itself runs to more than fifty pages so there is no way we can reproduce it in the Open House but what follows here is the ‘Executive Summary’ of the report and anybody wishing to have a copy of the full report can email or take a look on the NABD web site for a link to the report in .pdf format.

Rick Hulse
NABD Chairman

Full Ombudsman Report : Driven_to_despair_report[1071]

Executive Summary

Between April 2014 and March 2015, we received eight complaints about the Drivers Medical Group (DMG)*, the part of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)** that considers whether drivers with a medical condition are safe to drive. The complaints concerned licensing decisions made by DMG between 2009 and 2014. The complaints were about delays by DMG in making licensing decisions, poor communication, the quality of the information provided, and poor complaint handling. People told us that DMG’s handling of their cases prevented them from driving for an unreasonable period of time, causing them losses of employment and freedom, and significant levels of stress and frustration.

Several people’s cases took years to resolve, and in most cases DVLA failed to accept that it had made mistakes or handled things poorly. Putting things right for the people who had brought their complaint to us was our priority.

We have therefore investigated all eight of these complaints, and in six*** of those the failings identified have been remedied in full by DVLA. The similarities in the eight complaints pointed to a potentially wider problem with the way DVLA handles medical fitness to drive cases. This report sets out our findings on the overarching similarities between these cases as well as recommendations for improvement to the system as a whole.

Taking into account the regulatory and legislative requirements on DVLA, we expect DMG to:

• make fitness to drive decisions in accordance with the law and guidance;

• operate an open and transparent decision-making process, so that the public can understand the reasons for its decisions;

• take relevant factors into account and discount irrelevant ones;

• engage with the public and stakeholders so that there is clarity about its roles and responsibilities and so that licence holders and other stakeholders properly understand what is required of them.

Our investigations have shown that this does not currently happen. We have found fault in the way that DMG operates, which means that it is not meeting its obligations. We have seen no evidence that proper standards or criteria are in place to enable DMG to meet its required aim of road safety. We have seen no attempt to relate medical conditions to functional ability to drive safely. We have also seen a lack of assessment of condition specific risks and how those risks might affect road safety.

* DMG is the part of DVLA that considers whether drivers with a medical condition are safe to drive. It makes between 600,000 and 750,000 licensing decisions every year.

** DVLA is an executive agency of the Department for Transport with responsibility for driver and vehicle licensing. As part of its role it also ensures that those who have a driving licence (both for ordinary and commercial or vocational vehicles) are safe to drive.

*** One of the complainants was not in a position to submit a claim for financial remedy to DVLA before we had completed his individual investigation. In the final case, we are still in the process of agreeing the appropriate level of financial remedy due with DVLA.


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