Wannabe UK citizens are told ‘road tax’ exists

‘Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship’ is the official test book, published by The Stationery Office, and written by the Home Office Life in the UK Advisory Group, the group which sets the citizenship test, one of the requirements for anyone seeking Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK or naturalisation as a British citizen. Failing the test is easy (scoring 58 percent, I just failed), especially if you use factual information such as “some of the information in the census is released soon after the completion of the census and not 100 years hence.”

Historian Seth Alexander Thvoz said of the test:

The test takes the form of 20 multiple-choice questions, which one can only revise for by buying the official Life in the UK handbook from the Home Office (RRP £9.99) and the accompanying revision guide (RRP £5.99). One cannot simply take the test using common sense, because the Life in the UK book is so riddled with factual errors that if I were to give the correct answers, I would fail the test. I could only pass the test by memorising erroneous material.

From the Life in the UK handbook I learned many new and interesting things. Apparently, Magna Carta was signed in 1316, some 101 years later than is commonly thought, and Hitler invaded Russia in 1942 – which must have come as a shock to those Russians fighting the invading Wehrmacht in the summer of 1941. Being a political historian, I naturally homed in on the fact that every single description of who was allowed to vote at various times in British history was comically wrong. Had it been an essay I was marking for my students, I I would have given it a Fail.

The test also fails on “road tax”, as revealed by Gareth Visagie.

The “road tax” error may be a seemingly minor one, given there’s a plethora of howlers, but it’s one of those “it said it in this official document so must be true” errors. Not good. And not helpful.

Many motorists – perhaps even the majority? – still believe that ‘road tax’ exists, and often demand that the duties paid by motorists should be ploughed into fixing potholes, widening dual carriageways and adding to the UK’s motorway network. In reality, everybody pays for Britain’s roads via general taxation.

Motorists do not pay for use of the roads, motorists are taxed on buying and using their vehicles. Home Office, speak to the DfT, they’ll tell you that Vehicle Excise Duty is not a fee to use roads, it’s a tax on emissions: cars which spew the most CO2 pay the most ‘car tax’. Cars which spew less CO2, pay less car tax. Cars in VED band A pay zero duty.

Motorists are not the only users of public roads. Pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-riders also use public roads. So do farm tractors but, even though they’re heavy and so damage roads, they do not pay Vehicle Excise Duty. They have to display tax discs, but these are issued free of charge. Motorists have been filmed attacking cyclists for “not paying road tax” yet there are no known cases of motorists attacking farmers for the same perceived ‘crime’. And nor do motorists attack band A cars, disabled drivers, the Royal family, or other “road tax dodgers” out there, of which there are millions.

UK motorways and trunk roads are paid for with cash supplied by the Highways Agency via the Department of Transport via the public purse via all UK tax payers; all other roads – that is, 87 percent of all the roads in the UK – are paid for by local authorities. Local authorities get some grant aid from national Government, but most of the cash for local roads is raised locally, via council tax. Non-motorists pay the same for roads as motorists.

Those who believe VED is fee to use roads sometimes use the seemingly-convincing ‘off-road’ argument:

“Doesn’t matter what you call it, VED/car tax/’road tax’, it’s a fee to use the public road because if you don’t pay it, you can’t drive on the public road. For instance, if I elect to use a vehicle off-road, I don’t need to pay VED. If I then choose to use the vehicle on a road, I would have to pay VED. If the vehicle emitted a certain amount of CO2, then yes that VED is currently free, but I would still have to get and display a tax disc in order to use the car on the road.”

But car tax is very much a tax on car emissions. Many cars, which use the public road, do not pay any ‘car tax’ because they emit less than 100gms of CO2. If car tax was a fee to use roads, electric cars and low-emissions cars wouldn’t be able to drive on UK roads.

Nor is it true that vehicles that will be driven off-the-public-highway – on private roads – don’t have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty.

VED is charged under section 1 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, as amended, “in respect of every mechanically propelled vehicle that … is used, or kept, on any public road in the United Kingdom”. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland ‘public road’ is defined in section 62(1) of the 1994 Act as “a road which is repairable at the public expense”; for Scotland a public road is defined in section 151 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, as amended, as “a road which a roads authority have a duty to maintain”. However, the DVLA has powers to clamp vehicles that are not on the public road if they are in breach of the VED continuous registration requirements. The explanatory notes to the Vehicle Excise Duty (Immobilisation, Removal and Disposal of Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/2266) state:

The policy intention is to prevent evaders of vehicle excise duty from using off-road areas such as unadopted roads, commons, public car parks or roads maintained by Housing Associations to place themselves beyond the reach of the enforcement authorities.

Farmers can get ‘agricultural use’ exemptions from VED for their Land Rovers, so long as they only travel a mile or so on public highways. And in one special circumstance, cars which emit loads of CO2 can still drive on UK public roads without paying car tax. But only for a short distance. When a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) vehicle is going to a pre-arranged MOT test, and the vehicle has valid insurance for the journey, it can be driven on public roads without paying a penny for use of those roads.

Furthermore, if a car is registered in the UK but is never driven in the UK it still has to pay the UK’s Vehicle Excise Duty. So, a UK-bought car driven in France by a UK-born person who’s moved to France permanently, may never drive on UK roads but the car still has to pay VED. This is because it’s a tax on the car, not a fee to use the roads.


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Road tax doesn’t exist. The ironically-named iPayRoadTax.com helps spread this message on cycle jerseys.