Nearly 170,000 motorists with health conditions are waiting for driver’s licenses to be issued as officials struggle to clear a backlog of nearly 50,000 applications that has built up during the pandemic.
DVLA chief executive Julie Lennard confirmed to MPs on Thursday that 168,000 medical driving license applications, including new licenses and renewals, were pending as of November 23.
The agency’s aim is to bring the number of applications in the ‘live queue’ down to its normal level of 120,000 by January at the latest, meaning it now has around 48,000. additional forms to process. He previously hoped to eliminate the backlog by September this year. Of these, about half cannot be completed until the DVLA receives additional information, such as reports from doctors, he said.
The backlog has been declining since February, when the live queue peaked at 333,000, with Lennard saying the department has made “very good progress”.
It did not reinstate its pre-pandemic goal of processing 90% of applications within 90 days and could not provide guidance on current average wait times. The time frame depends on the complexity of the claimant’s medical issues, the DVLA said.
Between April 2020 and September 2022, of the agency’s medical licensing decisions, 36% took longer than 90 business days and 6% took longer than 250 business days. In August, the Guardian reported the case of a driver who had been waiting six months for a new licence.
Lennard testified about the backlog before the public accounts committee following the release of a report by the National Audit Office earlier this month.
During the pandemic, the DVLA’s ability to process paper forms, which account for 30% of all applications, has been reduced as fewer staff have been able to work from its Swansea office. Industrial action in 2021 also contributed to the delays, he said.
The number of pending driver’s license applications, including medical and standard, peaked at 1.1 million in September 2021, according to the NAO report.
Between April 2020 and September 2022, of the 24.3 million requests processed by DVLA, 3.3 million took longer than expected. The majority of these, 2.4 million, were ordinary paper license applications.
It returned to its usual timelines for processing standard driver’s license applications in May this year and reduced the number in progress to typical levels in July. However, medical license applications are still delayed.
“All things that are in our control are completely back to normal…that’s the one area that’s not fully in our control,” Lennard told MPs.