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Number plate legal rules & regulations

This page describes the rules and specifications governing the display of UK vehicle number plates. It is illegal to display number plates that do not meet these requirements.

The information on this page is compiled directly from government sources and from registered number plate manufacturers' trade bodies. It is regularly revised for currency and accuracy.

The current British Standard for number plates is BS AU 145e. The specifications set out in BS AU 145e became mandatory on 1st September 2021 and all number plates manufactured, sold or fitted from that date must comply.

Summary of required, permitted and prohibited features

Number plates must have the following features:

  • They must be the correct size as specified in the rules.
  • The background of front plates must be the prescribed reflective white colour and rear plates must be the prescribed reflective yellow colour.
  • They must have reflective properties complying with British Standard BS AU 145e.
  • They must have physical resilience properties complying with British Standard BS AU 145e.
  • They must display solid black characters in the prescribed Charles Wright typeface that comply with the rules governing size, spacing, grouping and positioning.
  • They must bear the supplier's name and postcode and the manufacturer's mark.
  • They must bear the current British Standard number, BS AU 145e.

Number plates must not have any of the following:

  • any background colour, pattern or texture except the plain reflective colours specified in the rules and the British Standard;
  • any font or typeface except the regulation Charles Wright typeface;
  • any character colour, shading, effect or texture except solid black;
  • any text except that required or specifically allowed by the rules;
  • any badge, emblem image or graphic element not expressly allowed by the rules;
  • any coating, treatment or other measure that may affect the reflective properties or legibility of the number plate, either visually or by number plate recognition technology;
  • any screws, bolts or other objects that alter the appearance of characters or interfere with legibility.

Number plates may optionally have the following:

  • raised 3D characters of plain black colour (known as "4D" number plates) provided that they meet all requirements of British Standard BS AU 145e;
  • a coloured border as allowed by the rules;
  • a national flag/emblem as specifically allowed by the rules;
  • national identifier letters as specifically allowed by the rules.

Fully electric/zero-tailpipe-emissions vehicles may optionally display the approved green 'flash' or panel at the left hand end of the number plate.

Illegal plates

Basically, for new acrylic plates to be used on UK public roads, they must have all the elements listed under the heading "Number plates must have the following features" in the section near the top of this page.

New plates lacking any of those elements, and/or bearing any of the prohibited features listed under the heading "Number plates must not have any of the following", are illegal to use on UK roads.

Although many people are tempted to purchase new acrylic plates bearing altered or mis-spaced characters, decorative or fancy fonts, football club emblems and textured backgrounds, any and all of these features would make the plates illegal to use on the highway.

For more information, please see our article on illegal number plates.

Driving outside the UK

There are specific rules regarding what must be displayed on UK vehicles driving overseas.

DVLA's website explains it thus:

If your number plate includes the UK identifier with the Union flag (also known as the Union Jack), you do not need a UK sticker. However, you will need to display a UK sticker clearly on the rear of your vehicle if your number plate has any of the following:

  • a GB identifier with the Union flag
  • a Euro symbol
  • a national flag of England, Scotland or Wales
  • numbers and letters only - no flag or identifier

If you're in Spain, Cyprus or Malta, you must display a UK sticker no matter what is on your number plate. If you have a GB sticker, cover or remove it before driving outside the UK. You do not need a UK sticker or number plate to drive in Ireland.

General information and advice

Displaying number plates that do not comply with the regulations and the British Standard can result in the following penalties:

  • a fine of up to £1000;
  • MOT failure;
  • withdrawal of the registration number.

Regtransfers strongly advises against any of the following:

  • altered character spacing;
  • variant fonts or typefaces that do not comply with the rules;
  • emblems or graphics that do not comply with the rules;
  • non-compliant text effects or backgrounds;
  • any other feature or alteration not expressly permitted by the regulations.

Regtransfers will not supply number plates that do not comply with the current regulations.

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The role of DVLA

Car registrations and number plates, including personalised number plates, in the UK, are the responsibility of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, usually known as the DVLA. It issues new registrations twice a year and also maintains the central database that records details of all vehicles licensed to drive on UK roads, along with their keeper and registration information.

Regtransfers works closely with DVLA to complete registration transfers as quickly and efficiently as possible. Regtransfers is a DVLA-registered supplier of personal car registrations and number plates and is listed on the DVLA Registrations website. All number plates supplied by Regtransfers comply with DVLA's prescribed standards and regulations.

DVLA administers all UK registration transfers and issues updated registration documents when the registration number of a car is changed, or when a registration is removed from a vehicle and placed on a retention document in accordance with the DVLA Retention Scheme.

DVLA is a registered trade mark of the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency. Regtransfers is not affiliated with the DVLA or DVLA Personalised Registrations. Regtransfers is a recognised reseller of unissued Government stock.

Number plate regulations

When a car is on the road, it is an offence to display number plates bearing any number other than the vehicle's officially recorded registration number. If you purchase a private registration, learn how to transfer private plates before displaying the new number.

All registration number plates displayed on UK vehicles must comply with the official number plate regulations. DVLA oversees enforcement of number plates display regulations and maintains a register of approved manufacturers and retailers of vehicle number plates.

Regtransfers is not part of, and is not formally affiliated with DVLA.

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