Controversial number plates

The tabloids love controversy. If your morning paper is one of those enthusiastic, sensation-sharing publications then you've probably seen the occasional story about "rude" or "banned" number plates. Well, the DVLA's occasional moral panic about suggestive letter/number combinations that threaten to traumatise the sensitive public is just one of the ways that car registrations can create a fuss.

This section of our site is dedicated to all those number plate kerfuffles, be they grave or trivial.

PEN 15: The big one

This is our favourite supposedly controversial plate - not least because we own it.

PEN 15 is a genuine, legal, officially issued vehicle registration number. By a quirky twist of chance, the characters of the registration number appear to spell out five letters, even though two of them are really numerical digits. Try telling that to someone who is standing alongside our car pointing and roaring with laughter: it's futile. All they see is the word it supposedly resembles and from that point on there's no way to get them to unsee it.

We hope most people find it amusing. Certainly the celebrities who have encountered our PEN 15 have had a good chuckle at it, as you'll see!

Read about PEN 15

AB 1

In August 2017, the BBC contacted Regtransfers asking about the car registration AB 1. That registration had recently been withdrawn from public auction by the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner and sold privately to a former chief constable. Regtransfers, along with other experts, expressed surprise both at the withdrawal from auction and the price for which the plate was sold.

Public and media scrutiny focused on the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner. Had the sale been conducted in a proper manner? Was everything above board?

Read about AB 1


In 2011, Alan Clarke from Chesterfield purchased the private registration number BO11 LUX from DVLA for £399. He put the number onto his Range Rover and was delighted with the reaction: most of the people he encountered, found the cheeky combination amusing. Within a few weeks, however, DVLA stepped in and tried to put an end to the fun.

In a strongly worded letter, Alan was informed that someone had found his number plate offensive and had complained about it. They also said that the number had only been put up for sale due to an oversight on their part. It had been missed by DVLA censors and issued in error. They told Alan he had to remove the BO11 LUX registration from his car or find himself in breach of the law. Unsurprisingly he was singularly unimpressed.

Few organisations enjoy being made to look incompetent. DVLA must have been less than delighted by the media coverage that followed. Alan Clarke soon began appearing in newspapers telling his tale of how the agency had not only failed to screen out what they now claimed was an offensive registration but how much disappointment and inconvenience would be caused by the withdrawal of the number. He declared that he would not remove the number from his car, despite DVLA's warnings of prosecution and penalties.

A few weeks later DVLA quietly changed its mind and decided that Alan could keep BO11 LUX!

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