The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), is the agency responsible for maintaining the database of drivers and vehicles in Mainland Britain. The DVLA, which is based in Swansea, is also the body responsible for issuing motor vehicle registrations and for setting out regulations governing their display on number plates.
You may still occasionally hear the obsolete term DVLC used but the DVLC became the DVLA in 1990 and is now properly known only by the latter title.
How DVLA issues car registrations for UK vehicles
In the large majority of cases, vehicle registrations are issued to new vehicles as they are sold for the first time. When you buy a car, it comes with a number plate showing it's registration number. Most people probably accept that without giving it a second thought. In that situation the registration forms part of a routine series. It will bear a code showing the area where it was issued and another code denoting the year in which it was issued.
Exceptions: other ways registrations can be released
- Sale of new release registrations - When a scheduled registration release occurs, as happens twice a year, in May/June and November/December, members of the public and private registrations companies, are permitted to select and purchase new registration numbers. After this initial sale period, blocks of registrations are distributed to car dealers to be assigned to new cars in the usual way. Any registrations left over after that remain for sale on the DVLA website.
- Auction - Sometimes DVLA will withhold registrations from the usual sequence and instead of issuing them to new vehicles, they will sell them at auction. These are often numbers that bear a resemblance to words or names, as these are most desirable and thus most likely to achieve substantial prices. DVLA raises significant annual revenue this way.
- Replacement for transferred numbers - The transfer scheme means that, in most cases, a vehicle owner may sell or transfer the number from their vehicle to another vehicle or onto a retention document. In such a case, DVLA will issue a replacement registration number to the vehicle from which the original registration has been removed.
Other withheld numbers
So, as we have seen, the normal sequence of registrations is distributed by direct sale, by allocation to car dealers, by auction and by issue as replacement. However, this does not account for all numbers. We have noted that numbers left after direct sale and car dealer allocation remain for sale at DVLA, but there is another situation where the full series may not be released.
There are occasions when DVLA will decide that a certain combination of characters may be interpreted in a way that may cause offence. Some combinations look like words that may be considered rude or obscene. Other things that DVLA watches out for on car registrations are certain references to religion, politics, crime, terrorism, drugs, sex etc. This is nothing new In the early days of the car registrations system, combinations including the letters BF were withheld lest the public should interpret those letters as standing for the dreadfully offensive insult "bloody fool".
Related articles: Historical list of former DVLA local offices..