Car tax – is it an offence to fail to display a valid tax disc?

(As distinct from paying the relevant rate of tax for the vehicle in question.)

***UPDATE***  The law concerning the display of tax discs in vehicles in England and Wales changed on 1 October 2014.  The summary of the legal position in the post below is as the law was in June 2014.

Car TaxJudging from my site stats, there seem to be a lot of drivers out there who are curious on this subject. So I thought a specific post might be in order. I’m helpful like that. :p

It’s generally well known that motorists who use a car (or leave it parked) on a public road must have paid the car tax that applies to their car and display the tax disc on the windscreen. Failing to do so is a criminal offence. I say this because there are numerous comments left on motoring and self-righteous (ahem) self-help forums on the web, confidently asserting that drivers will ‘get done’ for not displaying a valid tax disc for their vehicle when on public roads.

Lovely. But where is this set out?

The relevant law relating to car tax (or vehicle excise duty as it’s formally known) is principally set out under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 (“VERA”).

Section 29 of VERA provides:

29 Penalty for using or keeping unlicensed vehicle.

(1) If a person uses, or keeps, a vehicle which is unlicensed he is guilty of an offence.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) a vehicle is unlicensed if no vehicle licence or trade licence is in force for or in respect of the vehicle.

Section 33 (1) of VERA provides:

A person is guilty of an offence if—

(a) he uses, or keeps, on a public road a vehicle in respect of which vehicle excise duty is chargeable, and

(b) there is not fixed to and exhibited on the vehicle in the manner prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State a licence for, or in respect of, the vehicle which is for the time being in force.

Good show. And those regulations are the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002 (“RVRs”)

Regulation 6 (4) of the RVRs states:

The licence shall be exhibited on the vehicle—

(c) in the case of any vehicle fitted with a glass windscreen in front of the driver extending across the vehicle to its near side, on or adjacent to the near side of the windscreen [.]

Regulation 6 (5) states:

In each case referred to in paragraph (4), the licence shall be so exhibited that all the particulars on the licence are clearly visible in daylight from the near side of the road.

So there you go.

In summary: not having tax for a car which is used or parked on a public road is an offence – as is not displaying the tax disc.

Note: there are certain exceptions to the offence of being the registered keeper of an unlicensed vehicle (such as the ‘grace period’ between licences), but I’m not getting into that now. If you’re interested, look at section 31B of VERA.

Enforcement of car tax is typically carried out by HMRC (by means of third party enforcement agencies) and the police - almost invariably by the relevant agency cross-checking the vehicle’s registration plate against the relevant national computer. The days of the wooden-topped bobby peering over at the vehicle’s tax disc are largely gone – hence the government’s decision last year to abolish the concept of tax discs and move the vehicle tax regime into the 21st century.


  1. Good clarification. I can't help but think that removing the requirement to display a valid/current VED disc is rather short sighted. I now see many untaxed vehicles around where I live out in the sticks and I guess the drivers know the chances of them being caught are much reduced, traffic wardens won't report them any more for not displaying for instance so any loss of revenue will offset the cost savings, not to mention that paying no VED probably leads on to no insurance and no MOT and I doubt whether the police want to be bothered with such trivialities these days.

    1. Anon - my post relates to the law as it was at the time of writing (June 2014). On 1 October 2014, the law changed: while vehicles must still be taxed to be used or kept on the road, it is no longer a requirement for tax discs to be displayed.

      This change was made under paragraph 13 of schedule 19(1) to the Finance Act 2014 which repealed section 33 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994.

      Similarly, regulations 6, 7 and 8 of the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002 were revoked by paragraph 2 of schedule 1 to the Vehicle Excise and Registration (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2014.

      Some catchy-named pieces of legislation there! :-)

      These changes all came into effect on 1 October 2014.

      I will amend the post to make it clear that it doesn't reflect the law as it stands today – in the interests of avoiding any further confusion.


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