Paper driving licence changes: what you need to know

DVLA improves system to help Brits trying to hire cars abroad after scrapping paper driving licence

The UK driving test rules come into effect on 4 December
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The DVLA has been attempting to improve its driving licence checking system after British holidaymakers complained of difficulties in hiring cars abroad.

In the biggest change since the introduction of the photocard licence, the DVLA officially abolished the green paper counterpart driving licence on 8 June in a bid to streamline services and save money.

Details from the abolished paper counterpart are now held digitally at the DVLA, meaning car hire companies need to go online to check British customers' driving records. However, drivers first have to log on to the DVLA website and generate a one-time-use access code to share with the organisation so they can access their digital records.

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Initially, this access code remained "live" for just 72 hours. However, drivers complained that they might not have internet access while abroad to generate the code, and car hire companies said the issue was causing queues. The checking period has therefore been extended to 21 days, reports the BBC. "Travellers needing to hire a car abroad will now have three weeks to share extra driving licence details with hire companies instead of three days," it says.

The move comes after British holidaymakers' plans were "left in chaos" when the agency's website crashed on the day of its official launch in June. The site appeared to suffer a "complete technical breakdown", meaning many Britons were unable to hire cars abroad, explained the Daily Telegraph. The agency blamed "exceptional demand", with 30,000 inquiries in just a few hours.

Motoring companies had previously warned that many drivers appeared to be unaware of the changes and could be caught out by them, particularly when trying to rent a car abroad. In April, the RAC told the BBC that 55 per cent of drivers had no idea that the rules were about to change.

So what do the changes mean for Britain's 46 million motorists?

What has happened to the driving licence?

On 8 June, the DVLA stopped issuing green paper counterpart licences and the existing documents stopped being valid. The paper counterpart displays details not included on the photocard, including vehicle categories and any penalty points or disqualifications. Details of driving convictions are now held on the DVLA's digital records.

Motorists can check their driving record by calling DVLA or visiting They will need their driving licence number (found in section five of their driving licence photocard), National Insurance number and postcode. Alternatively, drivers can apply by post to see what information the DVLA holds on their driving licence. They will need to give the agency their full name and address, driving licence number or date of birth, and a cheque or postal order for £5.

The green counterparts are not the same as the old-style paper driving licences, which were issued before photocards came into existence and are still used by around eight million drivers. These are still valid. The new system does not apply to Northern Ireland drivers either.

Why have driving licences changed?

The decision to phase out the paper counterpart is a result of the government's Red Tape Challenge and is part of the DVLA's commitment to simplifying its services. The changes are expected to save the government £8 million, according to Auto Express.

"Motorists shouldn't have to keep numerous bits of paper just to prove they can drive and have bought insurance – we live in digital age and we need to embrace that," then Transport Secretary Justine Greening told the Daily Telegraph when the measures were first announced.

"Reducing the number of rules and regulations in our life is absolutely vital to removing barriers to economic growth and increasing individual freedoms.

"This whole process just proves that there's so much sitting on our statute books that at the very least needs a good spring clean or can be scrapped entirely."

Is everyone in favour?

No, the AA has some concerns. "This change could cause confusion," spokesman Paul Watters told the South Wales Evening Post. "Not all drivers are comfortable with computers and surfing online. People will also be concerned at who exactly will be able to get access to your electronic driver record, and the potential for fraud and scams."

The AA is advising people to check that the details on their paper counterpart, including penalty points, are identical to those on the DVLA's electronic system before destroying the document.

What happens when a driver wants to rent a car?

In the past, car rental companies have requested to see the paper counterpart to a driver's licence. Now they will be able to view a driver's details on the electronic database. Employers who need to check an employee's driving record will also be able to use the service.

To enable a car hire company or employer to see your driving record, you will need to create a "licence check code" by logging on to Initially this single-use access code was only valid for 72 hours, but the checking period has now been extended to 21 days. Used alongside the last eight characters of your driving licence number, it will allow the company to see which vehicles you can drive and any penalty points or disqualifications you have been given. For those without internet access, a phone number has also been set up so that drivers can call the DVLA and give permission for their driving record to be checked verbally by a nominated person/organisation.

Should people destroy the paper counterparts?

As it will no longer have any legal status, the DVLA recommends that drivers destroy their paper counterpart. However, motoring groups have warned that people could struggle to hire a car abroad if they follow this advice. The AA is advising people to keep hold of them, as they might still be asked to produce them when travelling abroad. The organisation found that one in three of its members had been asked for the document over the past five years and warned that some overseas car hire companies will refuse rentals unless they see a copy of their driving record.

Edmund King, president of the AA, told the Telegraph: "It is possible that hirers overseas, who have been used to checking a British driver's paper record in the past, may not know of the change and still ask to see the counterpart. Although the paper counterpart has now been rendered invalid, we are advising our members not to tear up their counterparts just yet, but to take them abroad as a 'belt and braces' measure if they intend to hire a vehicle." DVLA has suggested that holiday makers take their National Insurance numbers away with them in case they need to create a licence check code while abroad.

Either way, motorists must retain their photocard and remember to renew it when necessary. If drivers only have an old-style paper driving licence – issued before the photocards were introduced in 1998 – they must not destroy them as they are still valid. If those drivers need to change any details on the paper licence, such as a name or address, they will be issued with a new photocard free of charge. Otherwise, they should continue to use the paper licence.

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