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Old cars in tax chase

OWNERS of old cars that spend at least part of every year off the road, and an unknown number more that for years have not been on the road legally, have been writing to the licensing authority in Swansea to express reservations about plans that would make it compulsory to register ownership and would lay down strict rules over when such cars can be relicensed.

The Government argues that it loses so much road tax revenue from drivers who either never pay the tax or "skip" a month or two between renewals that only continuous licensing - dubbed the possession tax - will enable it to track defaulters. But classic car owners suspect the motive is to identify them and then target them as part of a campaign to drive old cars off the road or restrict their future use.

The licensing authority has fuelled such fears by dismissing arguments that revenue should be bolstered by taxing petrol usage. Instead, it insists owners must choose between two options, one of which allows them, for a nominal fee, to register cars kept off the road for either six or 12 months at a time, and to put them back on the road at a full fee when the off-road licence expires. Anyone bringing the car back on the road before the off-road licence expired would have to pay a surcharge or the full back tax.

A second option would add the choice of a 25 per cent fee for cars kept off the road, refundable only if the cars are returned to the road within a year.

Both options apparently involve extra expense and added paperwork if owners want to vary the set six and 12-month pattern. A driver who wants to tax his car in April, for instance, for summer use, will have to take it off the road in September. It will be cumbersome and expensive to alter the pattern to allow him to drive in October, or indeed the following March.

A driver who paid a refundable fee and then was unable to bring a car back on to the road at the next licensing period might also lose his money.

Old car owners would prefer an annual licence that allows them to bring their cars on to the road for a nominated period each year, and charges them accordingly.

As a sweetener, the DVLA proposes to allow cars registered before 1960 to pay a reduced rate, now pounds 70 a year, but old car owners want a rolling threshold for the reduced duty, so that each year all cars over 20, 25 or 30 years old will qualify.