The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the government department that deals with vehicle registration, convinced ministers to act after the cost to the taxpayer topped pounds 175m a year.
The Government has planned a two-week media campaign to warn drivers who have neglected to buy a disc that they face the new penalties. From 18 August, wheelclamping contractors will seek out road tax cheats and clamp their vehicles. Car owners will have to pay pounds 68 to get the clamp removed and will also have to show a valid tax disc.
Vehicles will be towed away and impounded if not claimed within 24 hours. After that, the release fee goes up and if vehicles stay unclaimed for five weeks, they will be destroyed or sold at auction.
"We are determined to clamp down hard on this irresponsible group who evade paying their road tax," said Haydn Madoc, DVLA head of enforcement.
"Law-abiding motorists have nothing to fear, but road tax cheats should beware as they could end up carless and penniless," said Mr Madoc.
The enforcement activity will cover the whole of London to start with - but officials say that it will be extended to cover the country by the end of next year.
A three-month pilot scheme last year in five London boroughs netted more than pounds 2m in additional revenue. More than 500 vehicles were clamped, of which nearly 60 per cent were unclaimed and were either crushed or auctioned.
Baroness Hayman, the roads minister, said: "Being caught in this clampdown will certainly hit the pockets of road tax dodgers much harder than the cost of a vehicle excise licence. Honest motorists are fed up with seeing the hard core who continually evade paying their road tax."
The minister made it clear that punitive action would not be taken against drivers who forgot to renew their tax disc.
"We are out to deter the evader with the threat of inconvenience, large fines and prosecution. We will not be penalising those whose tax disc has fallen off the windscreen or are a few days late renewing their tax. Law-abiding motorists have nothing to fear."
Motoring organisations welcomed the new initiative. The AA said the clamping campaign would also help to reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the roads. Andrew Howard, the AA's head of road safety, said: "There are about 2 million uninsured drivers and most are also untaxed as they cannot buy the tax disc without an insurance certificate. Their selfishness affects all other motorists, because about pounds 10 is added to average car insurance premium to cover the cost of uninsured drivers.
"Under this new scheme, those drivers who are clamped must buy road tax - and therefore insurance - before they get their vehicle back."Reuse content