DVLA driver data-sharing project delayed by costs

A project to let car insurance companies see people's personal data held by the DVLA has been delayed by wrangling between insurers and the government, despite almost £1m having been invested so far
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

An £870,000 IT project to share driver data between the DVLA and motor insurers is floundering over who will bear the costs, according to MPs.

Traffic jam

An £870,000 IT project to share driver data between the DVLA and motor insurers is floundering over who will bear the costs.

The Industry Access to Driver Data (IADD) project, which began in 2009, was designed to allow insurers to query DVLA records of driver licence information to decide whether to sell insurance to prospective customers, based on licensing information.

The project, which cost £870,000 between 2009 and August 2011, has run up against the buffers of cost negotiations between the government and insurers, roads minister Michael Penning told the House of Commons on Thursday.

"Some 18 months ago I made a speech to the insurers and said, 'We will give you this [data-sharing] facility. It is expensive, so we will need some financial help from you as well, because you will get a tangible benefit from this, along with all of us.' There have been some difficulties with those negotiations in recent months," said Benning.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI), which is the main insurer's body dealing with the government over the IADD project, said the project was ongoing, but had encountered difficulties over who would bear costs.

"We are operating in a tight fiscal environment, and that has an impact on a major project," an ABI spokesman told ZDNet UK. "Any major IT project is a major piece of work with major cost implications. The project is ongoing."

ANPR 'loophole'

The data-sharing project is designed to close a "loophole" that allows people driving without a licence to take measures to avoid detection by the police, Penning said in the debate. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, used by the police to scan car number plates, shows whether a particular car is insured, and has an MOT and a registered owner. ANPR does not show whether the registered owner has a valid licence, said Penning.

Although having already spent close to £1m, the DVLA has been unable to confirm if and when such a system will be in operation.
– Nick de Bois, MP

"The police know whether the driver has an MOT, is insured or is the registered owner," said Penning. "All those things flash up in an instant, and the technology is being rolled out, but it will not pick up whether the driver has a licence, even though it will bring up whether they are insured."

Tory MP Nick de Bois called the future of the project into doubt in the debate.

"Although having already spent close to £1m, the DVLA has been unable to confirm if and when such a system will be in operation," said de Bois. "I am sure that cost-benefit analyses and discussions are under way with the insurance companies, but after such a long time, it would be useful to know whether it is anticipated that the plans will be developed any further."

DVLA had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Civil liberties concerns

Penning brushed aside civil liberties concerns over the sharing of data. Under the scheme, motor insurers must ask prospective customers for permission to access the DVLA database. Motor insurance in the UK is mandatory, leaving people with little choice about whether to give insurers access to information.

"Some people — the politically correct, in my view — have suggested that giving that information to insurers would be wrong because it would infringe data protection and the individual's rights," said Penning. "I think the opposite. If someone is asking to be insured, which is a legal requirement for being on the road, they should supply all the relevant information to the insurer so that it can make a judgment on whether it wishes to insure the individual, because there are plenty of people out there who insurers would not want to insure."

Data protection authority the Information Commissioner's Office told ZDNet UK that it had liaised with the DVLA over the project.

"We are aware of the Industry Access to Driver Data project," an ICO spokesman said. "We are continuing to advise DVLA on what safeguards are necessary and expect them to make sure they are effective in practice."

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