Electronic road sign indicating delays
Chloe Allen

Chloe Allen

Our Digital Marketing Executive Chloe is in charge of our e-newsletter. There's no one better placed to inform and delight you every month, so keep your eyes peeled for her newsletter hitting an email inbox near you soon.

Read time of 3 minutes.

When it comes to the blame game for disrupting our lives, the Covid-19 pandemic can certainly take its share of the cake. 

But more than two years on from the last national lockdown, new drivers are still struggling to secure test slots. 

While the pandemic may have caused the initial backlog of pupils wanting to take their driving tests, can we still hold it solely responsible for the mess now on our hands? And what is the DVSA (Driver Vehicle Standards Agency) doing to resolve it? 

How the initial backlog started

It’s hard to keep taking lessons – or your test – during a lockdown. The UK went through three lockdown periods between March 2020 and February 2021, so the backlog we’re now faced with was probably inevitable.

More and more people turned 17 during the pandemic, while those who were still in the learning process were unable to progress to full licences.

In total, estimates put the initial number of disrupted pupils at around 500,000 and with more new learners coming along behind them, the total number of people waiting for lessons and tests keeps rising.

But even between lockdowns, it would have been difficult for pupils to pass their test given the stringent rules around social distancing. We all remember being told to stay in our ‘bubbles’, to maintain a two-metre distance from others and to limit how many people we came into contact with.

Who could take a driving test in these conditions without breaking the official government guidance on stopping the spread of the virus?

Pupils, instructors and examiners were all knee-capped by this policy and while it was absolutely the correct move at the time, there have been long term consequences.

And unfortunately, some have been quick to take advantage of the ongoing situation for their own benefit.

Black market bandits on the rise

If you’re any kind of music fan you’re probably aware of the madness around ticket release dates. Think Taylor Swift, Glastonbury and Beyonce, and the fans who set alarms so they can wake up at ungodly hours to try and beat the rush on Ticketmaster.

Prices keep going up and tickets are in high, high demand.

It’s possible this mania is the exact inspiration for a league of black market ‘brokers’ that has sprung up in the wake of the driving test backlog.

Not only have these unscrupulous businesses recognised a demand, but they’ve actively worked to exacerbate it by snapping up any and all available driving test slots they can.

For what end? Nothing but profit, it seems.

When test slots are available, pupils can purchase one for £62 through the DVSA booking system. But what if there are no slots available at all?

How much would you be prepared to pay for a chance to take your test, if there was nothing available to book for over six months and the situation showed no signs of changing?

As early as 2022, it was reported that learners were paying upwards of £200 to some of these firms that have been booking up driving test slots in bulk. And this is continuing to happen over a year later, with the prices steadily rising.

Those forced to use a so-called ‘broker’ to secure a single driving test slot are, in 2023, forking out around £500 on average for the privilege. And if they need to take more than one test, the cost is quickly going to stack up to eye-watering levels.

How, then, are they getting away with it?

As so many unscrupulous businesses and individuals do these days, these brokers are using ‘bots’ to snap up as many available slots as possible, shutting out the drivers who need them.

In other words, they’ve taken control of the supply to control the demand and set the going price at extortionate levels.

Fraudsters looking to cash in on the crisis 

If the price of a resold test continues to rise, it’s simply not going to be accessible for many people with the current cost of living. And if blocked from taking a test, learners may turn to other less legal avenues to try and achieve a full licence.

Fraudsters are always quick to spot an opportunity.

Not long ago it was people advertising copies of ‘real’ GCSE and A-Level exam papers on social media. Now its scams offering a way to illegally pass UK driving tests.

As of June 2023, there were over 600 pages offering such services across social media, including on Facebook, TikTok and Instagram. 

Regardless of how tempting such a service might be, the only way to achieve a full and legal UK driving licence is by passing the DVSA’s practical exam.

Fraudsters are likely snapping up quick cash from drivers desperate enough to take the risk, with no legal result to show for it.

But if new drivers are priced out of test taking, it may seem like the only option left to try.

Before it gets to this point, the DVSA needs to tackle and resolve the unfolding crisis.

A learner driver on an intensive course

What is the DVSA's response? 

The Transport Select Committee met with members of the DVSA back on the 5th July to discuss exactly what’s being done to recover the driving test service.

The DVSA has formally identified three key problems causing long wait times; an increase in forecasted demand, sustained industrial action, and low customer confidence in driving test availability.

But it seems that it has not dug deeply enough into what is creating this increase in demand or come up with any plan to tackle it.

While they can recruit more instructors and examiners to cope with the long wait times, this will have little impact if the extra slots created by more staff are continually taken by bots and brokers.

Unfortunately, it seems that the DVSA’s response lacks the needed punch to deal with the problem. A close look at the DVSA’s blog detailing the meeting shows numerous comments by instructors that show a lack of confidence in the DVSA and the current booking system.

Learner drivers only have access to the main DVSA booking system where they have to manually search for available dates when they can take their test in their area.

But if you’re an instructor or driving school, you have access to a different part of the booking system. This is where brokers are taking advantage; anyone can sign up as an instructor or driving school. There is no requirement for official documentation that you’re a legitimate business.

This is how brokers are able to use bots to book up available slots so quickly.

And yet, the DVSA does not seem to be introducing more stringent checks into their registration process to stop these rogue businesses from taking advantage.

What can be done to help the situation? 

You can understand why drivers are going to extreme measures to book their tests.

From paying extortionate inflated prices, to travelling extreme distances (for instance from Manchester to the Scottish Highlands) because local waiting lists are seemingly without end.

But there are other ways to manage the long wait time.

Before brokers got involved, our Marketing Apprentice, Ethan, managed to secure his test slot by using the app Driving Test Now. This app allows you to keep on top of any cancelled tests and snap up the suddenly free booking.

While it’s still worth downloading and trying to secure a slot this way, the introduction of bots to the problem may make this avenue less successful than it once was.

The real solution is one in which the DVSA does more to regulate and tackle these rogue ‘brokers’ who are using bots to hog and resell test slots.

For starters, they need to strengthen their system (which currently works on trust) to stop rogue agents from having greater access to test slots than learners.

If the DVSA cannot regain control of the situation, then the crisis will either go on without end, or we’ll have to see a return to pre-online days to stop brokers from making the situation worse.

While it will be less convenient than simply booking online, a more manual booking process would at least prevent bots from taking all the bookings – giving students a chance to actually book driving tests at the £62 it should cost.

What has become clear, however, is that regardless of how the backlog started, the pandemic can no longer be blamed for the mess now on the DVSA’s hands.

Significant changes to the current booking system need to be made, both to cut down on waiting times and to make test booking both fair and accessible once again.