Some members of staff reportedly said they had spent many working days in bed watching their favourite television programme
The DVLA has hit back at claims its staff were paid their full wages despite not completing any work while based at home during the pandemic. A report from The Times alleged the government agency, which has its headquarters in Swansea, sent most of its 6,200 staff home during the first lockdown – and placed 3,400 of them on “paid special leave,” allowing them to be paid fully despite not having to work at all.
Months later, there were still nearly 2,000 staff on paid special leave, The Times claimed on Friday, March 18, with no expectation that they would even have to work from home. You can read The Times investigation in full here and for more stories about the DVLA, go here.
The newspaper also claimed that in nine months of the past two years, there have been more than 500 members of staff officially declared as not working, because they were either on strike or on paid special leave. An undercover reporter for the newspaper worked for the DVLA in February 2022 and found that millions of drivers had been affected by a massive backlog on license applications and renewals.
Some members of staff reportedly said they had spent many working days in bed watching their favourite television programmes and not doing any work, whilst members of staff who had been working said they felt frustrated that their colleagues who claimed to be too vulnerable to go into the office were “not doing any work yet they are out and about mingling with others and going on holiday”.
But The DVLA told WalesOnline these allegations do not reflect the hard-working demeanour of staff members at the DVLA throughout the pandemic. Whilst there is still a substantial backlog on applications, the Agency aims to have the application waiting times “back to normal” from around May 2022 for standard driving licenses, and from September 2022 for applications involving medical forms.
The Times alleges that whilst managers and members of staff spent days not working, the DVLA received approximately 60,000 applications and letters each day. Special paid leave was reportedly given to DVLA staff who reported health conditions that made them too vulnerable to work on-site or because they had to isolate due to coming into contact with someone who had Covid or because they were a carer, whilst also being unable to work from home. But it was claimed civil servants had periods of only working either a four-day week or on a week-on, week-off rota to prevent them from “burning out”
The Times also claimed some DVLA staff were unable to work from home due to being unable to access work systems outside of the office – an allegation the DVLA has denied to WalesOnline. Nevertheless, the lack of staff in the offices, and lack of staff working from home, has had a major knock-on effect, with thousands of people across the UK forced to wait months to receive their new or renewed license – with many unable to drive until they do so.
The Times says its reporter was in the call handling team during their undercover work, and was reportedly told to lie to drivers that their applications would take “between six and ten weeks” to come through – even though staff knew it was very likely to be longer. They claimed a training manager joked that they’d been avoiding work whilst at home, and said: “My manager would be messaging me: ‘can you do this?’ and I’d be like, you’re interrupting my series on Netflix.”
The DVLA told WalesOnline it understands the member of staff mentioned here was not a manager but someone on a junior level. However, the Agency says it will investigate all allegations made by The Times. It added that the six to ten week processing period was correct at the time it was issued, and it was not true to suggest it had misled callers.
UK Government’s Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps has ordered an investigation into the allegations made against the DVLA and said he was “deeply concerned” by newspaper’s findings.
What did the DVLA say?
In a statement to WalesOnline, a spokesperson for the DVLA said: “We take the allegations made extremely seriously and are urgently investigating. These claims are not representative of the hardworking culture in DVLA, nor are they a true reflection of the 6,000 plus staff who have worked incredibly hard to help keep the country moving throughout the pandemic.”
The DVLA also said it has invested more than £6million to keep staff safe during the pandemic and has implemented a number of safety measures including fitting Perspex screens, additional cleaning, two metre social distancing, one-way systems, face masks, restricted movement around the estate, on-site temperature checks and onsite lateral flow testing since January 2021. It has also leased two new buildings (including one in Birmingham) to create more space for those staff needed on site.
It added staff have continued to work extremely hard throughout the pandemic and during the summer of 2020, and through their hard work and dedication (often including working at weekends and evenings) backlogs returned to normal processing times by late 2020. However it was noted that there was a peak of 1.6 million paper applications in the live system in September 2021 (generally, pre-Covid there was around 400,000 applications in its live system at any one time due to the constant flow of paper applications in and out).
Since the industrial action ended and restrictions have eased the DVLA said it has more staff on site to process paper applications, backlogs are rapidly reducing again and the current number of paper applications waiting to be processed is just over 850,000. Between August 2021 and January 2022, 29 million applications were completed online, with 6.4 million paper applications processed during the same period. There are no delays in in applications from bus and lorry drivers, it added with straightforward applications being turned around in five days. The DVLA said it was back to normal processing times on vehicle paper transactions, and aims to be back to normal processing times for vast majority of drivers applications by the end of May.
It added that the vast majority of transactions are carried out online and said online services have worked well throughout the pandemic without delays, with customers encouraged to use them where they can. The DVLA said it had recruited more staff, increased overtime and opened new customer service centres in Swansea and Birmingham to help reduce waiting times for customers.
‘It’s not true to say the DVLA misled callers’
The DVLA added: “It’s not true to suggest that DVLA has misled callers on timescales for applications and we openly publish the current waiting times on the most popular transactions. The six to ten week processing time was correct at the time it was issued. More complex transactions, for example where medical investigations are needed, are taking longer and where we require additional information, such as from a driver’s doctor on consultant where a medical condition is present, we are wholly reliant on receiving this information before a licensing decision can be made.
“Finally, it is nonsense to claim that substandard technology at DVLA is the reason why more staff can’t work from home. Despite no history of homeworking, as soon as the pandemic struck in March 2020, we immediately moved nearly 1,400 staff to home working – these staff were working almost exclusively in support five areas such as Human Resources, Finance, Commercials, Policy and Communications and IT were able to work from home because they had all having the necessary IT equipment to do so and they did not have access to live driver databases where we hold a lot of sensitive personal data, or open and process postal applications or print and produce key documents.
“Since then, we have increased that number to nearly 2,600 which includes operational staff. To be clear, the reason we don’t currently have more people working from home is to do with the number of postal applications we receive every day as well as the sensitive personal information we hold on drivers – it has absolutely nothing to do with our technology.”