I have just bought a car and I’m being chased for the previous owner’s debt – what should I do?

I have just bought a car and I’m being chased for the previous owner’s debt – what should I do?

Enforcement firms are not always told when a car has been sold on. It is illegal not to notify the DVLA of a change of ownership and this can lead to enforcement against the wrong person. You must also notify the DVLA when you change address.

If an Enforcement Agent (incorrectly but commonly referred to as a bailiff) identifies a vehicle that has a traffic offence with an unpaid debt recorded against it, he or she may immobilise the vehicle and request payment. Checks will be made for any finance agreement while the vehicle is immobilised.

In this situation, you will need to prove you have recently purchased the vehicle.

Unless a vehicle is bought through a recognised motor dealership, where there is a printed company invoice, including a VAT registration number, it can be difficult to prove ownership.

However, the enforcement company will accept copies of certain documentation which may include:

  • A full copy of the V5C document which shows the change of ownership by DVLA
  • A copy of the valid insurance certificate for the vehicle valid from the date of purchase
  • In the absence of a valid insurance certificate, a DVLA SORN confirmation
  • Evidence of the Road Fund Licence which must have been obtained on the date of purchase
  • A valid receipt for the purchase
  • Evidence of the flow of monies used for the purchase i.e. a copy of a bank statement
  • Evidence of how the vehicle was obtained i.e. a copy of the advertisement

Why does this matter?

There is an ongoing battle to tackle persistent evaders, which are responsible for millions of pounds of lost revenue to local authorities. Persistent evaders are defined by the Department of Transport as vehicle owners that have three or more unpaid Penalty Charge Notices for traffic offences from the last 12 months, which have not been appealed or challenged. The drivers of these vehicles park unlawfully, and in many cases avoid paying road tax or motor insurance (they may not have an MOT and cannot easily be traced).

There is clear evidence that some persistent evaders are using cloned number plates, which is a criminal offence. Enforcement firms are often required to detect and enforce high-value arrears on behalf of councils, National Highways and Transport for London.

A vehicle that has incurred a road traffic contravention or parking penalty, will be checked with DVLA for the registered keeper. A Warrant of Control is then obtained by the creditor and enforcement agents will be instructed to recover the debt.

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